I learned of this beauty on a trip to Argentina learning about the primary force that has shaped this amazing South American country. I am not talking about Eva Peron (Evita), the larger than life "Queen of the people" that made something out of herself from nothing, putting an imprint on her people's psyche and becoming an international cultural symbol of Argentina. I am talking about the beauty, strength and elegance of Argentinian cooking - grilled beef with chimichurri sauce. This is food that means something. It's big and intense like the country it comes from. And full of flavor. It moves people.
Evita was the illigitimate daughter of the mistress to a local aristocrat. Born in 1919, she spent the next 20 years living under the spector of this social taboo while taking all her talents to make something of herself. Her success in cinema and acting allowed her to bridge talent and opportunity together. Her life was one of power, accomplishment and tragedy. Although not a beauty queen, she was treated as royalty by the monarchs and institutions of Europe as Argentina's First Lady and one time populist vice-presidential nominee. By the time she died at age 33, she had ascended to be one of the most powerful political leaders in the country and an international icon.
I have been very fortunate to have visited Argentina twice, both times staying in the nation's stunning capital, Buenos Aires. The capital, like the country, is a land of largess. The vast open spaces of the Patagonia. The ascending and spectacular Andes mountain range. And beautiful people - sometimes with outsized personalities (deservedly or not) of Italian and German ancestry. Argentines display a playful South American casualness wrapped around European elegance. Wide boulevards. Beautiful architecture. And then there is the food. Argentina is proud of its culinary heritage and it should be. Buttery and flaky empanadas, a nod to French baking with a twist of Latin American soul. Big and bold wines like the country's famous red Malbec from the vast and beautiful Mendoza wine country. Or my favorite export, the fabulously characteristic white wine Torrontes.
Yet all of this doesn't really characterize what Argentina is. It is a country of beef. Although that sounds odd, it's true. Trust me when I tell you I love a good steak and I have had the opportunity to have some of the best in the world. I've tucked into Kobe beef bred from Wagyu cattle of Japan at $200 for a 10 oz filet in Tokyo. Each steer is fed a special diet, rubbed with sake and pampered with little allowable movement contributing to a soft and velvety experience. All in all not bad. The famous Tuscan T-Bone "bistecca alla fiorentina" of Val-de-Chiana? I ate it in Florence at Il Troia (Sostanza) , a restaurant whose influence only rivals the city's Renaissance Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore. I would definitely go back for dinner here.
But a simple and somewhat unexplainable fact remains. Argentine beef tastes better. Why? Some say the large open rich grass pastures of the Pampas allow the cattle to forage in a free range setting. Others believe the limited use of feedlots and antibiotics makes all the difference. I honestly can't say what is behind the phenomenon. But I can tell you that if I had three steaks in front of me: a kobe filet, a bistecca alla florentina T-Bone and an Argentine New York Strip, you would have to pry the Argentine steak from my cold dead hands. Asia? Sorry. Europe? No thanks. South America's beautiful and tragic Argentina wins hands down.
All that said, the source of the beef matters when you are making your own. It's not terribly easy to get Argentine beef in the United States (but widely available in Holland - go figure). That said, you can create your own version with a good cut of New York Strip, filet mignon or skirt steak. If you go to Argentina you'll be going to an Argentine steak house, called a parilla, and ordering the Bife de Lomo, essentially a filet mignon. I am not a big fan of filets because while they are soft, they usually lack flavor. "Lomos", as they are called, literally rule. They are that good. They are "Evita big" in terms of taste and natural stature and they will change your perspective on what defines a steak. You'll order this with a glass of Malbec and then send me a nice email telling me how thankful you are that you read my little meat missive.
For this recipe, I opted for free range, grass fed skirt steak. Simply seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper and grilled for about 4 minutes and I am mentally in the fashionable Recoleta district having an oral Tango*. I am a big fan of Chimichurri sauce, a mix of parsley, garlic, chili pepper flakes and olive oil. Argentines put it on everything and it's excellent. There is something about adding chimichurri to warm meat that imparts a scent like no other. I feel like I am back in Buenos Aires, sitting in a 100 year old cafe, with marble countertops and antique wood walls, having a 3 hour lunch. Although not necessarily Argentinian, I served my version over a bed of olive oil and sea salt seasoned arugula and cherry tomatoes. The warmth of the meat lightly cooks the vegetables with a drizzle of chimichurri on top. Big. Bold. Powerful. Simple. And beautiful. Not eating it would be a tragedy of beauty queen proportions.
with Chimichurri, Red Onions and Arugula
1 Lb skirt steak or New York strip steak
1 red or bermuda onion, cut into thick rings
olive oil for coating
Kosher or sea salt
8 oz of fresh arugula
12-16 cherry or grape tomatoes
1 C flat leaf Italian parsley, stems removed
3 garlic cloves
2 Tbsp red wine or sherry vinegar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp red chili flakes
1/2 C olive oil
Make the Chimichurri Sauce
In a small food processor combine the parsley and garlic cloves. Pulse several times (10-15) to chop it coarsely. Alternatively, you can chop the parsley and garlic by hand. Place in small bowl. Add vinegar, salt, pepper, chili flakes and stir with the olive oil. Set aside.
Grill the Steak and Onions
Heat a grill or grill pan over a medium flame. Rub olive oil on the bermuda onion slices and season both sides with salt and pepper. Grill over a medium to low heat for 5 minutes per side, flipping once, until soft and slightly golden. Remove onions to a platter.
While the onion cooks rub steaks on both sides with olive oil, salt and pepper. Place steaks on a hot oiled barbeque or grill pan and cook no more than 2 minutes per side for skirt steak on a medium high flame for a total of 4 minutes, or 5 minutes per side for a New York Strip on a medium to medium high flame for a total of 10 minutes. Remove steaks from heat source to a platter. Cover with foil and let rest while you finish the remaining steps.
On a serving platter, place arugula and drizzle with 2-3 Tbsp of good quality olive oil. Toss to coat and season with salt and pepper. Cut half of the cherry or grape tomatoes in half and scatter around the plate. Scatter remaining whole tomatoes on the plate. Toss with the arugula and then arrange for presentation. Slice the steak into strips crosswise with a diameter of 1/2 inch to 1 inch based on preference. Drizzle with some of the chimichurri sauce. Place grilled onions over the top of the platter and serve with the remaining chimichurri sauce on the side.
* Normally this is eaten with a big red Malbec wine and it totally works. That said, it was close to 1oo degrees the day I made this. I served this with iced white sangria as I have blogged about here, but used an Argentinian Torrontes for the wine. It completely worked, balancing out the tanginess and spice of the chimichurri sauce. I am not a big fan of strictly doing red wine with meat and white wine with chicken or seafood. The white sangria worked well here.