Updated
2005-07-28

Swedish version

  

The Argentine Connection
By Bob Kenly

  In the early 1800's Argentina was gripped by the fever of revolution, a continuing political process which shaped many societies, including my own, before and after. One of Argentina's heroes from this war was Manuel Belgrano, lawyer, politician and general but it was an Irishman by the name of Jimmy McCurry who seems also to have influenced Argentine culture in a big way. McCurry was a sympathizer of Belgrano's independence goal and was said to have fought well in Belgrano's army. Strangely McCurry's contribution to Argentina was not forged so much in battle but in the area of cooking. As the story goes, McCurry made a condiment to be eaten with beef which today is still the most popular condiment in Argentina. The name Jimmy McCurry was not easily translated to Spanish so the condiment became known a "Chimichurri" in honor of Jimmy.

  Chimichurri is made from minced herbs (mostly parsley), oregano, garlic, oil, vinegar pepper and salt but there are as many variations as there are people who make it. Argentines eat it with everything, food without Chimichurri just wouldn't be tolerated in Argentina especially grilled meat which is the mainstay of Argentine cuisine.

  My own foray into Argentine cuisine came after I had spine surgery last Winter and was limited to watching television for a few weeks, a fate worse than death if you've ever seen American daytime TV. The only thing that seemed to keep me from going totally bonkers were cooking shows and even they started to wear thin after a while. I more or less stumbled on a program called "Great Chefs Of The World" (I think that was it) where an Argentine chef was cooking a typical beef dish using Chimichurri. It looked interesting so I thought, "Why not give it a try someday".

  I had two victims in mind, my wife who is brave enough to try anything new and my fishing partner who would eat just about anything. The first trial wasn't what you'd call a resounding success, it was just so-so to be exact. Never actually having tasted Chimichurri I was at a distinct disadvantage, to be exact I was winging it. My wife had bought me a food processor, being a big fan of mechanical advantage that would be my tool of choice instead of a knife to chop all day. I loaded in a complete bunch of parsley, lots of garlic cloves (as far as I'm concerned you can't have enough garlic) zest from one lemon, some lemon juice, some red wine vinegar, pepper and salt. My master plan was to chop all these things together in the processor and add olive during the process. You are absolutely correct, my first mistake, the processor spat out slimy green stuff all over me and the kitchen but tasting it off my shirt it wasn't bad at all. I thought some red onion would be nice so I threw in a good sized chunk. Second mistake, the onion juice made it too strong but dinner time was approaching and I had a big mess to clean up before my wife came home and found out I had destroyed the kitchen and traumatized our two cats who love to watch me cook. My wife's comment at my first attempt of grilled Argentine beef, "Whoa, that's good".

  But if this stuff is so good on beef why not salmon, Argentina has both Atlantic and Pacific salmon so certainly they must use Chimichurri with salmon as a marinade and side dish. Yep, I used a Silver salmon steak, marinated in the sauce, grilled it over charcoal, served with cold Chimichurri served with white wine, it was perfect. I had conquered the complexity of this unique Argentine dish.

  Argentine Grilled Salmon

  First a few words about Chimichurri, Its kind of a rough cut mixture, not at all like a pesto, you don't want it smooth and not too liquid. I've seen recipes where they mix it in a blender but you have to be careful not to make a mush, I would use a knife (chef's knife works well) if I didn't have a food processor. The internet has virtually hundreds of Chimichurri recipes, all different but I don't think there is a national standard for this recipe. Some recipes call for chilies but again it seems purists think this is a travesty but since all this is a personal choice of ingredients feel free to add whatever you like. However you make it you can use it as a marinade, salad dressing, and a side dish.

  Chimichurri sauce recipe

  • 1 bunch of parsley (I used both flat Italian parsley plus the regular and can't tell difference)
  • 4 to 6 cloves of garlic
  • cup (177 ml) extra virgin olive oil (always extra virgin, all the rest is crap)
  • cup (59 ml) red wine vinegar (I've also used white wine vinegar even a good rice wine vinegar and all is acceptable, at least to me)
  • The zest from one lemon plus some juice from that lemon. (some recipes call for throwing in a wedge of lemon but I find the pith has a bitter taste)
  • 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of diced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon (5 ml) black pepper (I prefer fresh ground but again its not necessary)
  • teaspoon (2 ml) salt

  Either in a food processor or by knife mince the parsley. Add the garlic after mincing it (if you object to the taste of strong garlic you can make it sweeter by mashing it with the flat of a knife and adding a small amount of salt, keep doing this till you've made a paste. That will make the garlic much sweeter like roasted garlic). Add all the rest of the ingredients except for the onion which you should fold in last. After mixing put the sauce in a jar with a lid and chill in a refrigerator, I keep mine only a few days as that fresh taste which makes this so desirable tends to lessen after that length of time.

  Grilled Argentine Salmon

  The rest is a piece of cake, take a fresh (always preferred) salmon steak or filet, wash off in cold water and pat dry with paper towels, Spoon some of the Chimichurri over the fish and place in a ziplock plastic bag to marinate. Chill in the refrigerator for two (2) hours. Grill over charcoal (again preferred) or gas grill. You can also pan fry the salmon but grilling seems to give the fish a more authentic taste especially if you add some wood smoke to the fire. Serve the remainder of the sauce as a side dish to be eaten with the salmon.

  Final Thoughts

  One of the things I've always noticed about fishermen is the do like to eat and must of them like to cook too. In Alaska the locals have turned grilling salmon into a fine art and recipe trading seems to dominate many conversations I've been privy to after a successful day salmon fishing. I then dedicate this recipe to salmon fishermen no matter where they live or the language they speak.

Bob Kenly
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