Saturday, April 21, 2007

Argentine Chimichurri Sauce

My wife wants to celebrate a friends birthday, and her recent engagement while they were on vacation in Argentina. She decided to throw a surprise party next Saturday, and invite 14 people to an Argentine Feast to recreate the memory of their engagement.

Argentine cuisine evolved distinctly from the rest of Latin American cuisine because of the heavy influence of Italian, Spanish, French and other European cuisines which makes the typical Argentine diet a variation on what is often called the Mediterranean diet.

Argentines are famous for their high protein diet, particularly beef. Grilled meat (parrilla) from the asado is a staple, with steak and beef ribs especially common. Chorizo (pork sausage), morcilla (blood sausage), chinchulines (chitterlings), mollejas (sweetbread), and other parts of the animal are enjoyed. In Patagonia, lamb and chivito — goat — are eaten more than beef. Whole lambs and goats can be seen on the asado. While Argentina has a large seacoast most of the fish caught is exported, and is not consumed there because of the abundance of beef, pork, and poultry.

South America is quickly gaining recognition for producing wines of exceptional quality that are still reasonably priced. Argentina and Chile have taken Old World grapes and found varieties uniquely suited to their particularly long growing seasons.

One up and coming variety is Malbec. Originally from the Bordeaux region where it is used primarily as a blending grape, Malbec is also the dominant grape of the famous black wines of Cahors in southwest France. But it truly thrives in the sunny, dry Argentine climate, producing fruity wines loaded with blackberry and black cherry flavors. Argentine Malbecs are similar in flavor to their European counterparts, but with softer, lusher structure, more like New World Merlot.

Lesser known is Carmenère, a variety once widely cultivated in Bordeaux and sometimes labeled Grande Vidure. In 1991 winemakers discovered that 40 percent of the vines in Chile that were believed to be Merlot were actually Carmenère. Stronger and spicier than Merlot and lower in acidity, this grape produces wines with soft tannins, rich color and aroma, and abundant flavor. Ever since Chile began actively marketing Carmenère in the mid-1990s, it has come to symbolize that nation, much as Shiraz has come to represent Australia.

The national sauce of Argentina is called Chimmichurri, and if you are going to have an Argentine Feast you will need lots of it on hand. This recipe comes from my friend David Holt, and it will make 3 cups which is about what we need for marinating, basting, and dipping.

The taste of Chimichurri is often described as dragging your steak through a garden.

Chimichurri Sauce

1/2 cup lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup sherry wine vinegar, or to taste
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, or to taste
1/2 sweet onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
Juice of 1 lemon ( I sometimes just use limes)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Argentinian Feast Menu

We are going to put together a menu from the following items. I will be sharing the recipes for everything throughout the week as we plan the dinner party.

Main Dishes

The Argentines love their organ meats, while Americans of this generation are a little bit squeamish when it comes to such things as sweetbreads. We are going to keep it simple by using Flank Steak which marinates well, and slices easily. We are also going to use some fresh sausages of various types.

The marinated game hens weigh about 1 pound each, and I have the butcher saw them in half. I marinate them the night before, grill them in the morning to get a nice char, then finish them in the oven stuffed with a mixture of chorizo, spinach, caramelized onion, corn, raisins, pine nuts, and a little bit of cornbread to hold it all together. You can use any type of game bird, but split game hens are easy to marinate, safe to stuff, easy to order, and make an elegant presentation.

For the seafood we try to find the freshest white fish available and grill it with a finish of capers, and marinated artichokes.

Chimichurri Flank Steak
Grilled Sausages Basted with Chimichurri sauce
Marinated Games Hens
Fresh Snapper or other white ocean fish

Side Dishes

Sides are simple in Argentina, and as you would guess corn plays a major role, but with an Italian twist. A polenta with Poblano chiles and cheese works well as a starch.

Salads are very simple in Argentina, and are a popular side to beef dishes. the Fresh Mozzarella, and sliced tomato harken back to the Italian influence.

Grilled Asparagus and Baby Squash
Polenta with Poblano Chile, and Cheese
Tomato's and Fresh Mozzarella
Tossed Green Salad

Assorted Miniature Emapanda's

Empanadas, or small meat pies are served all over the world. The Argentine version has Moorish influences that came over with Spanish settlers. Empananda's are easy to make if you purchase Goya wrappers at a Latin Market. If not just use pie dough and make your own. The meat recipe we will use is strictly Argentine with cumin, chorizo, and raisins, etc... . the others are just ones we thought up as we were going. We decided to make our own because the one's we found pre-made were pretty pedestrian.

Meat Empanadas
Bacon Empanadas
Seafood Empanadas

Assorted Miniature Tamales

Yes, they do have variations of Tamales all over South America. We cheated here by buying some from Williams Sonoma. They are excellent, individually wrapped in different colors. They are a great time saver if you can spare the $64 including shipping for three pounds of these puppies. Sure you can make them at home for a fraction, but why bother when you have so many other things going on before a big party?

Beef and California Chile Tamales
Chicken and Smoked Gouda Tamales
Pork with Green Chile Tamales
Blue Corn Green Chile and Jack Cheese Tamales


Argentina like Spain is known for Jambon which is a dry cured ham which is very similar to Prociutto. We make it easy on ourselves and purchase sliced Italian specialty meats including prosciutto, garnished with cheese, olives, and large capers.

Ceviche Cocktails

Ceviche is a native dish of Peru, but it served all over Latin America, and the Caribbean. Ceviche consists of white fish cooked in lime juice with red onions and mild hot peppers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Pork Tenderloin with Michigan Cherry Sauce

I think it's Spring, at least that is what the calendar on the wall says despite the 4 inches of snow on the ground and winds raging between 30-40 mph today in Chicago.

This pork tenderloins recipe works well with fresh, or frozen cherries.

1 pork tenderloin, about 1 pound
½ to 1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup pitted Bing cherries (see note)
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into ½-inch bits

Cut the pork tenderloin into 6 pieces. Put the pieces, one at a time, between layers of plastic wrap and use a meat tenderizer or rolling pin to pound them into rounds about 4 inches across. Sprinkle the rounds with the salt and pepper.

Put the oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat, and when the oil is hot, cook the pork, turning once, until the surface of each piece is golden brown, about 7 minutes altogether.

Use tongs or a fork to transfer the pork to a plate. Toss the cherries in the oil left behind in the pan. Pour the chicken broth and balsamic vinegar over the cherries and turn the heat to high.

When the broth has boiled down to about half its original volume and the cherries are tender, about 5 minutes, return the pork to the pan, along with any juices that have collected on the plate.

Reheat the pork in the sauce for a minute, then transfer it to serving plates. Swirl the butter into the pan juices and pour the sauce over the pork.

Monday, April 9, 2007

April Showers

Well, here we are in April and I have gotten a little behind in updating the blog. I think one of the reasons is we have gotten a little repititious in our meal planning at home as the weather cooled back down. Nothing stifles the creativity more than a cold snap in early Spring. If you are not in Chicago I want you to know that we had a White Easter.

The Lenten diet ended on Good Friday, but I really wasn't able to take advantage of much because of the holiday. That's right, no Culver Burger. The diest worked well, in six weeks I shed 23 pounds which isn't bad. Anyway we will have some more recipes up soon as we get back into the swing of things.