Item No. 19 of my 2016 Cooking Challenge
Five years ago, I lived in Argentina for about half a year. It’s an easy place to miss and a very easy cuisine to miss. Good Argentine food in the United States can be a very difficult thing to find, even in big cities.
In Buenos Aires, chimichurri is served at virtually every restaurant, offered right up on the table in a small dish. Anyone whose ever had pretty authentic chimichurri sauce tends to go nuts over it. This is pretty much the reaction of anyone I’ve ever introduced to Argentine food. Before you know it, an entire french loaf can disappear while the eater rips off one piece after another to soak up even more of that oily goodness.
Unfortunately, much like bolognese, chimichurri is just one of those dishes that tends to get totally lost in translation within U.S. borders. I once came across a cooking show hosted by Tia Mowry who whipped up something she called chimichurri that was foamy and included cucumbers, cilantro, and avocado. Sister-sister, what on earth?
Thing I Learned #1 – I always figured the name chimichurri spoke for itself. Turns out, it probably comes from the Basque word meaning “a mix of several things in no particular order.” It’s likely that the cuisine and the word both come from the Basque.
Thankfully, I’ve had a taste of the real deal, so there’s no going back. No way could I call anything chimichurri unless it was oil based with just the right amount of tang and the right combination of herbs. Those herbs, though, that was key. What herbs exactly go in a good chimichurri? I decided to find out.
Thing I Learned #2 – Why do Americans mess up the concept of a chimichurri so much? It could be that the Dominican “chimichurri” is more common in the U.S., particularly around New York. The Dominican chimichurri has little to do with the sauce and is actually a sandwich with beef, cabbage, and a ketchup-mayo mix.
Chop and the garlic, parsley, oregano*, salt, vinegar, and red pepper flakes in a food processor. Run the food processor on low and pulse occasionally while adding in the olive oil. Correct the taste as you desire with salt and pepper. Chill to meld flavors.
*If you can’t find fresh oregano, dried oregano will do
2 cups of packed Italian parsley
1 cup of olive oil
1/4 cup of packed oregano
1/2 cup of red wine vinegar
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
Salt to taste (at least 1/2 teaspoon)
Pepper to taste
- Add oregano, parsley, salt, vinegar, red pepper flakes, and garlic to a food processor and finely chop
- Put the food processor on low or pulse and slowly introduce the oil, occasionally scraping the sides
- Taste and add salt or pepper as needed
- Chill for at least two hours to allow the flavors to meld
Serving this Sucker
In my opinion, the best way to enjoy chimichurri and get the most out of its flavor is to bake some bread, and while the bread is as fresh as possible, to dip it in the chimichurri and enjoy.
That’s my favorite method, but the other great thing about the sauce is that it lends itself to just about anything that could benefit from a little spice and oil. It compliments fish really well. I’ve been known to dip fries in there when I lived in Argentina, and of course, to make it truly Argentine, it goes great on steak.
In fact, that’s just what I did, spreading some on a steak milanesa– which will be the next recipe I profile.
Thing I Learned #3 – The fond memories I have of Argentina might cause me to be a bit of a purist when it comes to chimichurri, but like all foods, it is constantly evolving. Recent variations that have grown in popularity include red chimichurri that uses more aji molido, paprika, and pimenton, or to try and make the chimichurri spicier with jalapeños or fresno peppers. I’m skeptical, naturally. Most Argentines I met had a rather low tolerance for spicy foods.
In The Future
So, I made a couple little mistakes that I dare not repeat again. The first was that I didn’t have red wine vinegar, so I thought I would substitute for it by combining apple cider vinegar with red wine. That would have worked except I forgot to cook off the alcohol, meaning my first batch came out funky. Here’s how I salvaged it: the microwave. I microwaved it just hot enough so that the oil could cook out the alcohol without ruining any of the other flavors. About a minute was good enough to do the trick.
My second error was to get a little too excited and try to eat it right away. The couple hours to meld the flavors go a long way, as I learned when I had it again the following day. Of course, excitement over chimichurri is totally understandable, but trust me on this one, you’d do well to wait.