I love seafood. There is little I’ve eaten from the depths that I have not enjoyed. Piure was no different, but it was by far the oddest creature from the sea I’d ever consumed. Piure, known more inappropriately and not a name I necessarily enjoy, as it steers people further away, is ‘period rock’. While it may resemble a rock that bleeds once cut into, it is actually a species of sea squirt. My descriptions of food can already be sexual, vulgar or in my opinion, just an honest depiction. So for all intents and purposes, lets stick with Piure or Pyura Chilensis, if you feel like being scientific.
For starters, a bit of background on this unappealing, alien-like beast from beneath. Piure is found on the rocky coastline of Chile and Peru. They attach themselves to a rock or hard surface and spend their life in this spot. Born as a male, they become hermaphroditic in their lives as moving to find love is not an option. Quite often, they are found grouped together, but if this is not the case, reproduction must be done solo. As well, being stationary beings, they are filter feeders sustained by micro algae.
Eating and Where to Find
Now the good part. Piure is not a food you will see abundantly, or at least from my experience. From the locals (I can only speak for Chile) I’d talked to, Piure was not widely enjoyed anymore either. The first time I ate Piure, I didn’t even know I had consumed it. That being said, the strong iodine flavour can be quite subtle and hidden.
While it can be spotted in the Central Market in Santiago, it eluded me or so I thought. With my non-existent Spanish, I merely had a vague idea of what I had ordered. Sopa de Mariscos, that came as a chilled broth with a heaping mound of mixed shellfish. Mussels, squid, shrimp, a single scallop and small chunks of this red ‘stuff’ at the time. I couldn’t identify it at the moment, but later came to a realization. That weird, red slimy ‘thing’, was actually my first taste of piure.
Fast forward to the end of my trip in Chile. I was here to relax, take a cooking class and search out Piure. I asked the chef of my cooking class if she could point me in the general direction. To Caleta Portales (a local seafood market) I went. Bright and early in the morning, I was off to see the boats come in, hauling their catch with them.
It was bustling with life. Fishermen peddling there catch while dozens bartered for the freshest fish. Behind this ruckus, shacks of fishmongers were gutting and cleaning fish with the speed of true masters. Pelicans sat on top competing for the best spot as fishmongers handed out remains to be tossed down there gullet. Sea lions waded aggressively in the tide where buckets of scraps were thrown. Everyone and everything got a piece of the breakfast buffet.
Once I was done observing this daily ritual, I made my way to the vendors. Puire sat in mass quantities on display along with an abundance of other seafood. It looked like a cluster of rocks covered in seaweed and once cut revealed these pockets of red slimy flesh oozing a translucent goo. I started with half a dozen raw scallops with a simple squeeze of lemon. I was working my way up to the piure, but it was time. Spotting it prepared in small cups, it was a perfect serving. Especially for a first timer.
Marinated in a vinaigrette with herbs and mussels, it was ultimately a mussel and piure salad. There was three fat lobes or globules of piure looking at me. It had been a while since I hesitated this much to put something in my mouth. Down the hatch.
It had a strong saltiness accompanied by a mild sweetness. A taste of the ocean like nothing else. The brininess would only in my experience be compared to sea urchin, but this was intense. This aspect I enjoyed. The texture is what left much to be desired. Slimy and odd to chew, I swallowed. It was like viscous mucus that builds in your throat when ill. In small doses, it is quite tasty packing a punch of the sea in one tiny morsel. As a culinary enthusiast, I would never pass up another opportunity to try this unique food again.
If eating it raw hits the gag reflex, then I suggest searching out other preparations. Mixed in small amounts along with other seafood, it is mild and delicious. A form I have yet to try, is simply cooked. The chef had warned me about its strength raw and claimed she would only eat it cooked and that I should lead up with that. Meh! Just dive right in. Also, I have read about it being dried and shaved like bottarga (cured and dried roe).
The pleasure of food like piure for me, is its obscurity and the potential to search out different preparations if you’re willing to taste the world. The flavour may not be for everyone, but don’t shy away from an experience that at the very least will be beyond memorable.