Chileans probably eat more seafood than any other Latin American country. The country is located on the western side of Latin America; its coastline measures approximately 4,000 miles. Many Chilean prepared meals include some type of seafood ingredient. Salmon, king crab, scallops, abalone, eel, mussels, large barnacle, turbot king clip and sea urchin are used to make some of the country's most popular signature dishes.
Chile is one of the world's largest producers of salmon--it is said to second only Norway. Salmon usually is prepared as part of a baked dish, or it can be marinated in any number of ways. One recipe calls for the liquid to be made up of green peppers, mayonnaise, tabasco sauce, salt and pepper, mashed avocados and heavy cream. Many times, lime juice, garlic, red peppers and onions also are used.
Another popular Chilean presentation of seafood is a platter of fresh items containing large prawns (jumbo shrimp), mussels, scallops, oysters and clams, served with salsa. The salsa may consist of freshly chopped cilantro, parsley, green chili pepper, lime juice, olive oil and salt.
Chilean cuisine is the result of a combination of influences, including native Indian, Spanish, French, German, English and Italian ingredients and cooking techniques. Centuries ago, when Chile was colonized, the Spanish and Creoles (known as criollos, a class of American-born Spaniards) produced local versions of their homeland recipes.
One famous Creole offering that is still popular on the menus of upscale Chilean restaurants is the humita. Similar to the tamale, the bulk of it is made up of boiled corn paste, wrapped in cornhusks, which is then steamed. The contents can include fresh corn kernels, milk, eggs, butter, green bell peppers, paprika, salt, black pepper and grated Parmesan cheese. Humitas also can be made in a newer, trendy way like a soufflé. Both preparation methods can easily be made into a retail product for the grocery markets.
Porotos granados is another classical example of Creole cooking. This is a spicy bean dish made with cranberry or lima beans, squash or pumpkin, fresh corn kernels, onions, bell peppers, carrots, tomatoes, chilies, oregano, olive oil, and chicken or vegetable broth. While the beans and squash are mainstream ingredients in this dish, the variety of the latter ingredients changes, depending upon the cook. Porotos granados usually are served with bread, sweet potatoes or a typical tomato and onion salad (ensalada chilena) on the side.
In urban cities such as Santiago, Mexican and Oriental cooking ingredients and techniques have been incorporated into Chilean cuisine, especially in trendy restaurants located in downtown shopping districts or upscale neighborhoods.
Street FoodEmpanadas are one of the most popular foods cooked and sold by vendors on the streets in Chile. In fact, empanadas can be found throughout Latin America, but the dough-making processes, variety of fillings and cooking methods distinguish one country's fare from another. The main flavors include beef, chicken, pork, seafood, and sweet fruit preserves such as apples. In Chile, a beef empanada might contain lean ground beef, chopped onions, garlic, cumin, adobo seasonings, chopped hard-boiled eggs, raisins and olives. All the ingredients are cooked together, and then usually refrigerated for one day in order to let the flavors blend together. The empanada dough ingredients are unbleached flour, vegetable shortening and chicken broth. The dough is shaped into pastry circles (approximately 21/2 inches in diameter) and filled with about 11/2 teaspoons of filling, which is placed in the center of the circles. The circles then are folded over to form a half-moon, pressed around the edges to seal the contents in and then deep fried for about five minutes.
Corn Maiden (Westchester, Calif.) produces a line of empanadas than can be described as “New Latin”--traditional Latin food ingredients combined with European flavors. Examples of their flavors include: Smoked Chicken, Cashew, Basil & Sun-dried Tomato Pesto. As in the rest of South America, lunch usually is the largest meal of the day in Chile. Cazuela (a soup made with chicken, beef, pork or lamb; potatoes; corn and other vegetables) is popular in many family households. Pastel de choclo is one of Chile's most prized dishes. Although many neighboring countries have their own versions, the Chilean version is supposedly among the best. Similar to Shepard's Pie, it is made with a bottom layer of beef, eggs, raisins, spices, and topped with a corn pudding. Chicken or seafood can be substituted for the beef in pastel de choclo. A little sugar can be sprinkled on top of the corn pudding. It is then baked in a casserole dish.
One of the tastiest and best-known Chilean soups is called caldillo de congrio, which is a combination of pieces of conger-eel, onions, potatoes and carrots.
FlavorsIn Chilean cooking, color is used to season a variety of Chilean dishes such as chicken, seafood, and vegetable soups and stews. Color is an orange-red flavoring mixture made by heating garlic and paprika in oil.
Another flavoring product is called pebre, which is made of onions, vinegar, olive oil, garlic, chili pepper and fresh coriander (cilantro). Pebre goes well with meat dishes, and also is used as a condiment.
Chilean hot sauce also is popular, and this is made with a combination of oil, white wine vinegar, water, freshly chopped coriander, chopped onions, chili paste, chopped garlic and salt.
Some Chilean fruits and vegetables have variations, when compared to produce in other Latin American countries. For example, zapallo is a squash similar to pumpkin. Mote is a special type of whole kernel corn, similar to hominy. Pepino dulce is a sweet, fruit-like cucumber that tastes like melon.
Chilean beverages include Cola de mono (translated, it means “a monkey's tail”), which is a sweet, alcoholic drink made with milk, coffee, cinnamon or vanilla and pisco (a strong grape liqueur). Aguita is a very popular herbal tea, also called te de hierbas or agua monte. Numi Tea Inc. (Oakland, Calif.) has a unique line of 100% certified organic teas containing ingredients from Latin countries. One product, Rainforest Green Mate Lemon Myrtle Green Tea, contains a South American yerba mate blend, lemon myrtle and chun mee green tea.
Chile's varied heritage and abundance of foods gives the country's cooks a plethora of ingredients to turn into tasty, exciting dishes. Americans' interest in Latin foods gives U.S. manufacturers a good excuse to explore Chilean cuisine, and to offer adventuresome Americans foods inspired by this country.