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Merkén or merquén (from the Mapuche mezkeñ) is a smoked chili pepper (or, in Spanish, "ají") used as a condiment that is often combined with other ingredients when in ground form. Merkén is a traditional condiment in Mapuche cuisine in Chile and other Andean regions.
The base ingredient of Merkén is the smoked pepper "cacho de cabra" (Capsicum Annuum var. Lungum) a dried, smoked, red pepper, that is sometimes ground with toasted coriander seed (Eryngium foetidum) and salt.
The traditional process of preparation is slow, since it involves harvesting green peppers and then letting them mature to develop an intense reddish color. The peppers are dried naturally in the sun and are then smoked over a wood fire. They are then stored hung to dry prior to grinding. Once reduced to chili powder or flakes, the peppers are often mixed with salt and roasted ground coriander seed.
In the markets, merkén pepper with only an addition of salt is known as "merkén natural", while "special merkén" contains the coriander seeds. The composition of "special merkén" is approximately 70% chili, 20% salt, and 10% coriander seed.
Merkén originates primarily from the kitchen of the Mapuches of the Araucanía Region of Chile, but is also used in the Chilean cuisine as a replacement for fresh chili. Since the beginning of the 21st century, Merkén has drawn the attention of professional chefs and has begun to find an international market.
Merkén is most commonly used as:
- A general condiment for seasoning dishes such as lentils, gold potatoes, and sautéed vegetables.
- A dry-rub for tuna, lamb, pork, or duck.
- A sprinkle, spice rub, or boiling spice for seafood including crab.
- In stews, savory pies, and purees.
- In ceviches.
- An addition to cow or goat cheese.
- On peanuts or salty olives.