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7 tips & tricks for a great Chilean barbecue experience
Being a Brit, for me meat was always served on a plate with potatoes and two veg. It's 18 years ago since I first experienced a real Chilean bbq experience and I have never looked back. In fact, when we moved into a new house we bought a brand new "pancho" (half metal drum soldered onto a base) before we even started thinking about buying a bed!
There is something so liberating about placing great hunks of raw meat over burning coals with a local beer in hand, usually a great backdrop to accompany the event, and always great company to share it with. And of course, it gets you out of the kitchen!
So, how do you go about making sure that yours will be an experience to remember?
1) Location for fire – do you plan to dig a fire pit & bbq over firewood? Do you have a free standing base that you can fill with charcoal and cook over a grill? Do you have an iron stake ("un fierro" or "un asador") to slide your slab of meat onto? This decision will influence which meat you choose to buy.
2) Shopping – with the wide array of meat cuts available at the supermarket the choice can seem daunting. I love asking the person behind the counter just to experience that interaction, and I usually always learn something new. Chileans are definitely interested in telling you their opinion on which is the best cut & the best way to cook it! Whichever cut you choose, and in addition to the meats, you also need charcoal, marraqueta (bread that comes in 4 pieces together), tomatoes, onions, coriander, green chili peppers, olive oil, lemons and of course, Chilean fine red wine & local beers.
3) Preparation – ok, so let's say you have a "pancho" and a "Fierro" (see above), and you bought plateada (a huge chunk of red meat to slide onto the asador), chorizos (individual sausages to be grilled over the fire), costillar de cerdo (pork ribs) & trutros de pollo (chicken thighs – both to be grilled also). Using an old-age local trick, place an empty wine bottle into the base of the grill with rings of rolled newspaper wrapped loosely around it. Pour the charcoal around the edge to create a mount. Slowly pull out the bottle and drop a lighted piece of newspaper into the hole. The charcoal will begin to burn from the bottom and then you can space it out as it begins to turn red. Meanwhile, clean the grill by rubbing half a raw onion over it. Just another simple trick that gets rid of the residue from last time!
4) Timings - Once the charcoal is white hot, place the sausages and the chicken thighs on the grill. The sausages always come as a starter, and the chicken takes the longest to cook through. Meanwhile, prepare the bread, separate the marraqueta and make a slit from one side without cutting through. This is essential for the definitely Chilean "choripanes" that are always the first to be served. I don't want to be held to exact timings as this all depends on the thickness of your meats so the onus is on your to keep checking and turning and adding charcoal to the fire if necessary. While you are waiting for the sausages to cook, slide the plateada onto the iron stake in a concertina fashion so that the edges and ends do not hang too far down towards the fire. This is quite a primordial task that always makes me thing of Bear Grills! Once this is ready, place the stake on the raised supports at either side of the pancho. This meat needs to be turned regularly. Once the sausages are ready you can throw on the pork ribs whilst at the same time checking and turning the chicken thighs. Now it's time to enjoy your choripan, open another beer and kick back for a chat with friends.
5) Salt – this is an essential sealant which must be thrown over the meat in quite frighteningly large quantities at the right moment to begin with, and then at intervals afterwards. Every Chilean has his own opinion about the correct instant to do this. Most of these opinions contradict but all are correct! If you are not Chilean, best to just observe, learn and not get involved!
6) Accompanying dishes – This is up to you, but you cannot and should not omit "pebre". A divine invention which involves a lot of chopping to prepare but is simply essential to spoon into your choripan and to savor with your plateada when it is ready to be served. Tomatoes, onions, green chili peppers (all diced), coriander (chopped), salt, olive oil, red wine vinegar and a dash of lemon juice (all to taste). If you find raw onion too, well oniony, then chop and place in a bowl of cold water with oodles of salt for an hour or so, squeeze, drain and rinse before mixing with the rest of the ingredients. This will take away that tart, strong flavor. You should also have to hand some good old mustard, ketchup and bbq sauce to dip, and that's about it. You can make elaborate salads too, but that depends on the occasion.
7) Result - a finger licking delicious array of meats with that smoky grilled flavor all washed down with a local beer or one of Chile's famous red wines. If the sun shines or the rain pours, Chileans always find the perfect spot to place the pancho & serve the finished food.
If this has your mouth watering but all sounds like quite a lot of preparation, you can always get a group together and choose to head up to Willie's quincho, transport provided, where you get to watch all of the above, learn the tips first hand and enjoy the result without having to do any more than lift your fork and your beer to your mouth! For more information click here: http://www.solynievepucon.cl/our-adventures/chilean-barbecue-experience
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