At the recent Latin Flavors, American Kitchens conference, Chilean chef Pilar Rodríguez introduced many of the chefs and culinary experts visiting the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus to the wonders of merkén, a blend of dried and smoke chiles (cacho de cabra, or goat’s horn).
The spice also features ground coriander and salt, and is available at specialty supermarkets like Central Market.
The label of one version, exported to the U.S. by Chilean Gourmet, says to “sprinkle it on fish, shrimp, poultry, beef, vegetables, soups and sauces. Add to potatoes, cheese and pasta. Use in tuna or tossed salads. Great for dipping with olive oil.”
Rodríguez used the spice in Chupe de Locos (Chilean Abalone au Gratin), Ostiones Sellados en Aceite de Oliva al Ajo y Pebre Verde (Seared Scallops in Garlic Olive Oil With a Chilean Herb Sauce) and Chuletas de Cordero en Adobo (Chilean-style Lamb Chops in Adobo).
She even infused an olive oil with the spice to use in a tomato confit that accompanied the lamb chops.
Chuletas de Cordero en Adobo (Chilean-style Lamb Chops in Adobo)
10 lamb chops
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons merkén
2 tablespoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons fresh oregano
1 tablespoon fresh garlic paste
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sweet paprika, ground
1/4 pound white pearl onions, skin on
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup merkén-infused olive oil
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 cup fresh tarragon leaves
1 cup fresh mint leaves
1/2 cup fresh oregano
1 tablespoon roasted garlic, puréed
Pinch of sugar
Salt, to taste
Black pepper, to taste
Season the lamb chops to taste.
For the adobo: Mix together merkén, oreganos, garlic paste, olive oil, vinegar, sugar and paprika. Rub the lamb. Marinate overnight.
For the confit: Preheat oven to 275 degrees. Place the pearl onions on a sheet pan, add the 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil and mix well. Bake for at least 30 minutes until done. Once cooked, remove from the oven, peel the skins off and reserve the onions. Keep warm.
Reduce heat to 200 degrees. On the same sheet pan, add the cherry tomatoes and toss with the merkén-infused olive oil, basil, tarragon, mint, roasted garlic, sugar, salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 40 minutes or until the skins are just broken. Mix with the onions and reserve.
Increase oven heat to 375 degrees. Pan-sear the lamb and finish cooking in the oven until desired doneness (about 15 minutes for medium rare with an internal temperature of 125 degrees). Serve with the confit.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
Adapted from Pilar Rodríguez/Latin Flavors, American Kitchens