Sunday, 28 February 2010

Rules of the Braai

Kinda off the wall, but here is a video of the rules of a South African Braai. All Asados, Bar-B-Q's or Braai have rules.

Rules of the Braai


Thursday, 25 February 2010

Beef – Part 1 – A Short History

Argentines consume on average 68kg of beef per person per year. Now imagine that in a population of 40,000,000, at least 8,000,000 are under 10 years of age and therefore do not consume a great deal of beef. The over 70’s which there are more than 2 million can not eat too much either. Then you have the dozen or so veggies that for some bizarre reason do not like beef. Weirdo’s. So that leaves about 30,000,000 people consuming 2,720,000,000kg of beef annually. Which means your average meat eating loving person eats nearly 2kg of beef a week. Jeeze. Now that’s a lot.
Now consuming that amount of beef must have problems for the local population. Studies show a risk of cancer development, and cancer is the 2nd highest killer in Argentina, but they do not have the highest cancer rate in the world. Not by a mile. High cholesterol also is high in red meat eaters, mainly due to the saturated fats in the meat, but that doesn’t stop people from eating huge amounts of beef. Maybe it’s the mate they drink continually.
The Spanish first introduced cattle into Argentina in the 16th Century. These beasts enjoyed the pampas so much they multiplied very quickly. With the invention of refrigeration ships and the lack of beef in the Northern Hemisphere the export market exploded.
This in turn created the Gaucho, like the North American cowboys, gauchos were generally reputed to be strong, honest, silent types, but proud and capable of violence when provoked. The gaucho tendency to violence over petty matters is also recognized as a typical trait. Gauchos use of the famous "facón" is legendary, often associated with considerable bloodletting. Historically, the facón was typically the only eating instrument that a gaucho carried. It was common for a gaucho to hold a large piece of meat in his teeth and to cut away what he would keep using the facón.
Today, there is basically not enough beef in Argentina to feed the population. Whilst we were there, beef prices were soaring by 50%. As all cattle farmers have ditched beef to grow soya, as it gives them more money, but as we know bad, bad, bad for the soil.
Beef exports have been banned for the moment, but this has been going on for the last few years. But I can see that Argentina may have to import some beef to keep prices low. An unthinkable scenario. But it may yet happen.
As everyone knows the quality of Argentine beef is 2nd to none. The old English breeds like the Shorthorn, Hereford, and the Aberdeen Angus have all thrived on the Pampas. Thousands of km’s of open pasture for them to roam and feed. Now that’s the way cattle should live. Over 150 years of pure breeding and cross breeding has made the meat some of the best in the world.
But with all things, having a great product does not naturally mean it tastes great on the plate. This is all down to the masters of the asado or parrilla.
To part 2. 

Monday, 22 February 2010

Sour the Pisco Way ......

Wars have been fought over stupid things, although the war between Honduras and EL Salvador in 1969 does not rank as one of them. It was over football, and that is not silly.
I’m amazed a war hasn’t been fought between Chile and Peru over Pisco. Although they have had scuffles but that is over maritime rights, and not to be discussed here.
Now depending on whom you speak to, the best Pisco comes from either Peru or Chile. Peoples from both countries would rather loose a hand than say the other side had the best Pisco. What we know as Pisco today originated from Peru. (Let’s get that straight). In Pisco to be exact, if you believe the myths about its introduction into the Americas of the grape, by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th Century.
People are divided on the quality of Pisco. Some say Peru has refined the grape to a quality liquor, whilst the Chilean version is a rough and ready version. Which may be true, as Peruvians have taken Pisco to their hearts, even having a Pisco Day.
But as with wine, terrior has a lot to do with the taste of the grape, plus also how the grapes are distilled. Both countries do this differently. They also drink it differently in both countries. The Pisco Sour we know today from both Chile and Peru taste as similar as chalk n cheese.
The Peruvian version is a little more refined as a cocktail than its Chilean counterpart. The inclusion of key limes, egg whites, sugar syrups and bitters make it a truly cosmopolitan cocktail. A delicious smooth frothy drink that goes down very very well. This I can acclaim to as I got through 6 in a Peruvian restaurant in Bogotá. (Nazca)
The Chilean Sour is as basic as it gets. 3 parts Pisco to one part lemon or lime, plus sugar to taste. Can’t get much more basic than that. Tastes great though, but it’s not a cocktail, and to be honest I wouldn’t order either in a bar somewhere, much prefer a vodka martini or a rum and coke.
But whilst in Chile, do as the Chileans do. Amazingly it took us till we were in Valparaiso to sample the delights of the Chilean Pisco sour.

