Burt Wolf's Menu: Show-Pucon, Chile - #106

Chile... it has some of the most beautiful and unspoiled landscape in the world... and some of the friendliest people to welcome you to it.  The town of Pucon is the spot in the northern Lake District and people come here from all over the world. The local volcano is the permanent backdrop. There’s great fishing... And traditional home cooking.  So join me in Pucon, Chile for BURT WOLF’S MENU.

Pucon got started in 1883 as a military outpost and stayed that way for about twenty years.  During the early 1900’s a few German families immigrated into the neighborhood and set up a number of small businesses dealing in cattle and lumber.  From time to time someone would come here from Santiago and fish.  And like many fishermen, they displayed the result of their expedition but lost the precise details of exactly where it was that they made the catch.  Let’s face it, a really good spot for sport fishing is a trade secret.  And unless you’ve got something really good to trade for it, you can’t have it.  So the word about Pucon spread slowly.  By the 1920’s, however, enough fishing enthusiasts knew about the place to encourage the construction of a major hotel. In the early 30’s the Gran Hotel Pucon was built by the State Railway.  They also opened up a branch line to the area so people could get to their hotel easily.  In the 40’s Pucon became a summer hangout for Santiago’s artists and writers, and it still has some of that flavor.  There’S a big open town plaza.  A dozen or so establishments that will arrange for expeditions that will bring you into closer contract with nature.  You can go whitewater rafting, or just float down the stream.  There are treks into the mountains, and there’s a group that will take you right up to the edge of the local volcano, which is still active.

The original cooks in Chile were the Mapuche, which means “people of the earth.” Their family groups have lived in the land that is now called Chile for thousands of years.  They lived in huts that were moved from one area to another. The move allowed them to take advantage of the best hunting, fishing and gathering in each season.  But each of the areas that they moved to was considered part of their tribal lands.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The basic political and economic unit is the extended family, which can easily number over five hundred people.  The head of that family is called a Cacique, and his power and importance is based, not only on his material possessions, but on the quality of his wisdom, especially the way that wisdom is expressed in advice to younger people. 

The women of the group play a particularly important role as the heads of all things mystical.  A girl is identified during her childhood as having the necessary skills to be able to communicate with the gods, and she takes on that responsibility.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  They believe that all life exists in a perfect balance of positive and negative forces, similar to the ying and yang of Buddhism.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  One of the key turning points in our history of food was our shift from hunting and gathering to the domestication and breeding of animals, and agriculture.  It appears to have taken place between seven and ten thousand years ago and it set the stage for a more dependable food supply, and the worldwide increase in population that has taken place ever since.

When it comes to meat and poultry, we are all very much aware of the farming techniques -- but the idea of a fish farm strikes many people as a new innovation, and that is not the case.  The Chinese have had fish farms for over four thousand years and there are paintings in the ancient tombs of Egypt that show fish farms in action over 2000 years ago.

The history of fish farming here in Chile, however, is a bit more recent.  The first Chilean fish farms were set up in 1981. The southern part of Chile has a coastline with the Pacific Ocean that is made up of Antarctic water coming from the bottom of the planet and glacial run-off from the ice in the Andes mountains... all of which is crisp, cold and free from the pollution of industrialized shores.  The perfect environment for raising salmon. So perfect that Chile has become the second most important salmon exporting nation in the world.  They produce Coho and King and Salmon trout.  A little over half the export harvest goes to Japan... Sushi from Santiago. What an international marketplace this world has become.  A third goes to North America and the rest to Europe.  In the States, a Chilean salmon travels from the net to the table in a U.S. restaurant within 48 hours.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  And for guys like me, who are never going to be asked to do a guest appearance on “The Bass Fisherman Show,” having a dependable supply of high-quality fish in the market is very important.  You see, it’s not that I’m a bad fisherman; it’s just that I’m always put up against fish that have reached a higher skill level.  It doesn’t seem fair!

Well, life is not always fair, but often you can be dealt a tough hand and turn it around.  One of my favorite examples of a guy who really turned his life around is Guillermo Pollak.  He and his wife immigrated to Chile from Europe, and fell in love with an old hotel here in Pucon. They were somewhat short of funds to make the purchase on the property, so they approached an influential traveller who was passing through -- he just happened to be the President of Chile.

GUILLERMO POLLAK:  I told him that I would like to build something which is not yet here in Chile, not yet made in Chile, and I said to him frankly... it’s incredible.  I was a nobody and he was the president of the country.  And to plant yourself in front of the president and tell him that you are doing him a favor accepting his money, you see -- but that’s exactly what I told him.  It was just, it was just one fantastic day, beautiful day -- if it were, if it were raining he wouldn’t have come and Antumelal would not exist.  

