I first encountered chimichurri sauce at a Brazilian churrascaria (an all you can eat meat fest popular at Brazilian restaurants). The green sauce was so delicious that I kept flagging down waiters for more meat (especially beef) just to get at the green, herby vinaigrette. The meat became a chimichurri sauce delivery mechanism for me and I was singing the praises of Brazil for inventing yet another food that I love. (I have previously sung the praises of that largest of South American countries for giving the world the Caipiriniah - not a prehistoric, fanged fish; instead, a rum cocktail with lime and sugar.) It turns out that the sauce is not Brazilian in origin; rather, it comes from a nearby country where it is a necessary accompaniment to most beef dishes.
Chimichurri sauce is a sharp, spicy, herbaceous concoction that originated in Argentina, but may have come from the Basques, who settled there in the beginning of the 19th century. The sauce became an integral part of Argentinean food culture and has recently spread in popularity across the meat eating world. I find that the sauce pairs best with grilled red meat. It will work OK with any beef preparation as well as pork and poultry, but something about the charred flavor and texture of beef seems to go especially well with this condiment. It cuts the fat, adds a vegetal flavor along with the heat, and can raise an ordinary steak to something divine. (I must admit that I grew up in a family where the only available or acceptable condiment for grilled meat was catsup. When I was a post doc at NASA-Ames in the mid ’90s, I fell in with several visiting research scientists from France and other parts of Europe and those foodies introduced me to the use of Dijon mustard and several mixed sauces as great accompaniments to meats. One of their number introduced me to Calvados, the apple brandy from Normandy, but that is another story.)
The Argentinians enjoy their meat and are one of the largest consumers of beef per capita in the world. A recent report says they eat 120 pounds per person, per year, surpassing the United States by a hefty 40 pounds per person. Much of that Argentinian beef is accompanied by chimichurri sauce.
There are dozens of recipes for this sauce and it seems that the only “rules” are the inclusion of an oil, like olive oil; vinegar, translucent is best; a member or two from the Amaryllidaceae family and Allium genus of plants, such as onion, garlic, shallot; and a mix of green herbs that usually includes parsley, oregano, and cilantro. All the ingredients get chopped to tiny bits and emulsified in a food processor, so prep is dead simple. In addition, the recipe can be quickly modified to one’s own taste.
And you can’t beat that name. It rolls off the tongue and brings to mind a passionate Latin American dance.
- 8 cloves of garlic
- 1 shallot, roughly chopped
- 1/3 cup fresh, flat leaf parsley
- 1/3 cup fresh cilantro
- 1/3 cup fresh oregano
- 1 − 2 bay leaf(s), fresh or dried (soak dried leaves in olive oil overnight)
- 2 Serrano peppers, chopped (remove seeds and veins for less heat)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup olive oil (EVOO)
Place the garlic in the bowl of a food processor or mini chopper and chop till fine.
Toss in the shallots, herbs, chilies, salt, and pepper (Don’t overdo the salt, you can add more at the end.) and give it a good whirl to tiny bits.
Pour in the vinegar and process to a loose paste.
With the processor running, add the oil in a slow stream. This will facilitate emulsification. You should end up with a light green vinaigrette.
Add more pepper and salt to taste.
There are so many!
If you want more heat, add more chilies or hotter ones.
Play with the proportions of non liquid ingredients to get a flavor that suits your taste.
Use a different mix of herbs. I know someone who uses a little bit of rosemary. I once used a little thyme and more parsley and cilantro when I could not find oregano.
Add more herbs or less liquid for a chunkier texture.
Add some lemon or lime juice to tweak the sharpness.
Use chipotle peppers or try fresh chilies and some chipotle powder or smoked paprika.
Add some cumin powder.
Make it Rojo (red) with the addition of red bell pepper and/or tomato.
Use red pepper flakes instead of black pepper. Hell, add both.