Cazuela is the ultimate Chilean comfort food. The dish has its origins in the indigenous Mapuche soup known as “corri,” originally made with potatoes, pumpkin, corn or cornmeal, green beans, red peppers, quinoa, chili, wild herbs, and animals ranging from wild game to chickens. The Spanish conquerors arriving in Chile in the mid-1500s coined these soups “cazuelas” after the large vessels used for their preparation. The Spanish incorporated peninsular ingredients like domesticated chickens and beef, rice, carrots, onions, garlic, oregano, thyme, and parsley to these hearty stews.
I periodically crave cazuela, even in the summer time, and love how its fragrant stock permeates kitchens at lunch time where you get “whiffs” from miles away. Although cazuela is eaten year-round, in the raw winters, the flavorful broth has a strong restorative component that keeps the chill at bay.
The secret to a good cazuela lies in a good quality stock, gently boiled and left to infuse for hours. As a general rule of thumb, calculate 2 cups (1/2 liter) of water per person for cooking. Some liquid is inevitably lost to evaporation and absorption by the chicken and vegetables. Cazuela can be served in “sunken” pasta dishes, but the traditional way is in the red clay pots, known as greda. They are excellent heat conductors and the high sides make them virtually slop-proof—perfect for slurping up all that tasty broth.
1 whole free-range chicken (4 1/2 pounds or 2 kilograms), cut into 8 pieces
6 cloves garlic, smashed and divided
3 tablespoons long-grain rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, chopped coarsely (substitute 1 large onion)
6 carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 large potatoes, peeled
2 teaspoons sea salt
6-8 whole black peppercorns
Bouquet Garni: A few springs of fresh oregano and parsley, tied together with kitchen string
1 cup green beans, sliced finely
6 pieces of corn-on-the-cob, about 6.5cm/2.5 inches long
6 medium chunks fresh pumpkin (optional)
For garnish: ½ cup fresh cilantro and parsley, finely chopped
Clean chicken of any excess fat and skin. Many Chilean cooks still leave all the skin on. I find this excessive since the stock becomes greasy and needs to be degreased before serving. Trim down the skin to afford flavor, not too much fat. Season the chicken pieces with salt, pepper, and rub with 3 cloves of garlic. Place in a large stock pot and cover with 3 quarts (3 liters) of water along with the garlic used for rubbing. Simmer for 40 minutes until the skin is soft. Remove the chicken and strain the broth through a cheesecloth. Reserve stock and chicken pieces separately.
Wash the rice under running water until it runs clear. This process means the starches in the rice so they won’t cloud the stock. In a stock pot, heat the olive oil. When hot, add the leek (or onion), carrots, and remaining garlic to brown for five minutes. Add the potatoes, pumpkin if using, washed rice, salt, pepper, and bouquet garni. Return the stock to the pot and bring to a simmer for 25 minutes until the potato and pumpkin can be pierced with knife. At that time, add the green beans and corn along with the reserved chicken pieces. Cook for 10 minutes longer so that the flavors meld. Remove the bouquet from the stock and taste for salt.
To serve, place a piece of chicken, a whole potato, piece of pumpkin, one corn-on-the-cob, a couple carrots, rice, leeks (onions), and green beans in a deep bowl. Ladle broth over the vegetables to partially submerge them. Sprinkle with cilantro and parsley. Personally, I also love a dash or two of merkén to give it a slightly smoky and piquant note.