Chimichurri: Debunking The Myths

Continued from Food And Cooking In Argentina: Setting A Few Things Straight

Quick Summary:

  • Chimichurri does not have to be a bright green fresh sauce. A lot of people like their chimichurri aged in order to allow the flavors to mellow out. A bright green appearance is not important.
  • The whole population does not enjoy drowning their meats and marinating everything with the tangy mixture.
  • The sauce is not served with every meal.
  • Chimichurri is not the South American version of pesto. Although some versions may look similar in appearance, they are nowhere near the same in flavor. Typical Pesto: basil, olive oil, garlic, nuts, cheese. Typical Chimichurri: oil, water and/or vinegar, parsley, garlic, and other herbs, spices, and vegetables. Pesto is commonly associated with pasta while chimichurri commonly goes with grilled meats. Similar? No.
  • Chimichurri is not the ketchup of Argentina. Ketchup is used in Argentina the same way people use it in other countries, except, you will rarely see someone slather the sweet red mixture on their grilled meats. Chimichurri is not widely used as a dipping sauce for fried potatoes, drizzled on hot dogs, or poured on hamburgers. Argentineans do not commonly use chimichurri the same way others do with ketchup.
  • Chimichurri is not primarily a marinade. Chimichurri is primarily looked at as a condiment for grilled sausages, meats, and offal. As with any condiment, chimichurri may be used as a marinade by some, but it is just one of many.
  • Pureeing any herbs, vegetables, and spices does not a chimichurri make. Mayonnaise is an emulsified mixture of oil, egg yolk, and acidic liquids such as lemon juice or vinegar. Are all emulsified mixtures containing oils and acids referred to as [enter name here] mayonnaise? No, right? Tossing cilantro, limes, tomatillos, avocados, and chipotles into a blender and mixing them up does not turn the concoction into cilantro-lime avocado chimichurri.

Please read on

While I could probably write a book pointing out how many times chimichurri is misrepresented in the media, here are a few points that are increasingly on the rise:

  • Serve immediately or use within a few days
  • A vibrant, bright green sauce
  • Argentineans love to use chimichurri on everything

Although there is nothing inherently wrong with the first two points, chimichurri can be a vibrant green and some do use it immediately or within a few days, but there appears to be a rising trend that the sauce has to look this way or used that way. The final point is just plain wrong. Would you say all Americans love to use smoky tomato-based barbecue sauce on everything? No, right?

Example:

Editor of epicurious.com Tanya Steel and Chef Lynne Gigliotti of The Culinary Institute of America prepare flank steak with chimichurri sauce for the Argentina segment of Epicurious’ Around the World in 80 Dishes.

2:34 – “This is served with everything” (chimichurri)

3:05 – “We’re not going to put the vinegar in until after I pureed everything because the vinegar is going to turn the cilantro and parsley army green if it sits in there too long.”

3:53 – “White wine vinegar has a nice flavor and doesn’t interfere with the color of the, uh, chimichurri sauce.”

4:10 – “Can you make this a day ahead and stick it in the fridge? If you make this a day ahead I’m going to tell you not to put the vinegar in it because when you come the next day it’s going to be a lovely shade of army green.”

Parsley-Garlic Chimichurri Recipe
Parsley-Garlic Chimichurri

Green and Fresh!

Let me note that at no time does Lynne Gigliotti mention that chimichurri has to be loaded with fresh vibrant colors in order to be authentic or traditional. Professional chefs these days love to convey their usage of fresh ingredients through brilliant colors and flavors. Her message of holding off on adding vinegar until the last minute to prevent the sauce from turning an army green is all about maintaining visual aesthetics than how vinegar has an effect on flavor. Now, I mentioned before that I’ll try to not turn this into a right or wrong bash fest but her message was a huge failure.

You only need to pull up your favorite search engine and use some common sense to easily find more examples similar in nature. Recipes praising chimichurri as a vibrant green, bright green, wonderfully green green green sauce. Serve the sauce immediately or refrigerate for no longer than a few days. Fresh colors!

There is nothing wrong with preparing and quickly using a bright fresh looking chimichurri. That doesn’t necessarily make it any less authentic but is it too hard to briefly mention that chimichurri does not have look like the after effects of a baby vomiting freshly pureed spinach? Chimichurri does not have to be made in a food processor. That is one of the major problems with a lot of chefs and cookbooks, they fail to give a few proper explanations or historical notes. On blogs, the situation can be worse with hardly any explanation at all.

Flank Steak with Chimichurri

Chimichurri is a pesto like sauce from Argentina that everyone spoons on top of grilled meats.

Ingredients

Toss in food processor and puree. Serve immediately.

I remember preparing chimichurri on a visit to the States for someone who never set foot in Argentina. “That doesn’t look like the chimichurri I know,” he responded, “I thought chimichurri is supposed to be really really bright green.” Dan from Casa SaltShaker dropped a recent comment about how some guests viewed chimichurri before coming to Argentina.

Here are some other fine examples:

Jalapeno Lime Chimichurri Simmer Pan Sauce and Marinade by Elki
Description: This is an all-natural authentic chimichurri sauce. Use it as a marinade, for stir fry dishes, and as a table sauce. Chimichurri sauce is long time favorite in Argentina. This sauce has a flavorful twist with its combination of roasted jalapenos, zesty lime, cilantro, shallots, chipotle, paprika, and herbs.

Tyler Florence’s Pork Tenderloin with Chimichurri
Episode Description: Tyler grills his succulent pork tenderloin with an Argentinean chimichurri that will have your taste buds doing the tango!