Today the Hotel Antumelal is a small, rustic property, with rooms for only 40 guests, so everything is rather personal.  And that goes for the cooking too.  The restaurant is much more like a home dining room.  Very simple recipes.  There are three ranges in the kitchen... one electric... one wood... and one gas.  And, of course, the chef, Carmen Vargas, prefers the stove that uses wood.  She feels that it is more dependable.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  During the late Sixties I spent some time with a famous chef in London, who was in the process of renovating and modernizing a huge kitchen.  But he would not give up his wood-burning stoves.  He believed that the wood-burning stove made his young chefs pay more attention to what they were doing.  They had to gather wood, they had to watch the heat of the coals, they had to watch the level of the flames.  And paying attention to that made them pay more attention to everything else in the recipe, and the food turned out better.  So Carmen is working in a long and great tradition.

Today she’s is making a family recipe for Chilean Lentil Stew.  She starts by putting two cups of pre-cooked lentils into a stock pot. They get covered with four cups of boiling water to which she adds a half teaspoon of salt.  The cover goes on and the lentils simmer for about ten minutes while she continues the recipe.  Two tablespoons of vegetable oil go into a sauté pan.  Then a half cup of chopped onion.  A little cooking and a little stirring.  A clove of minced garlic.  A half teaspoon of oregano.  A quarter teaspoon of ground pepper.  A cup of carrots that have been peeled and chopped.  A minute of cooking and in goes a teaspoon of paprika.  Another minute of sautéing and that mixture is added to the stock pot. And as long as we’re putting things into the stock pot, Carmen adds two cups of pumpkin cubes, a cup of sausage chunks, and a cup of rice.  The cover goes on and everything simmers for twenty minutes.  About ten minutes in, you should check the pot to see if any more water is needed.  When the full twenty minutes of cooking are up, the stew goes into individual serving dishes and is garnished with some chopped chives, some grated parmesan cheese and some long chives.

The second dish that Carmen is going to prepare has a history that goes back for hundreds of years.  In its traditional form it is called a Curanto and it is one of the big-deal food events in southern Chile. The recipe starts with the digging of a large hole in the ground.  When the hole is large enough to accommodate the appetites of the people who are coming to dinner, it is filled with whatever seafood you have around, plus some smoked pork ribs, chicken, potatoes and nalca leaves.  The nalca is a native Chilean plant that is a member of the rhubarb family and grows wild throughout the southern part of the country.  The leaves often grow to a length of four feet.  Along with the general layering of these ingredients, you slip in a few hot rocks to do the cooking.  Finally, the nalca leaves become the pot cover.  Interesting, tasty, tricky to prepare in the average home kitchen.  So the Chileans came up with a recipe for Curanto in a pot, which they call Pulmai.

Start out by selecting a pot big enough to hold all the ingredients, and get it hot. Carmen, who appears to be preparing dinner for everybody who lives in a 25-mile radius, begins by dropping in two whole bulbs of garlic.  Next she pours in a bottle of white Chilean wine.  Now, what you are about to see reflects the selection of seafood that was available at the docks this morning.  But the ingredient list for the recipe is very flexible. In essence you can put in whatever seafood you like, and the quantities for all the ingredients are totally dependent on you palate and your pocketbook.  Now these little stones are called Picorocos; they are actually large sea barnacles, and they taste like the sweetest lobster meat. They were a great surprise to me when I first ate them. Look bad, taste good.  On top of the Picorocos go smoked pork ribs.  The Picorocos and pork ribs are kept on one side of the bottom surface.  On the other side of the bottom go a few chickens that have been cut into parts. The reason that half of the bottom is left open for the chicken is that Carmen wants the chicken to brown on the hot surface of the pan.  Next a few sausages, cut into chunks.  Clams.  Mussels.  Lots of whole potatoes.  A tablespoon or so of black peppercorns.  Some fish fillets.  In this case they are Chilean King Clip, which is available in North America and worth trying.  And now the top layer... leaves of Savoy cabbage, which are used to replace the nalca leaves.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The real objective here is just to cover all the ingredients with the cabbage to hold the moisture in, and that’s done, and Carmen says it’s enough, but I really love Savoy cabbage so I’m gonna put it all in.

The final ingredient is a second bottle of white wine.  You know, Chile is a major producer of some great wines, and I see no need to pour all of the wine into the pot.  At this point a cloth is placed over the top of the pot as an additional seal for the cover, which goes on next. Then a few large bricks to hold the top down.  Of course, you could use a pot with a tight-fitting lid and skip the routine with the cloth and the rocks, but then you would lose so much of the “look”.  For the next two hours everything is steamed in the wine and the natural juices of the ingredients.

Southern Chile is one of the world’s great spots for sport fishing, so I thought I would treat myself to the experience.  The best way to get into the subject is with an experienced guide, which is a perfect description of  Roberto Navarrete.  He picked me up at my hotel and we drove together for about half an hour to a river where he thought I had the best chance of making a catch.

