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Pulpo a la Plancha

Pulpo a la Plancha from Sur Patagónico in Santiago, Chile

I’ve often lamented the lack of delicious, fresh seafood in Buenos Aires. Despite the city’s location on the Atlantic coast, seafood’s not always a common sight on restaurant menus. Sure, there are some gems like Crizia where you can find oysters and fish beyond merluza, but they’re not the norm…and certainly not always budget-friendly. And buying seafood to make at home can also be a challenge. The fish markets in Barrio Chino are affordable, but quite the hike from San Telmo. El Delfín is a great pescadería within walking distance, but paying $100 pesos for two servings of salmon is a tad too rich for my blood.

That is why we were freaking out over all the frutas del mar during our recent roadtrip to the coast of Chile. We spent some time in the beach town Algarrobo, overdosing on seafood. I’m happy to report that every single restaurant we entered had a robust selection, and the pescaderías were plentiful and affordable.

Pelicans outside the pescadería in Algarrobo

Pelicans outside the pescadería in Algarrobo

When we’re on the road, we try to cook for ourselves as much as possible to keep things healthier and cost-effective. The thing is, cooking seafood is not my specialty. So these were experiments, which I’m happy to report turned out quite well.

We cooked our fish fillets on the grill, wrapped in foil with butter and plenty of lemon slices. They were super quick and easy, and crazy flavorful. Win!

Fish Fillets on the Grill

And then we got ambitious. We picked up some machas (razor clams), which we’d been spying everywhere and which made our little cabaña smell absolutely heinous for the rest of our stay. And of course, once we had them in our possession, we realized we had zero clue what to do with them. After searching the internet using the painfully slow and completely unreliable WiFi connection, there were conflicting reports. Some sites advised hours worth of scrubbing, rinsing, soaking and repeating. Some advised soaking in salted water, or water with cornmeal to draw out the sand. Still others advised that if shells were open, we should knock on them and if they don’t close, they’re bad. This was all way more labor and stress than I’d had planned for my vacation, thank you very much.

Machas - Razor Clams

I ended up scrubbing them and soaking them for an hour or so in salt water before deciding to just crack them open and rinse them out by hand, dammit. I’m sure this is some sort of seafood cooking no-no, but I’m really glad I did it. The sand was completely embedded throughout those bad boys, and we would have been crunching our way through dinner. After a good rinse, I put the clams on their half shells in foil, with crushed garlic, chopped onion, some butter, and beer. We wrapped them up so there was space for steam, but made sure they were shut tight, and cooked them over the grill for about 5 – 10 minutes. The one thing I was sure of was that overcooking these suckers would have resulted in a rubbery chewy mess that would make me regret the hours spent on preparation. Luckily, the timing was perfect, and the machas were a success.

Razor Clams on the Halfshell

My ultimate takeaway is, razor clams are a bit more labor intensive than they may be worth. They were good, but the sauce really made the difference. The clams themselves, for all their stinking when raw, didn’t have a very powerful flavor. And all that preparation works up an appetite that won’t be satiated by those tiny pieces of clam-flesh. Still, it was worth the effort for the experience. The moral of the story is this: I need your tips, suggestions and recipes for cooking seafood on the grill or open flames if we’re going to survive three months on the road.