The fact that I travel to eat is know mystery. I think it is the best way to explore a country and its culture. Walking the markets, tasting the produce for sale, smelling the fresh scent of the sea from the fish mongers and aromas of ripening fruit. Eating in the small stall that caught your eye while perusing the goods. It’s a full sensory experience giving a brief glimpse into a cuisine and the culture in which it represents. Cooking classes are another way to further this experience. As a chef by trade this is always at the top of my to do list in a country. So there I was, waiting at Melbourne Cafe for the Chilean Cuisine Cooking Class in Valparaiso to begin.
Chilean Cuisine Cooking Class in Valparaiso
Enjoying my coffee, Chef Ines explained the day ahead of us and our selection of traditional dishes we had a choice from. Empanadas were the only one on the menu regardless. I mean, you can’t not learn one of the basic, handheld specialties of Chile and ultimately this part of the world. Beyond that, there is three courses in which the group comes to a collective decision on. To top off what will no doubt become a large and amazing lunch, a pitcher of pisco sour is made with some wine to enjoy while eating your fill.
Once the menu is made, we all jumped on the public bus and headed for the market.
Ceviche with Pebre
Pastel de Choclo
Nothing, but the freshest ingredients were used as Chef Ines bought ingredients for our respective dishes. Brought to a seafood area, a couple fish were picked out, scaled and filleted specifically for us. Produce was hand picked, as we got a few little taste tests. An aromatic spice stall perfumed the surrounding area while she stocked up her supply and I purchased some merkin for home. Lastly, a butcher that she presumably visits daily provided us with ground meat for the empanadas and pastel de choclo.
It wasn’t long before we were climbing the hills of Valparaiso to the cooking studio. Aprons tied, fashionable chef hats on and an increasing appetite, it was time to get to work.
There are multiple different fillings that can be found in these handheld pockets of love, but the traditional and most common is the Empanada de Pino. The filling consists of sauteed onions and ground beef as the base. Spiced with cumin, paprika and the uniquely Chilean spice merkin (smoked Chilean chili with coriander and salt), if a little heat is desired. The other ingredients that are indicative of ‘de Pino’ are hard boiled egg, olives and raisins. For some this may seem odd, but as usual it works. It wouldn’t be a classic if it didn’t go well together.
Other fillings are seafood, vegetarian and less traditionally, but common now, ham and cheese or simply cheese. The way in which the empanada was folded and sealed signified the filling inside. A rectangular shape, sides folded up would indicate the traditional ‘Pino’ filling. If a corner was folded down, it would indicate that it had been spiced with merkin. A rolled seal, resembling the rope of a ship would represent a seafood empanada and a triangle would be vegetarian.
There is definitely no shortage of these anywhere in Chile. That said, as with all cooking, true satisfaction comes when you’ve put the time into preparing it yourself and watching the dough turn a beautiful golden brown.
Another dish that will not be hard to track down throughout Chile, but little known to most, it is a Peruvian style ceviche you will be eating. A Peruvian style is cubed fish, where as the Chileans do it a bit differently. Chef Ines informs us that the reasoning behind rarely finding a true traditional Chilean ceviche is simply laziness. It requires a more time consuming process to prepare the fish.
Opposed to being cubed, it is scraped from the fillet with a fork. This gives it the look I can best compared with canned flaked fish, but the texture is its own from the acid. This is then mixed with lemon, red onion and cilantro and left to sit for 30 minutes while the acid cooks the fish and the flavours get cozy together.
Pebre is simply Chilean salsa. A table condiment that is rarely not served immediately with bread. Each place a bit different, it consists of finely chopped tomato, onion, chili, cumin, lemon, olive oil with cilantro giving it that burst of freshness. The thing that makes this different from other countries salsa is the use of the Chilean spice merkin. Spice levels at restaurants vary, but when making it yourself, season to taste.
Pastel de Choclo
This dish was my number one reason for taking the cooking class in Valparaiso. This dish was a comfort food casserole that had my heart. To some degree resembling a cottage or shepherd’s pie which I ate lots of growing up. More interestingly though, it used an ingredient I previously only thought of for cow feed.
