Some days are just made for comfort food, and for me, when in Chile, that means cazuela… That steaming bowl of colorful vegetables, meat, and broth that’s just perfect for a gray and dreary mid-winter Sunday, like today.
Eileen at Bearshapedsphere got me thinking about comfort food this morning when she declared it a perfect day for arroz con leche (Chilean style rice pudding). I agreed. This was a comfort food kind of day, and then I remembered the Liz Caskey’s recent post on comfort food from “home-home” vs. comfort food from our adopted home. She’s right too. Somewhere along the way, my list of comfort foods has grown from typical gringo fare (macaroni and cheese, crispy oven-fried chicken, scalloped potatoes with pork chops, meat loaf and mashed potatoes, beef stew, hot roast beef sandwiches au jus, corned beef and cabbage, chicken noodle soup, baked potatoes with butter and sour cream, grilled cheese on rye with dill pickles, a patty melt from the diner, spaghetti and meatballs in homemade tomato sauce, a big fat juicy burger on the grill, fried fish on Friday, corn on the cob, steamed clams dripping in butter, watermelon on the back porch… Arrgh! Make me stop! The list goes on—and has absolutely nothing to do with MacDonald’s—much to the disbelief of most Chilean’s I know, by the way! My list of comfort foods now includes such Chilean staples as costillar con pure picante (ribs with spicy mashed potatoes), plateada con puré picante (braised beef and okay, so I like the spicy spuds!), papas rellenas con queso (potatoes stuffed with cheese) and my all-time personal favorite: cazuela.
Cazulea (pronounced kah-SWAY-la), whether beef (cazuela de vacuno) or chicken (cazuela de ave), is part soup, part stew, and 100% pure heart-and-soul-warming goodness. Ask for a cazuela in Spain and you’ll end up with an empty casserole dish, but in Chile it’s the finished product that gets the attention. The ingredients are all familiar to the American table, although presented in their very Chilean way—almost always in steaming hot individual-serving dark brown Pomaire clay bowls. A whole potato (peeled), rice, french-cut green beans, a large chunk of squash (zapallo, often with the skin on), a 3” chunk of thick-kerneled corn on the cob, a hefty portion of beef (bone-in is best) or chicken in a rich broth and liberally dusted with fresh chopped parsley and/or cilantro. And on a gray winter day, all that color does wonders to drive the blues away!
This is a 3-utensil dish: fork, knife, and soup spoon required. Traditionalists insist that the steaming broth be slurped up first along with some hearty bread and spicy pebre (salsa). Then it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get serious about downsizing—slicing, peeling, chunking, and savoring—the rest. There’s nothing dainty or bite-sized about this dish, and when Chileans think hearty, they mean it. This is some serious Chile-style down-home eatin’ … and if that ain’t comfort food, I don’t know what is!