Tyler Florence’s Gaucho-Grilled Steak with Chimichurri Sauce
Episode Description: Fernando Alva of Byram, CT, grew up in Argentina and loves Argentine beef. Tyler teaches him some ways to get that same great taste outdoors over a BBQ. Together, they make Strip Steak, Salt Crusted Potatoes, and a Matambre.

Here’s the deal with chimichurri. Flavor and texture are what makes chimichurri what it is: a sour, salty, pungent, piquant, and oily concoction used to season foods, mainly meat. Yes, it should probably have some semblance of visual appeal but that is not a major concern. A lot of people chop or mince their ingredients and would never think of using a food processor. I do not understand this obsession with appearance by some who really have no clue about the sauce’s preparation and usage. One of the best chimichurri sauces I ever experienced had extremely dull colors and came out of a stainless steel container that had been sitting at room temperature on the restaurant’s table all day long. Who knows how many days it went through the same ordeal before my visit. Was it replenished from a huge batch that was made a month ago? Months? Those questions are probably better off left unanswered.

Chimichurri Sauce Recipe
Chimichurri Sauce

Chimichurri can have a variety of colors. When a heavy amount of pimenton, paprika, and aji molido are used along with use of boiling water or warm liquids, the liquids take on a vibrant orange-red hue. Chunks of tomato, bell peppers, and onions can help to create a beautiful rainbow of colors. Red wine can be an ingredient as well.

A good amount of people have an asado once every week or two weeks. They don’t want to be bothered with the task of preparing chimichurri each and every time. They don’t even want to be bothered with preparing side dishes so you usually see nothing more than a salad of chopped lettuce and tomato, potatoes, or some veggies roasted along with the meats. Plus, many enjoy the taste of aged chimichurri. So what one might do is whip up a batch and pour it into a used, but clean, beverage bottle such as one that previously held wine or soda. When that gets used up in weeks or months, they will make another batch.

Dry Chimichurri Mix & Rub Recipe
Chimichurri Mix

When someone says that chimichurri is the most popular condiment for grilled meats, what they mean is that if someone does dress their meat with a condiment, more likely than not it will be chimichurri. Others favor salsa criolla or some personal creation such as the white sauce I found at a local take-out joint. The way some write or talk about chimichurri you would think that no one can never consume enough. As if everyone loves the sour stuff so much they drink it straight from the bottle. Seriously. Look at it as you do with ketchup, mayo, mustard, BBQ sauce, terriyaki, fish sauce, or brown sauce. They are popular condiments in many different countries but simply because they are widely used along with hamburgers, potatoes, salads, sausages, grilled meats, or seafood does not mean they are used for everything else. I know people who will use ketchup on practically everything they consume but that does not mean their fellow countrymen do the same.

A grilled steak or an asado is not incomplete without chimichurri. I have been to asados where none was to be found and no one asked. At others one or two asked, but upon hearing no they simply shrugged their shoulders. Restaurants frequented by tourists will leave a jar at each table or serve a bowl along with a steak because they know that is what tourists want. I guess one could say that is part of the reason why many believe that chimichurri is so widely used. “You can find chimichurri on the tables of every restaurant in Argentina,” said the person who only visited Buenos Aires for 5 days. Order a steak at a restaurant off the beaten path or outside of the touristy areas and there is a good chance you will have to ask. They may not even have any readily available because their customers never ask. The only time I notice an empty jar or bowl of chimichurri when all is done is when we grill nothing more than chorizos for choripans. Many like their beef with salt and nothing more but if they are making a little sandwich with a slice of meat or sausage, then the sauce gets poured on. Rarely do I see anyone drown their chunks of meat as you see in photos these days. Some prefer to only dress their chorizo while others may include offal.

Jalapeños and the spicy chimichurri

Jalapeños are a bit new here in Argentina and they are not always easy to find. I only see them in the supermarkets a couple of months out of the year when they are in season. They are not traditionally part of Argentinean cuisine. Therefore, they are not an authentic ingredient in chimichurri. When people want to spice up their chimichurri they typically add a little more aji molido than normal. That has about as much heat as black pepper. Some in the north may add fresh chilies but they are usually of the kind that are indigenous or have been cultivated for decades or centuries. Look at it this way, there is spicy ketchup but when most people think of ketchup, they think of the normal sweet ketchup made by Heinz or a similar brand. You can look at chimichurri in a similar way.

Chimichurri as a marinade

Part of the chimichurri campaigning going around appears to project the massive use of the sauce as a marinade for beef, chicken, and fish. Yes, you may see someone marinate different cuts and types of meat. Some use chimichurri and I have made the suggestion myself a few times. However, consider it to be one type of marinade out of many. Most marinades in Argentina are no different than what you’ll find in other parts of the world: oil, perhaps an acidic liquid of some kind, and favorite herbs and spices. One person’s favorite marinade for lamb may be red wine, olive oil, and rosemary while their neighbor loves chicken marinated with lemon juice, garlic, and salt water. That is how broad marinades can be here. The notion that the whole population enjoys dunking their steaks and chicken cutlets into chimichurri overnight is ridiculous. In cookbooks and magazines, you will rarely see a recipe calling for chimichurri to be used as a marinade nor is it common to see a restaurant doing the same. Chimichurri can be a bit strong as a marinade so chefs will chose a milder option with less vinegar or garlic. Fish at most restaurants and in recipes are usually served with different types of sauces made with butter, cheese, cream, or tomatoes. There is no need for a marinade. If no sauce then nothing more than a wedge or two of lemon. The same can be said with chicken.

That is all…..for now.

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