Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Charqui and Charquisillo

Charqui is dehydrated meat (beef, pork, llama or sheep) that is cured with salt and left out in the sun. It was, and in some places still is, used to conserve meat for extended periods. The word "charqui" comes from Quencha and was what the Incas called slices of meat, fruit and beans dried in the sun. Many say that the "jerked beef" of english pirates comes from this word. There's never only one version though; others say that french pirates (the bucaneers) used to dry pork by smoking it and call this "charcuitier".

The usual method is that the meat is cut into pieces or slices as thin as possible and the fat and blood is removed as much as possible. These pieces are then hung up in dry, well ventilated, and are above all, sun exposed areas, until they take on a texture similar to cardboard or leather. Often they are protected by mosquito net during this process. Sometimes the drying process is reinforced by smoking.
Once dried the meat is usually stored in jars with salt and at times mixed with pepper, paprika and dried chillis. Rarely charqui is covered in honey to preserve it.

Charqui drying under the eaves of a remote school.

If the meat is dehydrated in areas like the Puna or andean altiplano, the resulting charqui is sanitary due to the climate at may consumed as is. The more coman is to rehydate the meat and use it in soups and stews. Once the meat is rehydrated it can be used in all sorts of dishes such as the fillings of empanadas or tamales. In the east of Bolivia it is eaten fried with boiled yucca.


This is a stew with charqui as the priciple ingredient. As with all folk dishes there as many versions as there are cooks and depends on the place and what is at hand. This version uses another classic regional ingredient - quinoa. This is a great winter dish succulant and rich with all the flavours in the pot coming together.


500g Charqui
2 medium onions
2 large potatoes
200g quinoa
1 medium capsicum
100g lard or oil
Aji Molido (ground chili)
Pimenton (sweet paprika)
salt and pepper

Boil pieces of charqui until softened. Meanwhile, cut onion and capsicum into dice and saute in oil
When softened remove charqui from water and tear into strips with your hands. You may find a small paring knife useful to remove meat from the bones. Add meat to pan with vegetables.
Cut the potatoes into 1.5cm cubes and add to pan. Cover with stock or just plain hot water and bring to the boil before adding the quinoa. Test for salt and add if required. Cook for 15 minutes over medium heat until vegetables and quinoa tender. Season with aji and pimenton and cook for another 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes before serving in a deep bowl accompanied by crusty bread.


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