Friday, October 10, 2008

Recipe: Churrasco Argentino

I've had beef dishes in a lot of different places, some of those places like Chicago, are famous for their beef. They were all pretty good, but the best piece of beef I've had to date was at an Argentine restaurant called "El Gaucho" in Aruba's capital of Oranjastadt. I was so impressed the first time I went, I have been back several times since. If I had a friend with a private jet, I'd be back more often.

There are two components which make this dish so good. The first is the use of Argentine Beef. For the uninitiated I'll offer the following as a crash course in just what that means: Argentine beef has less cholesterol and fat than American beef, in fact it more closely approximates the fat, cholesterol and calorie profile of venison rather than beef. It's no mystery as to why, the reasons are obvious and simple: Argentine cattle feed on a diet of protein-rich grasses as opposed to the grain feed given to American cattle. This makes Argentine beef lower in fat with more protein than its American counterpart.

Experts also say that the surprising tenderness of Argentine beef comes from the stress-free environment that the cows are reared in. This environment offers fresh and clean air and water and the cattle are allowed a free range to roam. They feed on living plants such as alfalfa and clover year round which helps the beef develop it's distinct, richer flavor. Finally, and I think more importantly Argentine cattle are not fed the antibiotics and steroids that are given to American cattle. While all of this makes for a smaller animal, it makes up for its lack of size by producing a wholesome, all-natural and superior beef.

The second reason this dish is so good is the addition of the traditional Argentine chimichurri sauce. Of course there are many variations of this popular sauce, but I think I have nailed the El Gaucho version with surprising accuracy. Now to the American mind set, a parsley-based sauce on beef may seem odd. Especially when you consider the amount of parsley used. At least I thought it was odd, but it has made a believer of me and an increasing circle of friends who try this recipe. If you love beef, I encourage you to try this dish. It is hands down, my meal of choice when the opportunity arises to cook something extravagant for myself.

OK, now for some twists. While you can find Argentine beef on occasion (and even if you couldn't you can now, because of that wonderful thing called the Internet), I have made this dish more frequently with American beef to excellent effect.

The sauce is a no brainer, make it a day ahead of time so the flavors infuse and half the battle is over. Pay special attention to the beef cooking instructions to really nail this dish. Serve it with a potato side dish and some roasted sweet corn on the cob. Try it once by yourself to get a feel for cooking it and then spring it on your friends at a holiday or dinner party. It is sure to please.

Churrasco Argentino

1 beef tenderloin (dressed and cut into 2" to 2-1/2" slices)*
1 large bunch of flat parsley
2-1/2 cloves of garlic (finely chopped)
3/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup of white vinegar
1 pinch hot Thai pepper flakes
Coarse cracked black pepper
Kosher or sea salt

To prepare the chimichurri sauce:

Remove parsley leaves from stems, discard stems and set leaves aside. You should have enough leaves to equal two cups, moderately packed in a measuring cup.

Place parsley, garlic, pepper flakes and vinegar in a food processor, or use a large mortar and pestle.

While adding olive oil, chop contents in the food processor until parsley pieces are about 1/4" in diameter. Add remaining olive oil.

Set aside in a covered bowl for 2-4 hours before using. Store unused portion in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

To prepare the beef:

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Set a cast iron frying pan on high heat.

Add a little oil. When oil is hot, take each steak and sprinkle on all sides with coarse cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Place each steak in the cast iron frying pan and sear on all sides.

Transfer seared steaks to large cast iron dutch oven and cook in oven to desired doneness (I use a remote meat thermometer).

Serve with chimichurri sauce spread on top of the steak.

*A full tenderloin will yield about 8 steaks. Plan accordingly or eat like a fiend like I do when I do this dish.

Churrasco Argentino by Henry Krauzyk, from Chop Onions, Boil Water

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