Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chile - Curanto

For Chile I cooked the national dish curanto, or, to be more accurate, I cooked pulmay, the indoor stewed version. Curanto is prepared in a hole dug in the ground. It consists of every meat and seafood ingredient imaginable. It’s the perfect dish to have at parties. When I cooked my pulmay I invited Christa and her family over to help us eat it. It was rather fearless of me to invite guests over when I had no idea what I was cooking. But it would have been more fearless if I had made the traditional curanto. Nonetheless, we were up for the adventure and it turned out to be a tasty experience.

For the pulmay I bought a 14-liter pot and I layered it first with vegetables, then sausage and chicken pieces, then clams, mussels, shrimp and scallops. I covered each layer with cabbage leaves and I poured a bottle of white wine over the top. The cooking wine mixed in with the garlic, onions and seafood was enough to make you salivate. The wine juices were also the perfect dipping sauce for the homemade bread that Christa brought.

We ended up eating the pulmay in courses starting with the shellfish, then the shrimp and scallops and then the pork, sausage and chicken. Christa and her husband, Neil, brought Chilean wine and it was delicious. I’ve recently become interested in Chilean wine and it has become quite popular around the world. It all started in the 16th century when Spanish priests cultivated the country’s first wines because they needed wines to celebrate the Catholic Mass. The Chilean climate is ideal for grape growing and today Chili is exporting wine to more than 90 countries.

Chile has also become a popular tourist destination with its award-winning wines and exceptional seafood. Some of their popular cuisines are conger eel, sea bass, mussels, king crabs and locos – large abalone. It’s also known for its hardy country dishes with meat, potatoes, corn and beans, and they love their empanadas - pastries stuffed with meat. I found empanadas at the Latin grocery store I go to and they were a big hit with Christa and her family. They were made fresh and I put them in the oven until they were warm and crispy.

I thought how fun it would be to have a traditional curanto. I could invite people over to literally pull their food out of the ground. It would make us feel one with the earth.

If anyone is interested this is what you do: You dig a hole, 1 foot deep, 5 feet wide (hopefully your neighbors won’t think you’re burying a dead body in your backyard). You then start a bonfire in the middle of the hole. Spread wood coals evenly on the bottom, then stones on top of the coals and then cover the stones with leaves. Rhubarb leaves are the best to use. Then put on the layers of food. Seafood (best to use shellfish) goes on the bottom, then meats and then the vegetables. Cover each layer with the rhubarb leaves. When all the food layers are down, cover it again with leaves, then lay down a thick cloth over the top of it all. Now shovel dirt on top of that. It will cook for one to two hours.

So the next time you want to have a backyard barbeque you may want to consider making curanto. I’m sure it will be the talk of the neighborhood, especially if the neighbors called the police because they really did they think you buried a dead body or because you broke some city ordinance.

In any event, friends, great food and wine and lively conversation, it doesn’t get much better than that.


2 green bell peppers
1/2 cup chopped parsley
4 onions, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
5 potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 head of cabbage, with leaves separated
1 1/2 lb pork loin, cubed
1 1/2 lb pork sausage, sliced
1 chicken cut into 8 pieces
10 mussels
10 sea scallops
20 clams
10 large prawns
7 blue crab and soft shell crabs and any other seafood available
1 bottle of white wine

You will need a very large pot. Spread the peppers in the bottom of the pot, sprinkle with parsley and salt, follow with onions, garlic, and potatoes. Spread a layer of cabbage leaves and follow with pork loin, sausage, chicken pieces and salt. Spread a layer of cabbage leaves and follow with seafood and cover and cover with cabbage leaves again. Pour wine over the layers. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 25 to 35 minutes until cabbage is tender. If needed add water.

In my experience the seafood may be done much sooner.

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