I was recently transported, metaphorically speaking, to Chile for an evening of learning about the country’s food and wine. I’d love to really go there someday, and travel along the entire long coastline. That night, I learned about wine making in Chile and how easily a diversity of plants grow in different regions of the country at the class Entertaining, Chilean Style at Central Market Cooking School. The class was taught by Ruth Van Waerebeek, house chef of Concha y Toro and owner of Hostal Gastonomico and Mapuyampay Cooking School in Chile, and I attended with a media pass. As the name of the class implied, all the dishes presented were good choices for parties, and they each hinted at both traditional Chilean cooking styles and influences from afar. For instance, cuisine from both Chile and Argentina has been affected by adopted Chinese and Japanese flavors. Traditional ceviches are combined with Asian ingredients like soy sauce and sesame oil. Influence has also come from France for both cooking and wine making. Rich buttery sauces and custards combined with local, Chilean ingredients are common, and a lot of Chilean vine stock originally came from France. And, of course, the South American enthusiasm for meat is evident in Chilean food where lamb is prevalent.
Our first dish of the class was cucumber rolls with shrimp and salmon ceviche with a spicy Asian-style dipping sauce, and this was paired with Casillero del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc. Van Waerebeek suggested briefly poaching the shrimp if it’s not absolutely, perfectly fresh. For ceviche, she prefers to only marinate the raw fish for 30 minutes, so sushi-quality freshness is key. The sauce here was a spicy mix of soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, chopped red chile, and black and white sesame seeds.
Next, we saw some of that French influence in a baked scallop dish with parmesan butter and sauteed vegetables. In season, local vegetables would be used here, and for this version, carrot and bell pepper were thinly julienned and sauteed until crisp. The vegetables were placed in the bottom of ramekins and were topped with a scallop. Smaller, bay scallops are more common in Chile, and if using those, a few would be placed on top of the vegetables. The scallops were topped with a generous bit of parmesan butter and were then broiled to just cook the scallops almost through. This dish was served with a young, light Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay.
Quinoa is one of those many plants that grows so well in Chile, and the seeds are prized for nutritional content. They were used here for a vegetarian custard. The egg and milk base was blended with pureed fresh corn, cooked quinoa was added, and sauteed, finely diced zucchini, bell pepper, and leeks were added as well. The custard was cooked in individual portions in ramekins, and the airiness of the custard was given heft by the tender pearls of quinoa. This course was served with Casillero del Diablo Carmenere, and we learned that Carmenere is the flagship varietal of Chile. It’s a light enough red wine to pair well with a range of flavors.
The quinoa custard was followed by a lamb chop served with an almond, green olive, and mint salsa. The lamb was marinated in olive oil with rosemary and garlic before being grilled, and the salsa was an easy puree of toasted almonds, green olive, fresh mint, and a little white wine to thin as needed. The wine was a robust Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon, and it was my favorite wine of the evening.
Dessert wasn’t a Chilean dish at all, but rather, it was a Catalonian idea for ending a meal imported from Spain. An aged Manchego cheese was served with pieces of rosemary bread and black cherry preserves, and this was paired with Casillero del Diablo Reserva Privada. Although this idea came from Spain, sheep’s milk cheeses similar to Manchego are common in Chile but are difficult to find outside the country.
Until I get a chance to trek the length of Chile, I can at least daydream about it and enjoy these dishes and wines at home. The seafood, the quinoa, and the wine will be waiting when I finally get there.