The Finest Meats & Cheese (mostly meats): Chimichurri & Criolla Sauce

20 Mar
Dear Maroon,
One of my favorite things about South America is their ability to produce the finest meats the world over. Yes, I said it. South America has arguably the best beef and sometimes lamb in the world (also octopus, more on that later). I now endeavor to take you through our culinary experience in Argentina and Uruguay and because I travel with a chef, that seems to be the first and foremost way we experience everything, through food. Our first stop was Montevideo, Uruguay on our trip and that city is beautiful. It’s rife with historical buildings and situated on some very lovely beaches. I couldn’t change currency in the states before going there so we had to take out money at an ATM. The interesting thing about cab drivers or anyone else in Uruguay is that they hate making change for your bills and often won’t do it, to the point where they either berate you for such a large bill or give you a slightly lesser price so they don’t have to make change. I have no fucking clue how that country operates on cash. We went to the old district our first night and ate at the criolla del solis. A criolla is basically the same as a parilla, but Uruguayan. It basically refers to meat cooked on the type of grill they have and holy shit, it is awesome. In a really good (or sometimes mediocre) restaurant you will see said grill cooking your meats (a very large grill often on hydraulics to lift up and tend to the coals). Quick note because I am used to Mexican Spanish: people in Argentina speak Castellano, not “Spanish” and the double “ll” is pronounced not with a “y” sound but, well the closest thing I can approximate it to is the first sound of something like “je m’apelle”.Anyhow, our first night we started with an appetizer platter of offal. Sweetbreads, liver, morcilla (blood sausage) and some chorizo. The chorizo in Uruguay is the best I’ve ever had and I crave it to this day. It is slightly crispy on the outside and bursting with succulent deliciousness on the inside. It is nothing like Mexican or even Spanish chorizo and it is divine (somewhat akin to German braut, but not really). We had a baked potato with blue cheese to supplement our meat dinner and even the potatoes are better in South America….as they should be since that is their origin).The morning after we had lunch at the famed market near the port and sure as shit, there were meats everywhere. The building itself is beautiful, but eating at some of the “restaurant” style places there proved to be more expensive than it was worth (thanks tourism). Anyhow, it was right near the buquebus (ferry) that we took to Bueno Aires.The first night we were in Buenos Aires was Valentine’s Day. For some reason, I didn’t expect Argentina to recognize that Hallmark holiday, but they do. We had made reservations in advance at a restaurant in the boutique Hotel Fierro called Hernan Giopponi. You should check out the hotel’s blog.  Our pre-set six course Valentine’s meal was good and certainly interesting, but the best thing is that hotel’s blog. Last July there was an event called the “Taste of Titus Andornicus”, which, well you should just read about. I would’ve loved to go to that. Shakespearean play where diners can engage in the final food fight scene? Yes, please.

The next day we flew into Bariloche, Patagonia. We had a really good evening consisting of Patagonian lamb, empanadas and wine our first night in Bariloche. The nice thing is that Argentina isn’t big on importing wines (they’re governmental structure is a whole other thing), but that means you can enjoy wines for significantly less than we would get them (read:cheap, they don’t upmark by three times like we do in the states). We had amazing Malbecs the whole time and got tipped off to the best parilla in Bariloche on our second night.

Alberto's, our zip lining British friend's favorite restaurant in the world

We went ziplining with some Brits who now live in Scotland and the woman wanted to come back to Bariloche because it had her favorite restaurant in the world,  Alberto’s.  There is a parilla and pasta place of the same name (the pastas are really good and saucy). They also did an amazing provolone grilled on one side and brushed with oil and then situated on the parilla in a dish. I don’t think locals want anyone to know about Alberto’s because it is primarily dominated by locals and when we mentioned it to the guy at our front desk he seemed to want to talk about it only hushed tones. Sorry locals, but if you have come to our site it is only because we really appreciate your things.

Amazing food once again, but the best criolla and chimichurri actually came from the farm we were at during our rafting adventure. Brian has made a modern version of which I will share with you:

Chimichurri

2 cups picked Italian parsley
3/4 cup picked fresh oregano
2 large garlic cloves, finely grated
2 tsp. red chili flake
3 T red wine vinegar (preferably homemade, get the recipe here)
1/2 cup canola oil (typically a neutral flavored oil is used, but olive oil can be substituted)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to tasteFinely chop the parsley and oregano or process in a food processor several pulses. Combine remaining ingredients, mixing well. Season to taste. Let marinate for at least 1 hour and use within a few days. Serve over a grilled steak or spoon onto good bread.Note that the above recipe is not exact and requires the producer of said recipe to taste at intervals.

Those were basic notes from the recipes, but like all good savory recipes, require the chef to taste as they see fit. Also, sometimes it calls for cilantro, which I still vehemently hate. Add at will. I’ve found that in an American take on Mexican or South American food there is always an abundance of cilantro. I have rarely seen it on my travels: this is something American people want to project onto other international cuisines. I still fucking hate cilantro. I tried, and actually went so far as to test my reactions with varying different types of coriander. Fact: I love ground coriander. Fact: when it blossoms into a plant whose leaves are picked and put into a sauce I would otherwise love, I hate it. I am not alone. Julia Child hated cilantro. When it is cooked above 160 degrees Farenheit I don’t really taste it and therefore don’t hate it.

Criolla Sauce

1 medium onion, small dice

1 red pepper, seeded, small dice
1 roma tomato, seeded, small dice
1 clove garlic finely minced or grated
2 T chopped parsley
1/4 cup red wine vinegar (homemade if possible)
1/2 cup canola oil
salt and pepper to tasteCombine all ingredients and mix well. Best served the next day after marinating for a while. Will hold covered for up to a week. Is great with grilled steaks or sausages or on bread.These sauces are very fundamental flavors of Argentina and Uruguay and can be used creatively if one wishes.

Tales of adventures to be continued…Yolo

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