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Hot rocks: the culinary secrets of curanto

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Chiloé’s signature dish, curanto, has been prepared for several centuries using cooking methods very similar to those used in Polynesia. First, extremely hot rocks are placed at the bottom of an earthen pit; then, a layer of shellfish is added, followed by chunks of smoked meat, chicken, longanisa (sausage), potatoes, chapaleles and milcaos (potato dumplings). The pit is then covered with nalca (Chilean wild rhubarb) leaves; as the shellfish cooks, the shells spring open, releasing their juices onto the hot rocks, steaming the rest of the ingredients.

Traditional curanto (curanto en hoyo) is slow-cooked in the ground for a day or two, but since traditional cooking methods are only used in the countryside, you will probably end up sampling curanto en olla, also known as pulmay, oven-baked in cast-iron pots. The dish comes with hot shellfish broth, known to the locals as “liquid Viagra”, to be drunk during the meal. Other Chilote specialities include cancato, salmon steamed in tinfoil and stuffed with cheese, sausage and tomatoes, and carapacho, a filling crab stew with a crispy crust.

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