It’s hardly worth mentioning the scientific name for this marine kelp – which is found on the coast of Chile’s sub-Antarctic oceans – because, among other things, it would take away from the mystery and emotion that surrounds this noble product, which served to enrich half of Chile’s cuisine during times when animal protein was scarce.
The cochayuyo is a type of kelp that ranges from greenish to brown in color. It is extremely rich in iodine and becomes somewhat slimy and very tender when cooked. We could say that cochayuyo is the pork of the sea, which is used either mostly or in its entirety. Its tender blades and main trunk can be delicious as salads, with shellfish, and in hearty, onion-based mixtures like the classic pino – the filling for the typical corn or potato pies that are eaten all over the country. It’s also used as filling for the nationally popular dish Chilean empanadas, which are stuffed with pino and baked, of course, in southern earthenware.
But what’s more, when the Castilian cocidos (typical stews) crossed “the pond” they were transformed into cazuelas, and we’re not talking about the earthenware casserole dishes that we refer to as cazuelas in Spain. A cazuela is the succulent preparation of Chilean soups and stews, the “light” version of the different cocidos found in different regions of Spain. Cazuelas are made using pork, beef, chicken or turkey and whatever vegetables are on-hand. And what I’m getting at with all of this is that the cazuela de cochayuyo more than deserves to form part of Chile’s culinary repertoire.
Today, cochayuyo has almost disappeared from dinner tables in Chile. Thanks to development and social opulence, it’s almost impossible to find it on restaurant menus and in the country’s more affluent homes. Therefore, one must seek it out in deepest Chile, at those wonderful village markets that sell all different kinds of products from land and sea. While there, it’s a good idea to ask around for some local recipes.
Fotos: Carlos Donaire Celis