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  Well, Burt, I think we have a good place to, to change here, so we can use waders...

BURT WOLF:   Waiters?  I like that.  So lunch is coming. .. No, not those kind of waiters.  (Laughing)

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  No, you will wear these waders.

BURT WOLF:   Can I borrow these for Christmas?


BURT WOLF:   They’re just what I want to hang up in front of the fireplace.  [ROBERTO laughs]  Okay. 

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  Put this on top of your jeans.

BURT WOLF:   Okay.  They feel like the Doctor Denton’s I used to wear when I was a baby.

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  (Laughing)  These are easier than yours.

BURT WOLF:   They certainly are easier than mine!

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  You will be able to go further into the river with those.

BURT WOLF:   Is that good or bad?  (Laughter)  It’s like pantyhose for the outdoorsman.  I love this.

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  If you tied it well, the sand will not enter into your, into the shoe.

BURT WOLF:   I hope the fish are going to as much trouble.  What do you think? 


BURT WOLF:   (singing)  “Lovely to look at, delightful to hold...”  All right.  What next?

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  You have to put a fly on that rod.  Two types of lines, floating and sinking.  You will be using the floating line.  That means that we will work on the surface and we will work on the bottom of the river.

BURT WOLF:   Ah.  So one of us might catch something, huh?

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  One of us may catch something, that’s right.  Here we have some selection of nymphs that could work well today.  We could do some fly-fishing on dry flies, but the water is still, at this time of the year, is still a little bit cold.  So we have to wait for dry-flies fishing.

BURT WOLF:   I’m ready.

Fly-fishing is a fascinating sport.  Here in Chile you end up in a beautiful, unspoiled, virtually untouched stream, surrounded by an extraordinary landscape. 

BURT WOLF:   It’s certainly a beautiful way to spend the day.

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  Lovely.  Now, stop there. 

BURT WOLF:   Okay.

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  So I have to wear these Polaroid glasses because I can see better the different colors of the shallow and the deeper water.  So I can, I will know where to cast.

BURT WOLF:   What a great idea!

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  That’s why you need Polaroid.  Okay, since there’s a little bit, it’s windy, I will cast before and you’ll do it after.

BURT WOLF:   Okay, I’ll wait over here.

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  Maintain the line as high as you can; you have always to remember to have the arm stop here and never lower the tip of the rod.  You have to maintain the line as high as you can. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  The serious angler knows a great deal about the fish’s eating habits:  what he likes to eat, when, where and how.  He also knows a great deal about the meal:  is it the kind of meal that floats on the top, sinks to the bottom, swims in the middle?  Fly-fishing is a lot like setting up a menu for a new restaurant.  You’d better have a very clear idea of who you expect to come to dinner, and how to prepare what he likes properly.

BURT WOLF:   That’s a lovely trout.

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  It’s a brown trout --

BURT WOLF:   Right --  I heard if you hold them over, they relax.

 ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  Yeah.  When you take them from the, the stomach --

BURT WOLF:   Right --

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  -- they will completely relax.  The brown trout.  The rainbow trout, you have to turn it upside down so they will relax like that -- the rainbows.  Not the browns.

Remember, this is a sport; if you’re only interested in having fish for dinner, you’re much better off in your supermarket.

BURT WOLF:   What do you think the biggest fish is you ever caught?

ROBERTO NAVARRETE:  This is funny because you know, a fish is the only animal that grows after he’s dead!  (Laughter)  But sometimes I’ve caught big fishes!

Well, if I can’t have fish for lunch, I think I’ll just head back to the hotel for something sweet. One of the original uses for pastry dough was as a container for other ingredients. In many of the English-speaking countries we call them turnovers and we make them with both sweet and savory fillings.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  One of the most interesting uses that I’ve seen for a turnover was in an English mining town. Every morning the cooks would roll out a big piece of pastry dough, then they would take about a cup’s worth of sautéed meat and vegetables, put it into the center, fold it up into a pouch and bake it.  They would do the same thing with stewed fruits.  Then when the miners got ready to go off to work in the morning, they would take one of each; put one in one pocket and one in the other.  Then when they were working in the mines and they were hungry, lunch would be instantly ready, the main course and the dessert.  In countries like Austria and Hungary and the Slavic nations, you see lots of sweet turnovers.  In Italy, in the form of the Calzone, you find savory turnovers. 

Here in Chile, the turnover arrives under the title of Empanada and it is also a savory pocket.  However, here at The Hotel Antumalal in the town of Pucon, the owner’s middle-European background has shown its influence with an Empanada filled with fruit preserves.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Actually, the entire responsibility for this recipe does not rest on the shoulders of Señora Pollak alone.  In 1968, the Queen of England came here for a visit.  And she asked for something with her native and beloved orange marmalade. Well -- this is what she got. And I understand she really liked it.

