Friday, April 9, 2010
Imagine, a road that runs from Alaska all the way down to Tierra del Fuego inspiring wanderlust along the way. The Pan-American Highway is just that, it’s approximately 29,800 miles in length and goes through many countries and even more cultures. My knowledge of this incredible motorway extends from the Mexico-U.S. border to the most extreme southerly tip of the South American Continent, where the highway terminates at the beautiful little town of Ushuaia, Argentina.
Many have taken-on the journey from end to end; much like a very blonde German couple dressed in black leather heading south to Patagonia on matching his-and-hers BMW motorcycles with whom I drank much wine. Also on that road, I dined with Adrian from Quebec, who was traveling in a more modest fashion. Laughing he mentioned the entire bicycle trip could be written-off his taxes being he’d met suppliers to his Canada-based organic fertilizer business. Seems the north of Chile is Mecca for buyers and sellers of guano.
As for me, I’ve covered only portions of the highway dictated by desires. More specifically, there are two overwhelming magnetic elements that tug at my compass, wine and seafood. And in the Americas these sensibilities intersect geographically at Chile. On the Pan-America Highway, just North of the Atacama Desert (50 times drier than Death Valley) near the border with Peru, is a small town called Arica. Arica is an eater’s town. It’s an absolute shock to find people living in the driest place on the planet yet this town consistently surprises with locally produced melons, olives, ruby tomatoes, chickens and prawns. Also, ever present is my life long favorite dish, ceviche!
Ceviche is citrus-marinated seafood. The country of origin is unclear and is the core of an on-going culinary tussle between Peru and Ecuador. More importantly, many in Latin America have adopted it and have created their own versions. The citric acid pickles the proteins in the seafood or "cooks" the fish without heat making this a perfect dish for any hot day.
True, many are famous for ceviche yet they offer no wine of note. Or rather no wine I’d want to pair with seafood. So Chile, renown for both seafood and wine, has my vote. I like that Chile’s version of ceviche is simple and doesn’t obscure the flavor of the fish with a barrage of ingredients. And through the alchemy of combining good food with good wine, a heavenly experience can be achieved.
Freshness is essential when speaking of ceviche. So I prefer to enjoy it with a view of the ocean and consider salty sea air an integral part of the recipe. My friend Miguel is one of the fishmongers in kiosks that face the docks. After first light, the fishing fleet arrives to off-load the day’s catch. Miguel and all the cooks of Arica select fish for their clientele. And in those early hours, fish is filleted and cut into ½ inch pieces and put to limejuice, with a mince of onion and tomato, salt and parsley. The ceviche is refrigerated along side bottles of white. And by noon, the ceviche and the wine are ready to come together as the perfect lunch. With fresh bread, the meal is complete. Miguel shares his recipe below:
Miguel’s Ceviche Recipe
· 2 lbs of deboned firm-fleshed fish, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
· 1 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice
· 1/2 red onion, finely diced
· 1 cup of chopped fresh seeded tomatoes
· 2 teaspoons of salt
· Fresh chopped parsley or cilantro or mint
Allow it to sit for several hours in the refrigerator, giving time for the flavors to blend. Serve with favorite hot sauce and allow each guest to adjust his or her own level of piquant. On the side, offer a green salad and popcorn for a gathering that is light and uncomplicated.
Turning our attention to wine, I suggest a dry Chilean white to heighten the enjoyment of the fish, the company and even the popcorn! Much like Italy’s Pinot Grigio (gray pinot), Cabernet Sauvignon Gris is a classic white that has been put onto red grape skins to augment flavor and give color. This gray wine delivers a lemon-lime flavor with just enough fruitiness to complement ceviche and most anything else. It’s really a perfect upscale wine for little money, very clean, very crisp. Through extensive investigation, I’ve found these three examples to be exceptional:
Cousino Macul Sauvignon Gris 2006
Casa Marin Sauvignon Gris Estero 2006
Casa Silva Sauvignon Gris 2008
If you’re inspired by a highway that stretches the length of the Americas or enjoy the beach or merely love to entertain, you can easily take your guests on a seaside holiday by putting together this straightforward meal. And all of it can happen on your patio. No ocean where you live? No problem. Good company and good food are the best memory makers and when you add the perfect wine you’ll easily enhance the occasion and be transported elsewhere. With warm weather coming, I encourage you to get out, cook out and share as much as you can. As the Spanish saying goes; “Life is short but it can be, oh, so very wide!”