First stop was Cinzano, a bar well over a hundred years old. So were most of the staff there also. The resident band, whose lead singer was 85 were churning out classic hits like “Quizas, quizas, quizas”. Which is about a horny man trying to worm his way into a girls knickers. With all his attempts to do this, all she says is Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Frustrating the poor man in the process. Well wouldn’t we all be.

The drink was a delight to drink, right balance of Pisco and lemon juice so both worked in harmony with each other. It had been blended to give the impression of the inclusion of egg whites, but I never saw him put any in, contrary to Lina’s say so.
What does she know. We were given a bottle of really good Chilean Pisco by our all-knowledgeable friend on all things Chilean. Well she is from Chile, and her husband, my one stop for all things Russian. I must find out if he makes a white Russian. Or is this another invention and marketed by others.
I once was chief tester at a cocktail party, where everyone who came had to prepare their fave cocktails. Needless to say I was bladdered after a very short while, all due to some potent but fantastic White Russians.
Anyhows, back to the story of the Pisco. Lina was told you only use Pisco and lemon. 3:1, and sugar to taste. Lina being Lina and not a big drinker used 3 parts lemon and 1 part Pisco. Too lemony for me, and no wonder we had ¾ of a bottle left several months later. Cost us a fortune in lemons. She was rebuked and knows better now. It’s always more alcohol to juice. Mostly.

The other Pisco Sours we tasted were rather too lemony for my liking. Typical of restaurants to skimp on the Pisco. Tight wads. But all in all they got us drunk, so that’s what counts.
I will leave Chile and Peru to fight this one out. All I can hope for is that they continue to fight and improve their Piscos, letting us saviour the goodness.
This is one war I am thankful for.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Lina’s Crimes Against Food # 2 : Pastel de Jaiba

Lina and the people of Chile are serial committers of crimes against food, and they all involve fish and cheese.
I know my point of view is seen as food snobbery by a lot of people. But I just do not see the point of having the delicate flavour of fish destroyed by the heavy taste of cheese.
I know a lot of people love this combination, namely a vast majority of Chile’s 17,000,000 population are big fans of it. As it appears on nearly every menu in one form or another in Chile’s restaurants. I’ve also seen it in some high end (if you can call them that) restaurants in Medellin. People seem to love fish and cheese.
Maybe it’s me then who is mistaken, as if the majority love this dish, maybe I’m wrong. But as we live in a free speaking democratic world (supposedly) I can air my opinion and I believe in food terms I am correct and they are wrong.

Take for example Pastel de Jaiba. This is a crab dish, not so similar to a fish pie. The crab is cooked and then shredded and mixed with a white sauce before being put into a ceramic dish. Then mash is layered on top before being sprinkled with cheese and then popped under the grill or in the oven to melt and let the cheese bubble and brown a little.
Now you may think this is a yummy dish. I did actually try it, popping my spoon deep into the bottom of the dish avoiding all melted cheese as I went, but when it ended up in my mouth, all I could taste was cheese. Where was that delicious taste of the crab that would have made this dish awesome. I’ll tell you. Nowhere. It had been jumped, mugged and dragged away by the much stronger cheese. It had no chance. There was only going to be one winner, and by a knock down the cheese won.
I think people will forever argue over whether cheese and fish should go together or not. Let’s put it down to personal opinion. It doesn’t. 

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

A Lo Pobre

Chile has many dishes to which Chileans consider to be their own creation. Bistec a lo pobre is one of them. It literally translates as “Poor Man’s Steak”, this dish is anything but for the poor man. For starters it’s normally one of the expensive items on the menu. But after eating it, any poor man would be very content and feel like a king.
I imagine that once upon a time, when meat was in more abundance and the population less, it was considered a very basic dish. But as time went on, the population grew, the cut of meat got better and bigger, the proportions got bigger and bigger, and finally the price grew, until it is the size and price it is today.
You can find either lomo or bife a lo pobre or in some places pescado a lo pobre in literally every low to mid range restaurant in the country. Some upper class restaurants will serve it, but most consider it a very simple dish. Well it is.
It basically consists of a very large piece of meat, normally lomo, and I mean large. An even larger portion of chips. 2 fried eggs, normally done in the South American way of being over done, but sometimes just right. All this is hiding a delicious portion of fried onions cooked in a nice salsa.
As you can imagine it’s a mammoth plate of food, easily enough for 2. Although I am a greedy git, and refused to share a plate of this with Lina. Even though I should have, maybe my ever expanding belly wouldn’t be as ever expanding if I had of.

