A Lamb Empanada in Downtown Calafate

Between the glacier tekking, mountain climbing and sheep herding I also devoted some time to lounging around in “downtown Calafate.” I passed by the casino but did not go in. I walked through a feria of artesenal junk but did not buy anything. I visited the main square and stores that sold a variety of camping gear. At some point I got tired and flopped myself into a red and white Coca-Cola beach chair outside San Pedro Resto Bar. Needless to say, the place had both lamb on a parrilla and Patagonian trout. Their special of the day was “asado de bife.” I chose the place because I didn’t have too much money left and I wanted an empanada. When I peeped their menu I saw something I liked: a lamb empanada. I’d never had one of these before and it seemed like a perfect snack for the time –  small but packed with something that was bound to be delicious. It did cost a whopping $30 pesos, which is ridiculous for an empanada in Argentina, but I guess when you divide by 10 (to get $3 USD) it’s not that bad. I ordered one, along with a generous glassful of Patagonian Sauvignon Blanc (appellation: Ventus) from Bodega del Fin del Mundo, which cost about the same. I sat outside while I waited, people-watching and enjoying the gentle rays of afternoon sun on my back.

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The wine came first. It was chilled well and was primarily dry with a hint of sweetness towards the finish. It was a good little white to sip on its own and even better when gulped to wash down the flaky, buttery crust of the empanada. The acidity was enough to cut through the butter and lent a nice, clean finish to each bite. I very much like the Ventus label and the name itself, as these adopt one of the most characteristic aspects of the region, the chilly Patagonian wind that makes even the sunniest day slightly cool. A mountaneous tree with wind-blown branches illustrates this characteristic in a minimalist but chic way.

The empanada was very small but well worth $3 USD. I waited for it for 20 minutes as it baked in the oven and came out sizzling hot and fresh. I pinched one of the tapered ends and opened it up which, as I have come to learn, is the only proper way to eat one. As I nibbled on the crumbly, caramelized, golden brown corner I peeked inside of the thing. Through the steam flooding out I spotted juicy shreds of light brown meat. As my server explained, the meat they had used for empanadas had been close to the bones of the animal, which explains the depth of flavor and fibrous nature of the stuff. It reminded me of what I love about chicken empanadas. The filling is shredded and somehow this quality seems to enable it to retain moisture, resulting in plump, juicy bites of meat rather than the crumbly stuff you get with empanadas de carne (beef). While texturally the lamb empanada resembled chicken, the flavors of the former were far more satisfying. The lamb, being patagónico, wasn’t gamey but had a clean flavor with just a hint of the minerality so unique to the animal. It wasn’t seasoned too intensely, if at all. The pastry was cooked through perfectly but not dry, with gorgeous dalmatian spots of caramelization all over and one big, buttery smooth (almost creamy) air bubble on the underbelly.

47A seemingly simple little snack but one prepared very well. It was a warm pocket of buttery pastry and juicy, tender lamb from the region with no crazy flavors to mask the mild taste of the meat. I could have probably eaten three of them as an appetizer to a larger meal, but as a wine-side snack on sunny afternoon it was the perfect size and complexity.

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