The pastry chef is Noelia Balboa, who has been working at the Antumalal since 1968.  She starts by setting two cups of orange marmalade into a sieve over a bowl and allowing most of the moisture to drain out.  A standard pie dough is rolled out onto a floured surface until you have a strip of dough that is about a foot and a half long and about six inches wide.  Heaping tablespoons of the drained marmalade are set out about two inches apart, just slightly above the mid-point of the dough. The bottom half of the dough is then folded over the top half and pressed down around the marmalade.  Then the area around the marmalade is cut into triangles that are about three inches to the side.  The excess dough is removed to be used again.  The rolling and stuffing and cutting process is repeated until all the dough is used up.  Then the triangles are transferred to a buttered baking sheet and painted with a little melted butter.  A little grated coconut... a spinkling of sugar, and into a pre-heated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for thirty minutes.  When they come out, they go onto a serving plate... get a little powdered sugar and they’re ready to serve.

The rose and the apple come from the same biological family, and both come with very powerful folklore and imagery.  So powerful that the rose has often been used as the symbol for all flowers and the apple as a symbol for all fruits. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  During the 1500’s when explorers were constantly bringing back new fruits to Europe from the Americas, anything that was small and round and unrecognized was called an apple.  When the first potatoes showed up in France, they were called Pomme de Terre, “apples of the earth.”  When the first tomatoes showed up in Italy they were yellow and the Italians called them Pomodoro, “apples of gold.”  And when the Europeans began to colonize the New World and set up farms, one of the first crops that they plantedwas the real apple.

Here in Chile, apples are one of the most important fruit crops.  Almost fifteen percent of the country’s total fruit-growing land is given over to the production of apples, and as you would expect they have lots of apple recipes.  Here’s one for Chilean Apple Cake. Apples are peeled, cored, sliced and coarsely chopped into small pieces... about two cups’ worth.  Walnuts get chopped... about a cup full.  White raisins get chopped, also about a cup’s worth.  Then a cup of vegetable oil goes into a mixing bowl, followed by two cups of sugar and three eggs.  All of which is mixed together.  A half teaspoon of salt is added... then a little freshly grated nutmeg... and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Lots of mixing. 

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Now this kitchen actually has a fabulous electric mixer, but since we used up all of the electric power for our lights, the kitchen staff decided that I should become The Mixer.

Once those those ingredients are fully blended, the chopped apples are mixed in... then a tablespoon of baking soda... the chopped walnuts... and the chopped raisins. More mixing. 

BURT WOLF:   Gracias.

As all that comes together two tablespoons of vanilla extract are added... and then four cups of all-purpose flour.  The flour goes in about a half cup at a time in order to avoid lumps.  Finally, two tablespoons of baking powder.  The batter is then turned out into a baking pan.  The batter gets smoothed out.  The pan is smacked on a surface to get out any air bubbles, and then placed into a pre-heated 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for one hour.  Just before it comes out an icing is made.  A half cup of plain yogurt is heated together with a cup of sugar, a quarter teaspoon of ground cinnamon and an ounce of butter. That’s mixed and simmered for ten minutes. Then it’s spread out on the cake.  As soon as it’s cooled, it’s ready.

The most dramatic element in the landscape surrounding the town of Pucon is the local volcano.  It is considered an active volcano, but sufficiently mellow to have become a major tourist attraction.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Scientists who study volcanoes tell me that volcanoes are formed as a result of plate tectonics.  There is a theory that the surface of the world is covered with giant sheets of rock which are called plates.  The rocks sit on top of a sea of partially-melted rock. But they don’t sit still; they float around, about a half inch to eight inches each year.  And as they float around, they bang into each other, rub against each other, or one plate will slide under another plate.  Most of the volcanoes that formed on land are the result of one plate sliding under another plate.  When that happens, an enormous amount of friction is created.  And the friction creates an enormous amount of heat... so much heat that it will melt rocks that are 50 to 100 miles inside the earth.

The melted rock is called magma, and it contains a great deal of gas.  From time to time the pressure of the gas and the magma are just too great and the whole thing blows its stack.  When the magma reaches the surface it is called lava.  The actual mountain is usually built up around the opening into the center of the earth by lava that has pushed out during the repeated eruptions.

BURT WOLF (ON CAMERA):  Once the volcanic mountain is formed, however, the lava floes and eruptions don’t always take place at the top of the central vent.  It’s possible for the magma and gases to build up inside the mountain, and then explode through the sides.  Similar to the place where I’m standing now.

PRODUCER’S VOICE:  Hey, Burt!  Come back!  You’ve gotta  say goodbye!