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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Eating Your Way Through Chile: Part 2

Living picorocos. They move in a rather sinister way.
You may be asking yourself: What is that? Is that actually something related to eating? Indeed, it is. Chile has quite a few "interesting" seafood options, this being the most exotic one we tried. That's a photo of picorocos, also known as the giant barnacle. It's native to the coast of Peru and Chile. It appears to be a rock with an alien living inside. It tastes a bit like crab, but more savory than sweet. It is a pain in the arse to get out of the shell (the rock is not a natural rock, but a shell made by the barancle). As far as wild seafood go, this is as odd as I've ever eaten! Here's a photo of the whole thing out of its shell.


Given the weight of the very thick shell, the meat to shell yield on giant barnacles is very low.


Some other shellfish, however, had exceptional yield, like these mussels at the Valdivia Feria Fluvial (River Market). The large mussels are bigger than my hands and the meat totally fills them. We cooked a bunch of them in white wine and garlic. They are meaty (as expected!) and quite delicious. My husband's cousin treated us to a home-cooked favorite of pork, chicken and potatoes cooked with lots and lots of mussels. We barely made a dent in the pile of mussels. So much delicious food!


One popular shellfish we ate, but didn't get to see fresh, is the Southern King Crab, centolla. Like Alaskan King Crab, it is a huge, scary-looking crustacean. It's harvested off the coast of southern Chile. It is extremely popular in Chile and not inexpensive. However, it's not nearly as expensive as Alaskan King Crab, so be sure to eat some if you visit southern Chile. My daughter ordered a pastel de centolla (a pastel is a savory pie with a ground corn crust) in Puerto Natales, a small city near Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia. It had an amazing amount of crab in it. She also had a delicious centolla lasagna in a French restaurant called La Cuisine near the waterfront in Punta Arenas. Again loaded with crab, and a wonderful dish. Chilean food is not the most interesting and we were thrilled to find delicious French-inspired food made with traditional Chilean ingredients.

Centolla lasagne, one of the better meals we had in Chile
The big three of fish (aside from farmed salmon which is not native to Chile) are merluza, reineta, and congrio. Merluza is a type of hake, a southern version of cod. The meat is mild, white, and flaky. Reineta is pomfret, a richer, oily fish. It's one of my favorites (I posted a recipe for Asian Pompano in Papillote; pompano is similar to pomfret), being rich and meaty. Congrio is very popular. Cadillo de congrio is a national dish, a stew made with conger. It's a meaty, white fish. Conger is an eel but these guys look more like a fish than an eel. We were served conger cheeks (like codfish cheeks) in a creamy leek sauce. Absolutely divine. There are other finfish, seaweed, and shellfish that are unique to Chile. If you are a lover of food from the sea, Chile will not disappoint, as one would expect from a country with so much rich coastline.
The bounty of Chilean seafood for sale at Santiago's Mercado Central. The congrio is in the back row on the left.
Another Chilean specialty: shellfish broiled with parmesan cheese. We were served these often, at family dinners and in restaurants. It is most commonly made with razor (pink) clams and called machas a la parmesana. It's quite delicious - how would anything broiled with parmesan cheese be bad? - but the cheese does tend to overwhelm the shellfish. When in Rome, do as the Romans do (though I'm pretty sure most Romans would not eat Parmesan cheese with their clams).


Also in this photo, locos - Chilean abalone. We ate a lot of abalone. It's savory and tender if properly made, usually served with mayonnaise and lemon, maybe a bit of onion and parsley salsa. Abalone is pretty hard to find fresh in the US. Much of it seems to be imported in cans from Mexico. You can get it fresh in Chile, and also in cans. I would have brought some home, but it's illegal to export it out of Chile.

More locos. They don't look like much but they are meaty and rich shellfish.
Final installment to come: odds and ends including paella, a whole pig, Peruvian food, and cake. Lots of cake!


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