If you’ve been following this blog recently, you’ll know I recently wrote about making beef empanadas, a recipe in which I used an indigenous spice from Chile called Merquén.
Sophisticated cooks and foodies out there may have heard of this spice mixture, but I had not. So I decided to do a little background research . . .
Merquén is a mixture of dried smoked peppers (from the cacho de cabra, or “goat’s horn” pepper), which can be quite hot; and cumin, coriander and salt. It adds heat and imparts an intense smoky flavor.
What should you use it on?
Well, chicken, pork, beef, grilled fish – pretty much anything where you want to add rich smoky flavor with a kick. You could use it as a rub for meats, to add flavor to salsas and soups, as a coating for goat and other cheeses, and as an infusion in olive oil. It was just perfect as a seasoning in the ground beef for my empanadas.
If you visit the Etnia website, you’ll find a few recipes you can try using merquén, such as seared salmon, tuna, garlic chicken, or the Chilean salsa-like pebre. Be forewarned though – I reviewed each recipe and the translation leaves a little something to be desired. But I bet you could figure out the little quirks you’ll find there to make the recipes work if you wanted to try them.
Because of merquén’s intense smoky flavor, wines you might want to pair with recipes using it include Zinfandel, Syrah, or as I did, a Chilean blend of Cabernet/Syrah.
(The merquén I used was received as a sample, and is produced by the Chilean company Etnia. They buy it directly from two indigenous Mapuche families who make it in Purén, Chile. Etnia adheres to the Fair Trade concept, and pays the families a premium price for the product above the standard market value.)