The King Of Argentine Condiments: Chimichurri
WHAT TO EAT: CHIMICHURRI
WHERE TO EAT IT: ARGENTINA AND URUGUAY
Every country has their star condiment. This is especially true while traveling around South America. Whether it was pebre in Chile or llajua in Bolivia, the table seemed to always feature one ubiquitous condiment. In Argentina and to some extent Uruguay (it’s less widespread), there is no debate about it-the king is chimichurri. Many of you have probably already heard about this sauce and can’t forget it because of that catchy name.
It was difficult to trace the history of this oddly named sauce and sources are conflicted. One version, proposed by an Argentine gourmand named Miguel Brasco, states that the sauce originated when the British were captured following the invasion of the Rio de la Plata. The British prisoners asked for something to go with their food (could you imagine prisoners being so demanding?!) and according to the story, they said ‘give me curry’ which was interpreted as ‘chimichurri’ (from che-mi-curry, a mix of Spanish, English and Aboriginal). Other theories posit that non-Argentines with last names like ‘Curry’ or ‘McCurry’ were the source.
Whatever the real story is, we should all be thankful that it’s Argentina who gave the rest of the world chimichurri. When you eat an asado (this country’s version of BBQ), you are almost always served this sauce on the side to top your steak and sausage with. Meat is never marinated in this country. A special salt (like a rock kosher salt) is typically used to rub onto the meat before it’s cooked. This salt is even labeled ‘para la parrilla’ (for the BBQ). Argentines prefer to adorn their meat after the cooking with either chimichurri or salsa criolla (more on that in another post).
The first time I had real chimichurri (I had it in the states a few times but it definitely tastes different here) was in Buenos Aires, Argentina. We had just landed on the continent with a one way ticket from New York. It was the beginning of our journey in South America and I can remember feeling both excited and nervous. Back then, I didn’t speak any Spanish other than baño, cerveza, gracias and por favor (bathroom, beer, thanks and please). Pretty useful words (that actually can go together!) but very limited! I felt completely lost in those days and worried that I would never learn the language. Now I can get by alright but still struggle with talking in the past tense. Those first four words I learned are still the ones I use most often!
Laurent and I took a cooking class to learn how to make empanadas. It was in this class that I also learned the proper way to make a good chimichurri, which I am going to share with you. There are two ways (well, probably more but I am going to talk about two) to make the chimichurri. You’ll notice on this website that I don’t write a recipe in list form. It’ s not that I’m lazy but I feel that cooking should be a bit more flexible than what is limited to a recipe. For baking, it’s different and you have to be more exact but for a thing like chimichurri I want you to add more of what you like and less of what you don’t. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
How to Prepare:
The most important thing for making chimichurri is that it contain parsley, oregano, olive oil and vinegar. Any other additions are a cook’s choice. The two different ways I am going to talk about deal with using fresh herbs verses dried. For me, it’s a personal preference and I like to use fresh herbs. If your preference is dried, then by all means use the dried herbs. I absolutely love fresh parsley. I use it in many dishes. Parsley is a neglected herb. Sure it’s sprinkled on top of every dish in restaurants but it never gets the starring role. I feel bad for parsley it just doesn’t get the street cred it deserves. People go nuts for cilantro and basil. Tarragon even gets more props. Parsley is so much more than a garnish! Chimichurri gives parsley the chance to shine. Fresh parsley is full of nutrients-did you know it has three times the Vitamin C as oranges? Click here for more surprising information about this underrated herb.
It’s no surprise that I like to start my chimichurri with fresh parsley and oregano. When using fresh herbs, remember that you always need more than if you use dried because when you chop the fresh herbs, they reduce to a very small amount. For this recipe you will need onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, red wine vinegar and olive oil (salt and pepper too and maybe paprika or chile flakes if you want a bit of spice). You need about one large bunch of parsley minced (chopped very fine) and about 3 tbsp of oregano minced. This can be adjusted to suit your tastes.
Next chop half an onion (if it’s large or a whole small) and a few cloves of garlic, depending on your taste. I like to use 4 large cloves. Mince everything as finely as you can. If you aren’t too keen to chop everything so fine (it does take time but in my opinion, it tastes better when you hand chop it and you can also control the consistency this way) then go ahead and use a food processor. If you really like chunks, don’t mince it so much. Some finely grated carrot is also a nice addition.
Once everything is minced, add it to a bowl and mix in salt and pepper to your taste. Then add about 3 tbsp of red wine vinegar (or another kind but not balsamic). It doesn’t really matter how much you add or what kind you use. Don’t add more than a few tbsp though or it will be too acidic. The most important thing is to add the vinegar first and mix it into the herbs and aromatics. If you want to add some heat, add some chile flakes at this point or some paprika (this will alter the color and the sauce will be have a darker, red hue with a different flavor but still delicious and traditional). Feel free to add some lemon juice or zest if you really like citrus.
After you mix the aromatics and herbs with the acid of your choice (vinegar, lemon or a combination) add about a half cup of olive oil. You want this sauce to be more on the thin side but if you really insist on having a chunky sauce, go ahead but it won’t be as traditional. If you want to use dried herbs, you can use those too but add much less than you would fresh. A total of 4 tbsp of dried herbs (typical is just with parsley and oregano) will suffice. Stir the sauce well after the addition of the olive oil. If using a food processor, drizzle the oil in as the machine is running. Add more if it’s too thick.
Remember the key to your chimichurri is to always have a base of parsley, oregano, vinegar and olive oil. Then add what you like. Now get that meat on the grill and spoon some chimichurri on top! In Argentina, they usually serve it with beef but it also works very nice with chicken and fish. It’s even good on bread, potatoes and roasted vegetables. I’d love to hear about your favorite way to eat chimichurri!