With 3,998 miles of coastline to its name – and an equal length of the Andes mountains dominating its landscape – it’s a safe bet to assume that Chile isn’t lacking in ingredients. Here, Rodolfo Guzmán, Carolina Bazán and Ciro Watanabe – three chefs working in Santiago who rank among Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants 2014 – select one ingredient that they couldn’t cook without.
Rodolfo Guzmán, Boragó, No. 5 in Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants
“Cochayuyo (Durvillaea antarctica) is a kelp that the Mapuche indigenous people used to gather from the coast, people who were known as the Lafkenche. Today we know it as cochayuyo, which means ‘sea plant’ in the Quechua language.
The Mapuche gathered it for hundreds of years and it became one of Chile’s most popular kelps. These days you can buy the upper part, cochayuyo, dehydrated in supermarkets as well as the stalks or huites. It has a surprising texture that’s similar to palm heart but with a very intense maritime flavour.
We discovered that making a broth from it meant we could get a heavy, opaque yet brilliant juice. The most curious thing is that it tastes like soy sauce even though it’s not fermented, and it’s far more drinkable because it doesn’t dry out your mouth. It’s also high in protein and very nutritious.
Two dishes in la secuencia de roca use cochayuyo, although they vary depending on what we can gather. The first features a sea asparagus cream, coastal asparagus, almond-like rock onion, carnosas and a light cochayuyo broth, while the second features fried conger eel, which has a great texture, and a similar broth.”
Ciro Watanabe, Osaka Santiago, No. 30 in Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants
“The Chilean abalone sea snail (Concholepas concholepas) is a mollusk that inhabits the coastline of both Chile and Peru. Known as loco in Chile, and chanque or pata de burro in Peru, it’s highly appreciated for its tasty flavour as well as its pale colour. If you cook it the right way, it’s very smooth. But due to its over-exploitation, various restrictions have been put in place by authorities to control harvesting.
Apart from the texture and incredible flavour, it’s a classic product in Chilean cuisine. It’s multifaceted and you can use it in various dishes, from ceviche to tiradito, sashimi and nigiri, cook them in a wok with some vegetables – and why not prepare it in a saucepan too?
You can also fry or sauté locos, but the most usual way to cook them is in a pressure cooker. However, you do have to beat them before eating them. We take them out of their shells and place them in an inner tube and hit them against a rock or a counter. It’s a real art that needs to be done with precision and adequate force between blows. I prefer to cook them in a pressure cooker with water, a little hon dashi stock, a squirt of mirin rice wine and kombu kelp.
The last dish I made with locos was a tiradito which is simply called loco/green chilli and avocado. A green chilli with a little coriander sauce, locos sliced into laminates that alternate with avocado, a little salt, lemon juice then finished with strips of ikura and nori. It’s a dish that represents Chile but with a Peruvian/Japanese touch – we could call it Chilean Nikkei!”
Carolina Bazán, Ambrosía, No. 37 in Latin America's 50 Best Restaurants and winner of the One To Watch Award
“One ingredient that’s never missing from my menu – even though I change it up frequently – is the fresh large oyster. I always feature an oyster dish as it's one of the shellfish that fascinates me the most thanks to its versatility. Raw or cooked, with or without roe, it has an incredible texture and a sweet taste.
When I came back from holiday in February, it was very hard to get hold of them as it seems various oyster farmers have closed down because Peruvian oysters are very cheap and it’s no longer a viable business for them. I’ve been looking into where I can get them from, but I won’t be buying frozen ones because they just aren’t the same!
One dish I love to cook is a starter featuring pan-fried oysters that are only sealed on the outside, raw bacon and lychee atop an orange beurre blanc. Delicious!”
Images: Estudio Leclic, Natalia Elis, Boragó