Curanto: How to cook a thousand-years old dish at home

Curanto, a traditional food of Chiloe Archipelago, that whose remains dated back more than 10,000 years. It consists of seafood, meat, potatoes and vegetables and is traditionally prepared in a hole. The bottom is covered with stones, heated in a bonfire until red

If you are from Chile (or Argentina), chances are you’re familiar with the deeply historic & traditional dish, Curanto*. C​hiloé is an archipelago* off the southwestern coast of Chile where Curanto originated. Archaeologists discovered remains of this dish from 6000+ years ago, which makes it one of the oldest recipes on Earth that we still enjoy preparing today. By Alexx J. for The Adventures of Pili

PILI CHEF

So what is Curanto, you ask?​ ​A feast of meat, seafood, and vegetables; But how it’s cooked is what makes it special!

Chiloe
Curanto, a traditional food of Chiloe Archipelago, whose remains dated back more than 10,000 years. It consists of seafood, meat, potatoes, and vegetables and is traditionally prepared in a hole. The bottom is covered with stones, heated in a bonfire until red. Photo © Kike Calvo

How is it prepared?​ It is cooked in a dug-out pit in the ground that is filled with flaming hot stones (heated in a bonfire), and then covered with nalca leaves*, wet sacks & dirt. Think modern-day clambake, but the originator! This makeshift pressure cooker/oven will have the food ready in about an hour or two.

What kinds of ingredients are used? Typically it includes seafood such as mussels and clams. The shellfish open as they cook and their juices help to steam the other foods. Meats can include chicken, pork, ribs and sausages like chorizo. Common vegetables are cabbage and peppers, but an absolute MUST have is always potatoes. And sometimes, potatoes are prepared up to 3 different ways in this one meal (dumplings, patties & whole). South America is the home of the potato and has many delicious, colorful and unique types. ​

Chiloe
Meats can include chicken, pork, ribs and sausages like chorizo. Common vegetables are cabbage and peppers, but an absolute MUST have is always potatoes. Photo © Kike Calvo

QUIZ: How many varieties of potato can you name or have you tried? 

Where did the Curanto tradition begin?​ During the dry season thousands of years ago, nomads have known as the Chono people are said to have been the first to cook this recipe. Their meat and shellfish rich diets were based on their location near land and sea, as well as their hunting & gathering skills. The Mapuche people also living here began mixing their trades & land with the Chono people, creating a mestizo* group in the area. Potatoes became an extremely important crop for this group; ​there are now more than 400 types being grown just on Chiloé! 

Can we make it at home? ​Even though traditionally, you’d need to dig a hole in the ground to enjoy this feast, the answer is YES, there is a way for you to enjoy it at home. A pressure cooker or pot on the grill will do. Follow the simple recipe below to get started!

Key Terms:
*Curanto:​ “hot stones.”
*Archipelago: An extensive group of islands/island chain.
*Nalca leaves: similar to rhubarb but native to Chile.
*​Mestizo​: (in Latin America) mixed race, especially one having Spanish and indigenous descent.

Chiloe
Nalca leaves are similar to rhubarb but native to Chile. Photo © Kike Calvo

Recipe from InternationalCuisine.com

4 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 pound mini Yukon Gold potatoes
1 red pepper sliced
1 medium white onion sliced
1 banana pepper or several small jalapenos thickly sliced 
1 tablespoon garlic chopped
1 large Savoy cabbage leaves torn off
2 Spanish chorizo sausages cut in thirds
1 pound smoked pork spare ribs or pork chops 2 pounds clams
1 pound mussels
1 cup white wine 

  1. Heat oil in a large grill-proof wide pot over high heat on the barbecue.
  2. Add chicken & cook until lightly brown.
  3. Add potatoes, red peppers, onions, banana peppers and half of the garlic, season with salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes or until softened. 
  4. Cover tightly with cabbage leaves.
  5. Add sausage and spare ribs and cover with more cabbage leaves.
  6. Add clams, mussels and remaining garlic, pour wine over top and cover with a final layer of cabbage leaves.
  7. Cover the pot tightly with a lid.
  8. Keep barbecue heat at about 325 F and cook for about 40 minutes or until everything is cooked and steaming hot.
  9. Remove the pot from the barbecue and put all the ingredients clams, mussels, sausage, chicken and pork on a platter. 
  10. Serve cabbage as well.
Chiloe
Even though traditionally, you’d need to dig a hole in the ground to enjoy this feast, the answer is YES, there is a way for you to enjoy it at home. Photo © Kike Calvo

 

Does this sound like a meal you have in your own culture? Have you ever made a similar type of meal, or would you like to? Would you travel to Chile just to enjoy Curanto the traditional way from the ground pit? 

Chiloe
During the dry season thousands of years ago, nomads have known as the Chono people are said to have been the first to cook this recipe. Their meat and shellfish rich diets were based on their location near land and sea. Photo © Kike Calvo

 

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By: Alexx J. for The Adventures of Pili. This is the latest post in the Pili´s Explorers Cookbook conceived Kike Calvoand the team of The Adventures of Pili, which profiles interesting information, research and thoughts on nutrition and food around the world for families and kids. Click here to read the previous article.

Cited sources: Internationalcuisine.com, atlasobscura.com, potatopro.com, vice.com 

Banner Photo: Kike Calvo

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