Concha y Toro

Ania Smolec 19/07/2017

Pan de Azúcar: the delights of an oasis in the world’s driest desert

I invite you to a magical journey to northern Chile, to the Pan de Azúcar National Park.

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What can be more relaxing than the sound of the waves and birdsong, and a rich meal shared with loved ones? I invite you to a magical journey to northern Chile, to the Pan de Azúcar National Park.

The Pan de Azúcar National Park is located 45 km north of the city of Chañaral. This jewel of nature is a stretch of land of just 20 km, from east to west, and combines four sets of very contrasting ecological characteristics: the coast is delineated by a fantastic white sand beach; a series of valleys run through the park; the coastal hills, which rise to 800 m, allow spectacular views; and in the east the driest desert in the world extends.

Offshore there is the Pan de Azúcar Island, which is home to Humboldt penguins and seabirds. The park is inhabited by 103 species of birds, as well as guanacos, foxes and a colony of sea lions.

The camanchaca, a type of sea fog that settles on the coast, allows a single flora in the desert. After the rain, cactus bloom in the ravines. This park is one of the best places in Chile to see the flowering desert and extremely rare species of cactus (27 species, 21 of which are endemic).

In prehistoric times these lands were inhabited by the Chango coulture, a, semi-nomadic tribe of the coast. Some archaeological artifacts, like pottery and arrowheads can still be found if you are lucky.

The park can be entered from Caleta Pan de Azúcar, a small fishing village. There you can rent rooms and collect all possible information from a tourist office. You can also rent cabins, perfectly aligned on a deserted beach located behind the cove.

Parque Nacional Pan de Azúcar | CC Aaron Bornstein (Flickr)
Pan de Azúcar National Park | CC Aaron Bornstein (Flickr)

It is a wild place and allows you to experience an absolute contact with nature. In the village you can buy fresh fish and prepare a fast ceviche. That simple is the pleasure that the sea gives us! You can obviously find classic preparations and other very modern and sophisticated in restaurants in Santiago, but today I want to introduce marine recipes with Chilean soul, as they are eaten in the homes of coastal villages. I assure you that you will find glorious flavors that definitely deserve some delicious wine pairings.

The most basic way of eating seafood is to catch them, clean them and immediately eat them raw. So in towns like Caleta Pan de Azúcar you can enjoy delicious ceviches, but also a lot of raw seafood.

One of the most characteristic species of Chile is sea urchins. Culinary experts say they are the tastiest in the world thanks to the presence of the cold Humboldt Current. They have a wonderful texture and a deep, iodized flavor that leaves us speechless. I have tried them with virtually all styles of wine and my answer to those urchins is bold: enjoy them with Casillero del Diablo Pinot Noir.

locos

But most seafood is delicate, subtle, with a taste of sea and sun. For a mariscal (a mix of seafood with a kind of green sauce made with onion, cilantro and parsley), a scallop cocktail or fresh razor clams, I recommend the fresh and citric Casillero Diablo Sauvignon Blanc.

A shellfish with firmer texture and character is the loco (Chilean abalone). The most popular way to eat it is boiled and served with mayonnaise. In this case I recommend Casillero Diablo Devil’s Collection White, with its exquisite bouquet of grapefruit, peach and flowers.

Pot cooking is one of the primary ways to modify raw ingredients. What can reassure more our heart and stomach than a conger soup, served with potatoes, onions and vegetables. For this emblematic coastal dish I recommend to uncork Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay. Its citrus, apricot and butter cookies aromas will create a divine pairing.

empanadas fritas

We’ve already talked about the classic oven-baked meat empanadas, but do not forget the fried seafood ones. They are a real treat! As we know, the presence of frying and cheese is a rich mix, a bit heavy, so to refresh our palates and highlight the flavor of seafood we need a wine like Casillero Diablo Sauvignon Blanc or Diablo Casillero Devil’s Collection Brut. The latter wine is also a heavenly accompaniment to fried calamari.

Now I want to introduce you an easy and seductive recipe, which represents the Chilean coast, but also the plateau, as the Andes never stray too far from the Pacific. The Cancato is an original indigenous recipe containing fish and chorizo. For that we need a wine with a firm body, but with a rich acidity at the same time, like Casillero del Diablo Viognier. Enjoy it!

Cancato

Ingredients for 4 people

  • 4 pieces of fish, for example sea bass
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 sausages, sliced
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut into slices
  • 8 sheets of Gouda cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Oregano to taste
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • Parsley, an entire branch
  • Half cup of white wine
Cancato de salmón. En Mar Chileno (p. 143), por Gloria Frugone, 2012, Chile: Aguilar.
Salmon Cancato. On Mar Chileno (p. 143), by Gloria Frugone, 2012, Chile: Aguilar.

Preparation

  1. Season the fish with salt and pepper
  2. Cover each piece with a tablespoon of butter, a little bit of garlic, sliced sausage, cheese and tomato slices. Sprinkle dried oregano on top.
  3. Bake in a grill for about 12-15 minutes.
  4. During cooking time moisten a sprig of parsley in white wine and pour over the fish.
  5. Serve immediately with baked potatoes or with lettuce leaves with a touch of salt, lemon juice and olive oil, for  a lighter version.