Chilcano de Carachama
Something I learned about myself since arriving in Peru is that I am not prone to eating soup or fish for breakfast. My stomach just can’t handle it first thing after waking up. I have learned this mainly because these are things that have been served to me on a variety of trips. I admit, after years here, fish that has been breaded and fried is a little more do-able now than it was before. Not my favorite, but do-able.
I was on a trip to Pucallpa several years ago to visit my then friend/now husband’s mom. She lives 2 hours by boat from the main city. No stores or restaurants provide a variety of choices. People “choose” to eat what they grow, fish or travel a good distance to purchase.
Fish. Soup. For breakfast.
I watched from afar as my MIL prepared Chilcano de Carachama. Carachama is an an armored catfish and something I had never seen before in my life. First, she knocked them on the head to kill them, then cut open the belly to clean it out. To prepare the seasoning for the soup, she added garlic which had been mashed with a rock. After all the ingredients we ready, she collected some wood and started the fire she would cook the soup with. The salt and mashed garlic were added to the boiling water.
Then, one by one, she started to place the fish into the pot. Each time, she would put one in and step back. Soon, I figured out why she placed them in one by one and stepped away between each. It seemed that if the fish were not “completely” dead, they would splash upon contact with the boiling water. The fish were left to simmer for some time while other daily chores were taken care of. Once everything had simmered together, sachaculantro was added and the seasoning was adjusted. Then, I met my breakfast fate. Fish. Soup. For breakfast.
Because the fish is “armored,” you cannot just eat it as you might other fishes. The outer shell must be removed in order to get to the white flesh inside. The tail is pulled off and bit by bit, the scales easily fall away with the slightest tug. At this point, the fish can be eaten. If you are lucky (like me!) you get the whole sack of eggs boiled right inside your fish. I did my best to enjoy it for breakfast, although I think I ate more bread than soup or fish.