The rich and intriguing nature of Chile’s history and society permeates all aspects of its culture, from the challenging and passionate literature of Isabel Allende to the robust flavors of Chilean red wines. The full breadth of the South American nation’s cuisine, of course, is no exception to this observation. Given the vastness of the country’s shoreline, which extends more than 2,500 miles, it naturally follows that seafood constitutes a considerable portion of the Chilean menu.
Today, we’ll explore the ins and outs of three well-known Chilean pescatarian delicacies:
It’s impossible to discuss Chilean sea bass without addressing the name. The Daily Meal explained this commonly consumed creature is neither a bass nor a fish indigenous to Chile, though the Chilean coastline is one place it’s often caught.
Chilean sea bass is actually Patagonian toothfish, and the story of how this cod became known as a bass is quite an interesting one. According to Priceonomics, Lee Lantz, an American fish salesman, caught a Patagonian toothfish out of the blue while fishing in Chile in 1977. Lantz initially thought the fish was bass, cooked it, and determined it wasn’t – but thought it could be marketable to Americans with the right name because of its fattiness and palatable texture. Thus Chilean sea bass was born.
These days, you’ll find Chilean sea bass on menus around the world, including in Chile. Its versatility with sauces and sides makes it immensely popular among chefs. When visiting Santiago, you might enjoy your Chilean sea bass, or what locals would call bacalao de profundidad, in a variety of different soups, stews, and pies, as well as in numerous grilled preparations.
Are you intimidated by the prospect of eating eel? Well, if a pink or red cusk eel is on the menu, especially in caldillo de congrio (conger chowder), then excitement is a more apt reaction. This creamy seafood soup contains potatoes, onions, tomato, lemon, white wine, peppers and many spices, according to chef Angelica Bertin’s blog Cocina Chilena. Although eel and conger heads serve as the primary seafood ingredient, the finished product has a savory tart flavor that isn’t as fishy as one might expect.
In stark contrast to Chilean sea bass, caldillo de congrio has incredible importance to Chilean culture. The world-renowned poet Pablo Neruda once wrote an adoring ode to the dish that doubles as a recipe, ending with the claim “that in this dish you may know heaven.”
Red snapper, on the surface, is far from the most exciting or uncommon fish. But when prepared as part of ceviche, a hugely popular dish throughout Chile, Peru, and Argentina, the fish that locals call huachinango can reach skyrocketing new heights of flavor. It can serve as the primary seafood of the dish, or complement others like halibut or Chilean sea bass.
Writing for Food & Wine magazine, chef Rick Bayless outlined a ceviche with snapper and traditional ingredients, including lime and orange juices, spicy green chiles, avocados, and tomatoes. Whatever fish is used must absolutely be fresh. Ceviche isn’t “cooked” so much as prepared, like sushi. But rest assured that it’ll be one of the freshest delicacies you taste while in Chile.
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