Master Chile's Authentic Cuisine
While Chilean wine is famous, the country’s gastronomy is lesser known. But Chile has a strong culinary tradition that dates back many centuries.
With its 3,000 miles of coastline, Chile’s seafood offerings are some of the best on earth. Beyond Chilean sea bass—which is actually the Patagonian toothfish—the country’s waters offer up tons of tuna, hake and conger eel.
From the shell, there’s abalone, king crab, razor clams, oysters, mussels and more. Sea urchin to barnacle, swordfish to salmon, if it lives in the southern portion of the Pacific Ocean, you can eat it in Chile.
Back on dry land, Chile is about as fertile a country as there is on earth, and not just for wine grapes. It’s also one of the leading growers and exporters of avocados, tree fruits and berries.
In addition, farmers in the north of the country cultivate some of the world’s most exotic fruits, things like the cherimoya, lúcuma, maracuyá (passion fruit) and carica (Chilean papaya). And that’s not even getting into the wide range of vegetables grown in Chile.
A Culinary Mosaic
Chile’s modern-day cooks can also find inspiration in traditional recipes passed down over the centuries. There’s the empanada de pino (meat turnover), pastel de choclo (corn pie with a meat filling) and the cazuela (Chilean stew), all introduced to the country’s immigrant populations by native Indians, primarily the Mapuches and Araucanos.
“I would say that our cuisine is a fusion of the indigenous kitchen, things brought by the Spanish conquistadors, and finally, the influence of immigrants from Europe,” says Pilar Rodríguez, once Tommy Hilfiger’s director of marketing for Latin America and now one of Chile’s best-known chefs.
As for how such food goes with Chilean wine, there are lots of potential happy marriages, i.e., raw shellfish or ceviche with Sauvignon Blanc; empanadas with anything light to medium in body—white, red or rosé; crab and fish with Chardonnay; and grilled meats with reds that range from Cabernet Sauvignon to Carmenère, Chile’s signature grape.
“I can take a perfect piece of Easter Island tuna, and all I need to do is make a crust of Chilean sea salt, cilantro seeds from the south, and merkén, which is a unique Chilean smoky spice made from special red chilies originally grown by the Mapuches,” says Rodríguez. “This dish would go nicely with Pinot Noir or an elegant Chardonnay.”
Make that a Chilean Pinot Noir or Chardonnay.
The following are two quintessential Chilean recipes to try at home along with wine pairing suggestions.
Pastel de Jaibas (Chilean Crab Casserole)
This recipe melds pastel de jaibas recipes from Rodríguez and Jorge “Coco” Pacheco, chef and owner of Santiago’s renowned seafood restaurant, Aquí Esta Coco. The aji chileno should be made in advance.
For the crab casserole:
1½ pounds fresh crabmeat (Dungeness, or of equal quality)
4 cups white breadcrumbs, chopped in a food processor without crusts
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup onion, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2–3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon dry oregano
½ teaspoon ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
½ cup dry white wine
½ cup fish or shellfish stock
1 cup whipping cream
²⁄₃ cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons aji chileno (recipe below)
For the aji chileno:
10 jalapeño peppers, halved and seeded
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable or olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
To make the aji chileno: Marinate the peppers in vinegar for at least several hours to soften the skins. After marinating, discard the liquid and purée the peppers in a food processor with oil and garlic. Keep in a sealed jar to add to the pastel de jaibas.
To make the crab casserole: Clean the crabmeat, making sure to remove any shell or cartilage. Mix the breadcrumbs and milk in a bowl and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan and sauté the onions with butter, garlic, paprika, oregano, cumin, salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with white wine and cook down for 2–3 minutes, adding the stock. Add in the crabmeat, bread-and-milk mixture and whipping cream. Cook 5 minutes, stirring the whole time. Season with 2 teaspoons of aji chileno, or more to taste. Check overall seasonings and adjust to taste. By now, the mixture should be moist and creamy, but not runny. If it’s too runny, let simmer until thickened. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400˚F.
Move the mixture into one large clay pot, or divide into eight individual gratin dishes (intrepid chefs can load the mixture back into the empty crab shells). Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and bake until golden brown, about 5–8 minutes. Serve immediately. Serves 8.
Empanadas de Pino Con Pebre (Chilean Meat Turnovers with Salsa)
Pino, a filling made from spiced ground beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, black olives and raisins, gets its name from the Mapuche word, pinu. Other traditional Chilean dishes, particularly pastel de choclo (corn pie), also employ the pino filling.
In Chile, empanadas are frequently made in a mud horno (oven), but can just as easily be baked in a conventional oven. The pino must be made in advance and chilled so that it won’t run when placed inside the dough prior to baking. Pebre, meanwhile, is a simple Chilean salsa fresca.
For the pino filling:
3–4 tablespoons vegetable oil
6 cups onions, minced
2 cloves garlic, smashed
2½ tablespoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
¾ cup chicken or beef stock
Salt and pepper, to taste
For the dough:
7 cups all-purpose flour
6 ounces vegetable shortening, melted
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons white wine
1 tablespoon salt, dissolved in 1½ cups warm water
For the pebre:
1 medium red onion, minced
2 tablespoons red bell pepper, minced
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons fresh chili peppers like jalapeño or serrano, seeded and minced
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste
Dash of red wine vinegar
24 pitted black olives
3–4 hard-boiled eggs, shelled and cut into wedges
½ cup golden raisins
Egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water)
To make the filling: Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Lightly sauté the onion for a few minutes. Add the garlic, oregano, paprika, cumin and Cayenne pepper, stirring occasionally but not browning. Add the ground beef and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Dissolve the flour in the stock and add to the skillet. Cook uncovered for up to 15 minutes, or until most of the juices have evaporated; the mixture should be moist, but not runny. Add salt and pepper to taste, then set aside.
To make the dough: Sift the flour onto a clean, smooth work surface. Make a well in the center; add the shortening, butter, wine and some of the salt water. Using a wooden spoon and adding more salt water as needed, combine the ingredients as quickly as possible until you get a soft dough. Do not overwork the dough, or it will result in an overly tough pastry. Wrap in a kitchen towel and let sit for 15 minutes.
To make the pebre: Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, mix well and set aside.
To finish: Preheat oven to 400˚F and set up a station to fill and assemble your empanadas. Roll the dough into a log and slice into 12 equal pieces. Working with one slice at a time, roll the dough pieces into circles about 8 inches in diameter and about ¼-inch thick. Put at least 2 tablespoons of pino mixture onto each circle, topping the mound with 2 olives, a wedge of hard-boiled egg and a few raisins. Leave a margin of about ¾ inch and brush the margin all around with a little water. Close the empanadas by folding each in half. To secure the filling, place the straight edge of the half-circle toward you. Fold in the edges and the top to make a crescent. Seal the corners with your thumb, making a deep imprint.
Brush the empanadas with egg wash and poke three small holes into each with a toothpick so that they don’t break open during baking. Bake 20 minutes, or until the pastry is nicely browned and the filling is piping hot. Serve immediately with freshly made pebre. Makes 12.