I had once pescado a lo pobre. Which was well same same as above but with fried fish. Hey it worked.
All this is best downed with a litre of Escudo. A delish Chilean beer. So far my fave in Latin America. Yes, better than Quilmes. Hard to believe I know, but its true.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Lina’s Crimes Against Food # 1 : Machas a la Parmesana

Lina has committed some serious crimes against food I am sure in her lifetime. But on this trip to Argentina and Chile she committed some heinous crimes. Shameful.
Call me a food snob or just call me old fashioned, whatever, but there are some things that just should not go together. But I am an easygoing person, so each to his own as I say. I mean who am I to tell people what they can or can not eat. Well…..
In fact these crimes against food are committed several thousand times a day in Chile. Possibly more. These crimes are so bad that I can sense all Italian nonna’s turning in their graves. You think that is an earthquake you are hearing. Think again.
Lina was introduced to this crime by her Chilean friend, who shall remain nameless as I want her to make me a pastel de choclo, as we never found a version as good as hers in Chile.
But back to the crime. In Chile, they take mussels or other shellfish, cook them, shell them, and put the meat back into one side of the shell. Sprinkle grated Parmesan on top and then pop them under the grill until it is bubbling.

For me this is so wrong. I know some people love this. Well Parmesan is a lovely tasty thing. Mussels are a delight to the palate if cooked just right. Plain nasty if over cooked. But together I just do not see the point, as because all you can taste is the grilled cheese. All flavour of the delicate mussels is destroyed by the heavy taste of the cheese.
This why in any self respecting Italian restaurant you never find cheese and fish together on the same plate. It’s just a waste of fish. Fish should be savoured and enjoyed, not destroyed by an over powering cheese.
But each to his own is what I say. Lina enjoyed every last mussel and I’m sure she would have eaten them at every meal if she could.
I didn’t try this crime, but I did try the next one. Oh dear. 

Monday, 15 February 2010

A World of Potatoes - It’s Wrong, just so Wrong

In my days as an enthusiastic travel agent. It’s so long ago now that I cannot remember when it was. I once sold some flights to a man who was to say the least a potato obsessed man an understatement. He told me he grows about 200 hundred rare varieties, and gladly informed me that there are over 7000 different types in the world. He travels around Europe giving speeches on potatoes. Like I said he’s an obsessed man.
Chiloe has 4 indigenous types of potatoes. All very similar in size and shape, only the colour inside the tatties are different. One is red, another is black and one has rings on the inside.
Near to where we were staying in Ancud was a small café called the “World of Potatoes”. A nice place with a small menu, that sells everything to do with potatoes. The papas rellenas were fantastic, some of the best I’ve ever had. But not quite as good as what a small old lady was selling in a small market in a small village in Colombia we visited once. They were awesome.
I was going to do a blog about papas rellenas, but never got round to it. You never know I still may do one. They deserve one.
So looking at the menu, I noticed they had some cakes on it. What followed disgusted me. It really did. I even told them it was wrong, wrong, wrong. Thankfully they laughed it off, as ramblings of a mad man. I was the mad one?
Basically, they had several tarts, mainly fruit ones. Now everyone would naturally use pastry, but alas no. A World of Potatoes in keeping with their name use mashed potato as a pastry base. It’s wrong. It is.
They even brought some out to show me, strangely all of them only had one slice taken out. Odd huh? But the look of that mash potato base could not persuade me to have a slice. Call me old fashioned, but some things do not go.
Lina tried to persuade me to try one, but she wouldn’t do it herself. She wasn’t hungry she told me. Cunning excuses huh?
We settled down with our coffee and my papa rellena, as I said it was a delish snack. Filled with yummy meat and mash, but those tarts distressed me, I think I had sleepless nights afterwards. Scary stuff. 

