I had several wonderful culinary experiences on my recent trip to Argentina and Uruguay. Two of the most emotional experiences centered around childhood memories of foods that no longer taste the way they did when I was a kid but still do in these two countries.
First was the Bife Chorizo I ordered in El Establo in Buenos Aires our first evening there. As we left the hotel to venture out for dinner one of the Western Washington University choir members came out of El Establo and absolutely gushed about the steak they had just eaten saying it was the best meat they had "ever" eaten in their entire life. I glanced up at the facade of the restaurant and made some dubious look. "No, REALLY! THEE best I have EVER eaten" was their reply. Well, it was just across the street from the hotel. It would save us walking in no particular direction to find dinner and from the look of the place it couldn't be too expensive. So we decided to give it a try.
We walked in and half the tour group was sitting in various states of euphoria, moaning, eyes rolling back in their heads. "You gotta try this, here take a bite!" One bite and I was sold. We sat down and I ordered a Bife Chorizo which is really just a cut of steak and nothing to do with the latin spicy sausage. In fact the Argentinians don't generally care for spicy hot foods at all. This charbroiled steak absolutely melted in my mouth. With that first bite a memory flooded back of the steak we ate in my home when I was a kid (a rarity). My parents bought sides of beef and rented a locker to store it in. The butcher would age the beef for a period of time and then cut it up into steaks and roast and hamburger, etc. But the taste which I hadn't had in probably 35 years or more exploded in my brain and I remembered! The strong flavor of the beef, the tenderness of the meat were something I haven't tasted in beef since that long ago time. Why? Well, back in the 1950's the food industry made a critical decision and started feeding our beef cattle with corn instead of grass. Feedlots where cattle were fattened up in 12 months instead of the 5-6 years required of grass-fed beef became the way of doing business. Of course, the method thrived when the cost of beef plummeted due to this much more cost effective process. And for most American consumers, the bottom line was far more important than the quality of the beef, the health risks involved and torturous life the cattle lived. Read the Omnivore's Dilemma if you want to know what I'm talking about.
The second food memory came flooding back when I drank a Coca-Cola. A simple thing Coke, yet in the U.S. we long ago changed the flavor of the drink when we stopped making it with cane sugar and started using high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The taste is in no way the same. It is a totally different drink and FAR better with the cane sugar believe me. I heard recently that Costco and Walmart (though I will never set foot in a Walmart) are selling a cane sugar variety of Coke made in Mexico. A recent blind taste test showed 100% of those trying both the HFCS version and the cane sugar variety vastly preferred the cane sugar option. The corporate response from Coca-Cola is that there is no perceptible difference in the taste. Of course that is the corporate line but you'd have to have had your taste buds ripped out not to taste the difference immediately.
The third food discovery was Chimichuri Sauce which was available everywhere we went and I plied liberally on just about everything I ate. It is a condiment spooned onto the plate next to your meat. With each bite a bit of chimichuri is piled up onto the meat and popped into the mouth. The freshness of the ingredients--parsley, garlic and olive oil and vinegar and citrus explodes in your mouth along and perfectly complimented the flavor of the beef.
While visiting a bed and breakfast out in the Rio de la Plata delta region of Argentina, I raved about this sauce to our hosts so much that my request for their recipe was granted after I promised never to make it anywhere near their establishment. Or rather, I should say I was given the list of ingredients. I made a batch for company yesterday and was disappointed by how it turned out initially. As the evening went along however, the sauce improved and this morning at breakfast--Wow! It would seem that it is important to give it several hours of time for the flavors to meld and then . . amazing stuff!
So here is the basic recipe:
Curly leaf parsley leaves and stems, minced
Fresh garlic, minced
Red pepper flakes
Fresh or dried oregano
Red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper
I used a whole head of parsley, 6-8 cloves of garlic, about a 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper flakes, about 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, a splash of the vinegar, a squeeze of half a lemon, salt and pepper to taste and enough olive oil to make the whole mixture sort of float in the oil. Play with the recipe and make it your own. My host's recipe was actually made with corn oil. . .hmmmmm! Use the olive oil.
Give it all a few hours to meld the flavors. The longer the better. Pour into a bowl and set it out to put on the meat your serving, on bread or crostini, eggs, or whatever!
I stumbled onto a jar of commercially made chimichuri in the store and it is to be avoided. Make the fresh!