The Fisherman Cooks Dinner in Valdivia – Chile
By Jacqueline Hagan
At the confluence of three large rivers, 15km from the coast and 850 kms south of Santiago, lies the picturesque town of Valdivia. Renowned for its Spanish forts, fish market and locally smoked salmon, we decided this was an ideal place to stay in a cabaña, and have the fisherman cook some local produce.
Outside the market, we met a fishmonger butterflying reineta. He was a bit gruff so we moved inside the market shed. Here we found a display of pejerreyes which looked just like Western Australian whiting. They were cleaned and butterflied too and priced at the equivalent of five dollars a dozen. The fisherman was delighted at the price and this fishmonger was eager for the sale. She picked out the twelve largest on her display, wrapped them in some plain white butcher’s paper and slid them into a plastic bag.
Just outside the market we met a large sea lion known in South America as a lobo marino – wolf of the sea. They are still very much wild animals but tend to hang around fishing harbours lolling in the sun, on the lookout for an easy meal. He lumbered over to us and made a rather scary lunge at the fisherman which certainly startled him. Then we realised he was after our bag of pejerreyes so we quickly moved out of his way. So graceful in the water, yet fortunately for the fisherman, rather clumsy on land.
Back at the cabaña, I marinaded the fish in a fragrant local olive oil with a little salt, a big handful of dried flaked oregano and a big pinch of aji merken – the local smoked paprika which is legendary throughout Chile. These we bought in the vegetable section of the market.
The fisherman panfried the pejerreyes in batches of four as the cabaña only had a smallish frypan. This turned out to be to our advantage, as we ate them much more slowly and consequently savoured their delicious fresh flavour.
We served them with some steamed asparagus and fresh broad beans that we bought in the market too.