Originating in the South American country of Chile, caldillo de congrio is an eel-based dish. Caldillo de congrio, translated from Spanish to English, means “broth of conger,” or conger chowder. The dish is named after its main ingredient, an eel called conger.
The eel of caldillo de congrio belongs to Congridae, a family that consists of almost 200 species. A subcategory, the garden eel, lives in colonies and protrude from the sea ground like plants. Garden eels are very hard to catch, as they retreat into the hole-shaped dwelling places upon the sight of a human. Some other conger eels, however, are easier to come by, one of which is the congrio colorado, or red conger. This eel species is usually found in the part of the Pacific Ocean that surrounds or touches the shores of Chile known as the Chilean Sea, and it is the order of fish used for preparation of caldillo de congrio.
Making caldillo de congrio starts off with chopping up and cooking the eel in a pot of water, producing the broth. Meanwhile, vegetable or olive oil is heated in a pot. Then chopped onions, garlic, jalapeno or bell pepper, tomatoes and carrots are added and sauteed until all items are soft. The mixture is seasoned with salt and black pepper.
After about five to 10 minutes of cooking in medium heat, the broth is added to the sauteed items. After another 10 to 20 minutes, the cooked eel is added, and the heat is reduced to let the contents simmer for approximately five minutes. The cream can be stirred in during this time. When done, caldillo de congrio is usually garnished with parsley, coriander or scallions. The soup is traditionally eaten with pieces of crusty bread and some wine.
There are some variations of caldillo de congrio, mainly based on the cook’s preferences or location of preparation. Some people opt to buy the broth and cook the eel with the sauteed ingredients, and many recipes include shrimp or potatoes. In places where eels are inaccessible, people substitute the conger with other types of fish such as whiting. In popular culture, caldillo de congrio is best known for being the subject of the poem Oda al Caldillo de Congrio, or Ode to Caldillo de Congrio. The ode was penned by celebrated Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971.