My newest travel obsession is cooking classes. For me, foraging the bustling markets for fresh and local produce and learning how to cook a nation's classic dishes is like an express pass to the best kind of cultural experience possible. Inspired by my sister’s recent adventure throughout South East Asia taking cooking classes in each country, I jumped at the chance to join a cooking class here in Valparaíso, Chile. I stumbled upon a flyer for Chilean Cuisine Cooking Classes within minutes of arriving at the bus terminal and didn’t have to think twice about signing up. I emailed with an enquiry hoping, as a solo traveling cook, that I could join another group and they got back to me right away with an opening for the very next morning. I gleefully confirmed my spot and promptly received all the details I needed.
We met at an easy to find café in the main square in the port end of the city at 10.30am and made our way together by bus to the market. We were a group of seven eager cooks including myself and six lovely Americans and of course our warm and friendly host Carolina. Carolina showed us through the market and took us to her tried and trusted stalls which is a godsend because, as much as I love markets, they can be so overwhelming sometimes and it’s hard to know who has the freshest produce. This is especially important when shopping for fresh fish and meat so having a local guide you through really is priceless.
The cooking class included a couple of Chilean must try classics, namely, empanadas de pino (meat empanadas with egg, raisins and an olive), pebre (fresh tomato salsa with onion, cilantro, garlic, peppers and chilli) and Pisco sours (a classic Chilean cocktail made from Pisco - a grape liquor, lemon juice, simple syrup and egg white). Then as a group we got to choose an entrée, a main and a dessert to make. There are 4-5 options per course to pick from, all of which are typical Chilean dishes from varying parts of the country. As you would expect, the choices are also dependant on market availability but for us that was no problem. We chose ceviche for the entrée, pastel de choclo (creamed corn pie) for the main and leche asado (Chile’s answer to flan) for dessert.
Ceviche, a dish of raw diced fish, cooked only by the curing of citrus juices and flavoured with fresh herbs and onion, is typically considered to be Peruvian. However it is also a national dish of Chile and can be found on almost every menu around the country (although there are hundreds of Peruvian restaurants around Chile serving ceviche Peruvian style too). Chilean ceviche differs from Peruvian ceviche in three main ways. Firstly, they dice the fish up much more finely. Secondly, Chile is not one to import too much but rather they make use of the local produce at hand, so when it comes to ceviche they use lemons and not limes because that's what grows in their cooler climate. The last main difference is that they cure the fish in lemon juice for longer - at least 45 minutes. The result is very white fish that has been cured all the way through. The other components are much the same with the key ingredients being red onion, finely diced coriander (cilantro), a little bit of finely diced red pepper and salt and pepper to taste. That said I'm sure there's as many recipes as there are chefs and you can pretty much add whatever you like. As long as the fish is fresh and the flavours fresher the ceviche will taste good. We used a whole flounder which was filleted for us on site at the market but depending on what part of the world you're in, any firm white fish should work, I would avoid using anything too flakey. Salmon, Tuna and prawns also work well and a combination would be even better. The best ceviche I've had was a mix of prawns and white fish as it added variety to the texture. I plan on having a play with some South East Asian flavours like lime, chilli, coriander, lemongrass and vietnamese or thai basil when I next have access to a decent kitchen.
Pastel de Choclo
This is not the most photogenic dish but I cannot express how absolutely delicious it was. It's classic home cooked soul food made with fresh local ingredients and love. A pastel de choclo, or creamed corn pie, is a pot pie that starts with a layer of beef mince (cooked off with onions, cumin, paprika and merken, a chilean spice from the Mapuche people) a decent sized piece of roasted or pan fried chicken breast, an olive or two, a slice of boiled egg and a sprinkling of raisins for good measure. The corn topping is made by blending fresh corn kernals with cream, basil and butter and simmering it on the stove top for a while. It is then poured over the pie base, sprinkled with a little sugar to help caramelise the top and popped in the oven to bake. It's a very easy dish to make although it requires a little preparation. It was seriously so delicious and I have also tried a similar dish while in Chile made with prawns and creamed corn that was divine! I will definitely be making this dish every winter from now on.
Chilean Cuisine Cooking School
I was thrilled by the experience and highly recommend it to any visitor to Valparaíso with an interest in food. Not only was it a great experience, it was also very good value for money with a 5 course meal, cocktails & wine as well as a guided trip to the market and a friendly and knowledgable host all for US$60. True to Chilean culture we worked in groups to prepare everything together rather than at individual stations. This interactive method was a lot more fun and it also allowed time for us to create a 5 course meal in the time frame. This did mean I didn't have an active hand in preparing every dish but our host did a good job of explaining everything and it was a small group so you could still see what was going on in the other groups, plus they sent me all the recipes, including all of the recipes of the meal options we didn't choose.
Once we had the ceviche curing in the fridge, the pebre made and the pastel de choclo and the leche asado in the oven, we sat down with a glass of chardonnay and learned how to make empanada pastry from scratch (and were all very surprised the learn that they use white wine instead of yeast). The empanada meat was the same as what we used in the pastel de choclo and again we threw in a slice of egg, a black olive and a few raisins which is typical of a Chilean empanada (and is really yummy). Once those were in the oven it was time to make Pisco sours, we made a classic lemon one and also one with grated ginger. Both were fantastic and we enjoyed them responsibly with some pebre and fresh bread. While we were doing that our host was setting out a beautiful table for us to sit down as a family and enjoy all the fruits of our labour. Everything we had made was delicious and we were served a glass of Carmenere, the most typical Chilean red wine. Our host Carolina had a wealth of knowledge about Chilean cuisine, the different regions of food, some history of indigenous food and information about local produce which she shared with us throughout the course of the day. I had so much fun, learned a lot and even made some new friends. I've already had a crack at ceviche back at my airbnb home as well as another recipe for an entree option we didn't try - the machas a la parmesana (razor clams baked in parmesan) and I can't wait to practice making the rest. Chilean cuisine is fairly simple but it is incredibly tasty, mostly pretty healthy and seriously nourishing for the soul.
A very big thank you to Carolina and the team at Chilean Cuisine Cooking Classes for such a fantastic experience and for all the great recipes!!!
*I enjoyed my experience at Chilean Cuisine Cooking Classes entirely at my own expense, it was worth every penny and my opinions are of course, all my own.