Friday, March 6, 2009

Cazuela: Chilean comfort food

Cazuela:
A dish, usually round and made of clay, wider than deep, used for cooking. A stew cooked in this dish, made of various vegetables and meat. Diccionario De La Lengua Española – 2nd Edition (all translations mine)
Chile, Ecuador and Peru. A very substantial stew made of beef or chicken, corn, chili, and vegetables. Diccionario Español –Acanomas.com
Cazuela is Chilean meat-and-potatoes. It is home cooking; nourishing, inexpensive, every-day comfort food. But to Chilean anthropologist, Sonia Montecino Aguirre, it is more:
On the symbolic plane, cazuela is a metaphor for life and the cosmos. The foods are cooked in water, within a concave vessel like amniotic fluid in the womb; they transform and express, in their variable whole, the plurality of the animal, vegetable and mineral elements. They constitute a chromatic spectrum, a relation of the solid and liquid, of the salty, the spicy and the sweet. … [cazuela] evokes, in turn, the universe within a pot.[i]
In our house it is somewhat more mundane, perhaps because I’m not Chilean, though I must admit that to my wife cazuela has “meaning,” and not just substance. She says it means “home.”



Making cazuela is simple. Beef, lamb, pork, or chicken (preferably with bone and meat) is simmered in water with a touch of seasoning--garlic, onion, oregano, paprika.

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When it is tender, vegetables are added: potatoes, corn on the cob, squash, all in large chunks; perhaps onion and bell pepper, and then rice or corn meal, and green beans or peas. On top a little parsley.  Need a recipe?  The best I found on the web is from the Chilean Santa Helena winery cookbook, "Chilean Wine and Food Pairings," ...but use butternut squash. 

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The origins of cazuela, or at least of a boiled dish of meats and vegetables, are as old as the pot itself. The pre-agricultural Jomon of Japan, the earliest culture known to make and use ceramics at more than 12,000 years ago,
…liked hearty seafood stews, made up of various fish, clams and other shellfish catches of the day. The ingredients would have varied with the seasons. The food was cooked in large conical or rounded pots with tapered or pointy bottoms that sat well in the soil and ash of the bonfire or hearth.  From food remains found in the ceramic pots, it was possible for archaeologists to know that the Jomon chef spent a long time finely chopping his or her herb or root vegetable ingredients on a flat stone, then throwing them all into the large Jomon pot and letting them boil extremely slowly over the fire.[ii]

Reconstructed Jomon pot of stew by the Kawasaki City Museum
                                    
              




Perhaps the best know is the French pot au feu, but there are also the New England boiled diners; the pucheros of Andalucía, the Canary Islands, Argentina, and Uruguay; the sancochos of the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Ecuador, Panamá, Venezuela, and Puerto Rico; Peru’s sanchochado: the adafina of the Sdephardic Jews; the Italian Bollito Misto; Spanish cocidos; and the Chinese sand pot dishes. Students of Chilean culinary history suggest that the immediate origin for the Chilean cazuela is probably the mixing of the Mapuche dish korrü and the Spanish olla podrida[iii].



Whatever their origin, Chile’s cazuelas are here to stay. Although you will seldom find cazuela on the menu of an elegant restaurant, every corner café will have it on its lunch-time menu.  Try it.
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[i] Cocinas Mestizas de Chile: La Olla Deleitosa, Sonia Montecino Aguirre, Museo Chileno De Arte Precolombino, 2004 on line at http://www.precolombino.cl/mods/biblioteca/pdf/publicacion.php?id=11
[ii] Heritage of Japan “Jomon cuisine: What went into the Jomon pots?”
[iii]Apuntes Para La Historia De La Cocina Chilena, Eugenio Pereira Salas, 1977 on line at http://www.memoriachilena.cl/temas/dest.asp?id=historiadelacocinachilena

5 comments:

  1. Hi Jim,
    really enjoying your blog, and looking forward to exploring more of the foods available here.

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  2. Thanks, Tamara. I’m glad you are enjoying it.
    Best wishes - Jim

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  3. I have to admit, I've been disrespectful of Chilean food in the past...
    But this look at cazuela has really summed up it's poetic simplicity.
    I'm making Chilean food all next week for my chilean husband. He hasn't been back to his country in two years and I haven't made a single chilean dish. I'm glad I found your blog and he will be very excited.

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  4. Amanda,
    Thanks for your gracious comment. I hope it makes your husband happy. And try the Charquican too… it’s simple and good. (See my posts from June.)

    Jim

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  5. Que rico... mumssss... :)

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Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim