Argentine Cuisine — Steak With Chimichurri

A visitor to Argentina’s food culture would likely leave with one impression above all others: these people eat a LOT of beef.  Argentina is the world’s highest beef-consuming nation per capita, with its residents devouring a mind-boggling 149 pounds of delicious steer meat per man, woman, and child per year.  Obviously a population does not hit a number like that eating the same preparation every day, and Argentinians enjoy beef in hamburgers, as empanada fillings, and as breaded, fried cutlets known locally as milanesas. By far the most popular way to eat beef in Argentina, though, is asado, grilled beef steaks or ribs, enjoyed almost always with the Argentine national condiment, chimichurri (recipe follows).

Argentina quick facts:

  • Capital: Buenos Aires
  • Population: 41,660,417 (2013 estimate)
  • Notable Argentinians: Eva Perón, Che Guevara, Lionel Messi, Diego Maradona, Manu Ginóbili, Juan Martin del Potro

Somewhat atypically for the Latin American region, Argentine culture and cuisine has been shaped not just from indigenous influences and from its Spanish colonists, but from steady immigration from all over the world throughout the nation’s history.  Argentina is the world’s second-highest immigration destination (behind the United States, but ahead of many more well-known “melting pot” countries like the United Kingdom, France, Australia, and Canada).  Historically, the most Argentine immigrants have arrived from Italy, and a quick look at the Argentina World Cup squad list shows several players with Italian surnames, like Messi, Lavezzi, Campagnaro, or Mascherano.  Beef is king in Argentina, but Italian-originating pasta runs a close second in the hearts of Argentine food-lovers.  Argentine versions of gnocchi (ñoquis), ravioli (ravioles), fetuccine and tagliatelle (tallarines), and cannelloni (canelones) can be found in any Argentine city.

Argentina’s favorite condiment, chimichurri, has presumably been around for ages but the sauce’s origins are unclear.  One of the more believable accounts of the etymology of the word is that British soldiers, captured during the Empire’s attempt at securing the Rio de la Plata, asked of their captors any kind of sauce that might liven up their bland prison food.  In what could only be described as broken Spanglish, the men asked “che mi curry,” expecting that they would receive whatever the local version of curry might be.  An alternative is that Basque immigrants in the nineteenth century used “tximitxurri” to describe the sauce, a term that means “a bunch of stuff mixed together.”  However the name came to be, it is delicious on a steak.

Steak with Chimichurri

adapted from Asi Cocinan los Argentinos / How Argentina Cooks by Alberto Vasquez-Prego, The South American Table: The Flavor and Soul of Authentic Home Cooking from Patagonia to Rio de Janeiro by Maria Baez Kijac, Gran Cocina Latina: The Food of Latin America by Maricel E. Presilla, and from The Splendid Table’s web site

Steak recipe adapted from Ron Swanson’s Grilling Webpage

SERVES 2

For the chimichurri:

  • a small handful parsley leaves
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • about 2 Tbs oregano leaves
  • a pinch each salt, pepper, and crushed red pepper
  • 3 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 Tbs red wine vinegar

For the steak:

  • 1 steak large enough to serve two
  • Salt and pepper
  • about 1 tsp vegetable oil to coat the cast-iron pan

Chimichurri is incredibly easy to make.  It can be done in a food processor in about ten seconds, but a more Argentine texture can only be had by hand-mincing.  First we set our washed and drained herbs and our garlic clove on the cutting board:

herbsandgarlic

Next, in a flurry of chopping, we minced and minced until everything was cut into tiny pieces.  We recommend the largest board and knife available for this, since the herb and garlic mixture quickly spreads outward once the mincing begins.  The result:

herbsandgarlicminced

…was placed in a mixing bowl with the rest of the ingredients and stirred to combine:

chimichurrimixed

Our chimichurri was covered and refrigerated until ready to use.

For the steak, we started by preheating one of our trusty cast-iron pans over a medium burner on our stove.  Stoves vary considerably, and experience tells us that medium heat is about right for a steak on ours.  We liberally seasoned the steak (we used a boneless New York strip, but your favorite steak cut would be a fine substitution):

steakseasoned

Once the handle of the pan was almost too hot to touch (letting us know that the cooking surface was fully preheated), we coated the pan’s surface with a little oil, then dropped out steak in the center:

steakinpan

Our setup needs about five minutes on each side for medium-rare.  We’ve made many steak dinners with our trusty cast-iron pans so we really don’t need to use an instant-read thermometer, but if you are a little less self-assured the thermometer can help greatly to check for doneness.

After five minutes we turned out steak to sear the other side:

steakturned

Another five minutes passed and the steak was placed on a waiting dinner plate and covered with a loose foil tent to keep warm while it rested, letting the juices resettle into the meat tissue:

steaktented

After a five-minute rest, we sliced our steak to serve, alongside some basic fried potatoes and a simple garden salad:

steakplated
With apologies to Mr. Swanson, we require a vegetable with our dinner.

Like any great steak condiment, chimichurri pairs with the meat rather than overpower its flavor.  The herbs, garlic, and vinegar lend their essence to each bite, but the foremost taste remains with the beef.  A good steak needs little adornment.

 

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