A man recently asked me what my top five favorite foods are, given that I absolutely had to choose. After breaking it down for him by cuisine, dish and ingredient, I realized that I had overlooked something that I actually eat a ton of and crave very strongly when it is for some reason not accessible to me. Pan con palta.
Pretty simple yet one of the most palate pleasing snacks I know of – an avocado (palta) taken at the perfect stage of ripeness and fork-mashed onto a slice of bread (pan), sprinkled with coarse salt and maybe black pepper, drizzled with a touch of good olive oil (or not). It’s something I picked up during my time living in Santiago, Chile back in the fall of 2009. Chile is a place with a great abundance of avocados. While in Boston one can buy 1-2 avocados for about $1, in Chile one can take home around 4-6 pounds of it for the same price. The quality is always superb, with a very high concentration of natural oil giving the stuff a very deep flavor. It’s no wonder that Chileans pile it in what you might call excessive amounts on everything. Thick layers of it show up in sandwiches (like the country’s signature, the chacarero). It is served as palta reina, a giant avocado topped with mayonnaise-packed chicken salad. It is even a popular topping for the giant Chilean hot dog, the completo. But my favorite use of it back at my Chilean host family’s kitchen was always the simplest one, spreading it over a crusty but soft slice of marraqueta (Chilean “french bread”) and eating it just like that for breakfast. Marraqueta is the perfect size and shape for one of these and, although I usually prefer my bread toasted when topped with something soft and mushy for a textural contrast, I actually like the bread un-toasted when it comes to this staple. The photos below, sadly, were taken with normal Scali bread because I do not always have marraqueta lying around… It is also important for the avocado to not be refrigerated but to instead be at room temperature, allowing the flavor to shine through as much as possible.
It is difficult to describe the flood of endorphins that rushes over me whenever I bite into pan con palta. The avocado is velvety soft and melts when pushed up against the roof of one’s mouth. The natural fat of the fruit makes it luxurious, almost buttery and sinful in a way similar to calf brain or foie or sweetbread or bone marrow or any other mushy, fatty animal part. But while it has that comforting fatty texture, the taste is fresh and green, slightly nutty with a very subtle sweetness. A touch of coarse salt completely gets rid of that slightly soapy flavor which avocados also have, while bringing this subtle sweetness to a new plateau. The bread is there mainly for comfort and to soak up any excess oil on the surface of the fruit. It provides a grainy texture to contrast with the smoothness of the topping. A perfect combination.