Why you should care
Everyone could use a little more spice in their life.
Spice It Up is an original OZY series showcasing spices from around the world, in tasty snapshot form.
Smoky, potent, sassy. And all the rage in the Araucanía region of Chile. Merkén (not to be confused with merkin, a pubic wig) comes from the cuisine of the Mapuche people, who dry goat horn chili peppers (Capsicum annuum var. longum) in the sun, smoke them over a wood fire and then grind them up. The resulting powder is then mixed with toasted coriander and salt. And voilà: merkén.
Mostly it’s used as a condiment in Chile. You can sprinkle it on meat or fish or, for the flesh-eating-averse, on any kind of vegetable. Or on eggs. Or on really anything else you might enjoy with any other chili powder. Go bananas! (Though merkén is probably not good on bananas.)
If you prefer to go all out, try this recipe for almond-crusted salmon with fruit salsa from The Hungry Goddess. Or skip the complicated salsa and opt for broccoli and rice, like I did.
Turns out merkén is not so easy to get your hands on in the San Francisco Bay Area. After not finding it in all of San Francisco’s spice shops and yuppie specialty-food stores, I was about to give up. But the owner of Chile Lindo, a Chilean empanada restaurant, was generous enough to give me some that a friend had just brought to her from Chile. To get your hands on some, you’ll probably have to take a trip to Chile or order it online. Adventure or ease — your choice!
Goat horn chili pepper photo credit: Slow Food Archive/Anna Diniz Paula.