The bottom layer in the clay bowl, is similar to the filling for the empanada de Pino, but with a bit more ‘gravy’ or sauciness. On top was what so strongly drew me to this dish. At first I thought it was a coarse cornmeal making a polenta of sorts. Instead, it actually used feeder corn or as I knew it, cow corn. Tasting some raw brought me back to my childhood house on the farm. I would grab a cob even though I knew it was chalk-y and dry from the high starch content. Nonetheless, the best food brings anyone back some memory from once upon a time in my opinion.
The corn was removed from the cob, ground and simmered in milk like a porridge, similar to polenta. Sweetened with a touch of sugar, it was spooned on top with another sprinkle of sugar. It was then baked until the sides were oozing and the top was caramelized forming a slight crust. Cool slightly and simply dig in.
Homemade, like most baked goods are nothing like their store bought counterparts and I found alfajores to be no different. At first, I didn’t think I really enjoyed them because I only had one from a store, and was far from impressed. Then on a food tour I got a proper taste of what these cookies should be and I knew I had to learn to make them.
Ultimately, these were more similar to making crackers then it was to cookies. An unsweetened dough was rolled thin and rounds cut out. Each round would get stabbed by a fork multiple times to prevent any uneven rising or bubbles throughout the baking process. Once the ‘cookies’ or ‘crackers’ were cool, simply sandwich in a healthy dollop of dulce de leche and there you have it. Simple and plain is traditional, but they can often be found coated in chocolate which rarely harms anything.
The pride of Chile and the pride of Peru. A constant debate as to who invented it and who makes the best. Well, this is the last thing I wish to discuss. On the other hand, I will say that regardless it is delicious and can pack a serious punch. So, be sure to indulge
Pisco is a brandy that is made from the Muscatel grape. It is a clear to yellowish amber colour, depending on how it is aged. This can be done on French oak barrels as well as clay. For the cocktail, quite often a 35% pisco is used while the 40% pisco is generally enjoyed neat.
A recipe for the cocktail is included below.
As the ceviche and pebre were finished as an appetizer, the pastel de choclo and empanadas finished baking and were brought to the table. Red or white wine in one hand, a pisco sour in the other. Telltale signs of a feast about to happen. As always the food was fantastic, but in situations like this it’s also about who is at the table. New friends, good conversation, homemade delicious food and drink. This cooking class in Valparaiso is an afternoon that shouldn’t be missed.
I do a fair amount of research into food and food cultures of the world. I find it fascinating because the knowledge is endless when it comes to the world of food. Chilean food I learnt is talked about rarely. Unknown to many. Seemingly uncelebrated by much of Chile it seemed at times, it should be on the radar of travelers to South America and on a global scale. A country extending for so many miles lends the cuisine so much diversity. The bounty of it’s farms, fields deserts, mountains and seas left me speechless. Chilean Cuisine Cooking Class in Valparaiso was not only a tool to learn more about the food culture of Chile, but a way to bring some of it home with me.
For a mere 40, 000 CLP, Chilean Cuisine Cooking Class in Valparaiso is the best thing to do in the city from a foodie perspective. Not only does it take the majority of the day, but will be the only meal necessary as well.
This is the selection of other recipes that can be decided upon by the group to cook, but remember all recipes are sent via email no matter what is chosen!
Appetizers – Machas a la Parmasana, Palta Rellanas, Tomato Rellanas
Entrees – Charquican, Cazuela, Carbonada, Porotos Granados, Cancato, Cazuela Chilota
Desserts – Leche Asada, Chirimoya Alegre, Fruta al Jugo
Pisco Sour Recipe -into recipe card?
- 1 oz lemon juice
- 1 oz simple syrup
- 3 oz Pisco
- 1 egg white
- Add a couple ice cubes to the cocktail shaker
- Add all other ingredients and shake like your life depended on it
- Once ice has melted and the egg white has formed a foam, pour into a champagne flute glass
- Enjoy, cheers!
Sadly, my phone went MIA shortly after this cooking class in Punta Arenas, so many of the pictures I had taken are lost with it.
To book or inquire about this cooking class be sure to check out there website, Chilean Cuisine Cooking Class.