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Curanto - Slow Food at it's Best

For so many years I had always wanted to visit the mythical island of Chiloe. No idea why, maybe it was the sense of isolation that the islands have. The way they managed to stay apart from Spain for so long, but even when they were reigned in, the locals kept up their traditions and culture for so long.
One of the things that survived the centuries of Spanish rule and later after independence is curanto. Curanto is pure Chiloe. It’s a foodies dream to eat a purely indigenous dish that has survived the centuries and is still very similar to how it was centuries ago.
Curanto is basically a dish of clams, mussels, chicken, sausages, pork ribs, 4 different types of potatoes cooked in different ways. All this is served on a gigantic platter and with a bowl of the broth that the meat and shellfish were cooked in. So it has a flavouring of everything. Quite delicate and very delish.
As we were in the northern capital of Chiloe, Ancud. We headed to the best restaurant in town that we were told served the best curanto on the island. The Kuranton restaurant is settled nicely in the port area. It’s interior has a mish mash of curios from Chiloe. There is a whole row of old cannon balls from the fort a few hundred metres away. The fotos of old Chiloe reminded us of a bygone era, but the towns did not look too dissimilar to today. Only Ancud has changed due to an earthquake earlier last century, and was totally rebuilt in concrete. A saving on the trees.

The traditional way of cooking curanto is to dig a pit and fill it with stones and make a fire so the stones become very hot. Once the fire has subsided and the stones are red or white hot, you fill the pit with native leaves that give off a distinct aroma.
The shellfish are put into bags and left on top of the leaves. The meat products having been marinated are put into a pot of water and left on top of the stones to cook. They also take in the aroma of the leaves. The shellfish are then covered by cabbage leaves or similar to cook. It is very much like the Polynesian Hangi, but has been adapted to the cold climate of Chiloe.
Two types of (wet) potatoes are put into bags and these go on top of the leaves. Everything is then covered by grass, and left to steam for an hour or so.
The two other types of potatoes. One is Milcaos, these are shredded and the liquid is squeezed out until dry. This is put together with some mashed potatoes, seasoned and added to some deep-fried pork skin. This is then cooked in the oven or even fried in some places.
The other, Chapaleles are boiled and mashed and mixed with flour and seasoned and served with honey.
This is of course the traditional way of cooking curanto. One I’m sure is not done too often these days. We were gutted to miss the 9th Annual Curanto Festival. In which we found out about much later that 7,000 people descended on a small island that probably only had a few hundred inhabitants.
But they cooked a traditional curanto for 7,000 people. A world record I’m sure. To read this in Valparaiso was quite gutting to say the least. As it would have been a great day out.
Anyhows back to our meal. A large platter was placed in front of us, which would have been enough for 3. I can imagine tourists ordering one each to their dismay.
A small bowl of the broth that everything had been cooked in was also served.
This was served with pebre. A very Chilean thing indeed. It is a very crude raw salsa, consisting of finely diced onions, red pepper, coriander, parsley and mixed with water and salt. Most places we had this it was pretty dire. Still the best one I have eaten is by a Chilean friend living in north London. I still prefer the Mexican salsa, but hey ho.

After eating a mountain of shellfish and meat and potatoes, you are definitely stuffed. As you can imagine, but it’s a very content stuffed, one which knowing you have eaten a meal that not only took an age to cook, but has survived the ages also. Hail to the Slow Food Movement.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Eating with Sea Lions

Puerto Montt was our first port of call in Chile on this trip. To be honest it’s a little dead, and that’s being nice. I think Muerto Montt would have summed up that port town a whole lot better. It’s amazing that such a busy port town could be so dull, and be full of such dull and really ugly people. I’m still baffled that why every ugly person in Chile ends up in Puerto Montt. Why?
We headed up the coast a few km’s to a place called Angelmo. It’s nothing special, literally rows of cabins selling tourist gifts on both sides of the road. There is also a huge wooden restaurant and fish market construction that over looks the sea.
The market is pretty cool, but does over emphasise on the shellfish side of things. But still pretty cool after no-fish Argentina and frozen fish Colombia.
All the restaurants look very similar and the menus are kinda the same also. All quite simple in their set up. Kitchen in the front and tables out back. Nothing grand can be cooked in this simple surroundings and we didn’t expect any.
We just went with the one that had a few people in it eating and having fun. Sat down at the bench and ordered a couple of plates of fried fish fillets and salad. The food and beer were pretty good, but what made this such a great meal was the scenery. We were looking right over an inlet of the sea and literally below us were a family of sea lions playing and being fed by the locals.
I’ve never seen sea lions so close up before. I’d seen them from afar in the “Poor Man’s Galapagos” off the coast of Paracas in Peru. But this was amazing.

I think I was smiling like a little boy I was so happy. Big cheesy grin. Never before had I experienced something that made me so happy. So cool.
After the meal we went downstairs and watched them for an age. They visit Puerto Montt every Summer just to get fed me thinks, as everyone was throwing them scraps of food every one in a while.
Puerto Montt is best avoided, but this made it kinda worth while visiting.