Mother Earth gives us her riches each harvest, so what better way to give thanks than to dig a big hole in the ground and bury the choices pieces?
Well, OK, to bury the potatoes, plantains, corn and yuca along with ribs, chicken and lamb in order to cook them.
That’s the idea behind the Andean pit roast known as pachamanca, and the demonstration of how to prepare this ancient culinary feast was a highlight of the recent Latin Flavors, American Kitchens seminar at the Culinary Institute of America’s San Antonio campus.
The elaborate display showcased the school’s new fire pit area and it drew dozens of viewers to watch each step. Pearl Brewery owner Kit Goldsbury and his wife, Angie, were among the excited onlookers and were thrilled to be a part of the ceremony, by placing the cross and flowers on the final pit as the cooking started. The red and white flowers represented the flag of Peru, while the cross was a means of giving thanks — not to bury it, said chef Marilu Madueño of Huaca Pacllana in Lima, Peru.
She and her partner, Arturo Rubio, led the demonstration that included many of the school’s students preparing the pit, making the tamales, peeling the yuca and marinating the meats. In Peru, the whole town gets together to celebrate and everyone does his or her part to make the meal happen, Rubio said.
The process starts with placing the potatoes amid the ashes. Then the hot rocks are layered with the meats and vegetables, a process that has to be done quickly, Madueño says. That’s so the meat will sizzle and sear on the rocks.
Once everything is placed in the ground and covered with banana leaves, the whole pit is covered with damp soil so seal in the heat, Rubio said. The air around the rocks ensures the pit “works like a convection oven,” he said.
After the hour-long cooking process, someone pours a drink — usually pisco, but a beer or wine will do — over the mound as a blessing, Rubio said. The four corners of the earth are covered as the people give thanks for their cattle, their family, the harvest and Mother Earth. Cattle comes first, he joked, because without it the family would starve.
The food is removed from the ground with the same ritualistic care as it took to create. But once removed, it is time to dig in and enjoy.
1. CIA student Todd Martin heats rocks over a wood-burning pit used for the Peruvian pachamanca.
2. Peruvian chef Marilu Madueño pours potatoes onto the coals at the bottom of the fire pit.
3. CIA students Josh Calderon (left), Martin and Peruvian chef Arturo Rubio ready rocks while Madueño adds ribs to the pit.
4. A crowd of onlookers watch as the layering of the pachamanca continues.
5. Madueño adds a clay pot of Queso Pario, an aged Andean cheese, to the pit.
6. Fresh corn husks are layered on top.
7. A layer of banana leaves is placed over the food.
8. Hot rocks are placed over the banana leaves.
9. A tarp is placed over the banana leaves.
10. Martin and Calderon cover the pit with loamy soil to seal in the heat.
11. Pearl Brewery owner Kit Goldsbury places a cross on the pachamanca to bless the pit roast.
12. The soil dries and warms as it seals in the heat.
13. Rubio pours a beer over the pachamana as a gift of thanksgiving.
14. Madueño and Rubio pull the tarp, helping to remove the dirt and unearthing the cooked foods inside.
15. Removing the earth requires the help of many.
16. The banana leaves have baked during the process, adding flavor to the foods.
17. Trapped steam rises as the first foods are being removed.
18. Trays of baked tamales, ribs, chicken, potatoes, sweet potatoes and more are removed from the pit.