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Last week, we tackled a beurre blanc. This week, we are going to continue our journey through sauces by learning how to make chimichurri.
Chimichurri is an Argentinian sauce that originally accompanied grilled steak. It is a mixture of cilantro, parsley, garlic, olive oil, vinegar and red pepper flakes. It is delicious, spicy, sweet, vinegary, and garlicky; it hits every spot on your palate. And, it is so versatile. No longer relegated to just steaks, chimichurri is now used on fish, chicken, vegetables and bread. Additionally, with a few tweaks, you can make many versions of this sauce.
The version I’m going to teach you varies from the original recipe for the sauce. Why? Because the original calls for parsley and I don’t like it. I find that it is flat and aside from adding that green color that this sauce is known for, it does not add much else. That being said, let’s get started.
We are going to make a rustic version of chimichurri, so no blender. Something about the elements of this sauce: acid, heat, garlic, brightness of the greens, lends itself to a more rustic presentation. When a sauce is blended, you still get the flavor, but you can’t see all the components. This is a sauce with beautiful components, so why not show them off?
You will need a cup each of fresh cilantro, baby spinach and basil. If you hate cilantro, you can use just the spinach and basil or substitute Italian parsley. Italian parsley is the flat leaf kind, not the curly leaf version you will find on the side of your plate at a diner. You will also need two shallots. If you can’t find a shallot then use a small sweet onion.
Next is the garlic. For this we will need three cloves. Additionally, you will need two tablespoons of red wine vinegar and two tablespoons of lime juice. You will also need one half cup canola oil.
Okay, yes, another variation from the original sauce, but I do have a reason. While I love olive oil, I sometimes find that it can overpower other flavors. That is the case here. I want every element in this sauce to shine, so I want more neutral flavored oil. Next is one tablespoon lemon zest. I add this because it helps bring forward the flavor of the herbs.
Finally, one third tablespoon red pepper flakes. If you don’t like really spicy food, feel free to use less. If you love spicy food, use more, but please remember, as this sauce sits, it will get spicier. So if you are making a large batch, I recommend using less red pepper flakes. And of course, kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste.
Let’s cook! You will want at least a two quart sized bowl in which to mix the sauce. First, finely chop all your fresh herbs. Once chopped, add them to the bowl.
Next, finely chop your shallots and into the bowl they go. For the garlic, you want to go super fine. There are two reasons, first is because it is raw; you don’t want someone biting into a chunk of raw garlic.
Secondly, because we are not using a blender, we want to make sure that the garlic is infused throughout the sauce. So to get garlic super fine, first flatten it with your knife. Use the palm of your hand to press the flat surface of the blade onto the garlic and into your board. This will help break it apart and will make getting that super fine chop even easier. Once it is chopped, the garlic goes into the bowl.
Next, add the red wine vinegar, the lime juice and the lemon zest. At this point, give everything a stir and make sure it is well combined. Now add the canola oil and the red pepper flakes. Another stir and then salt and pepper to taste. That’s it! Use immediately, but know that the flavors will develop as it sits, so I like to make mine at least a couple of hours before I want to use it. It will stay good in your fridge for a few days.
Here comes some ways to make different versions. I sometimes add a cup of arugula along with the other herbs. This makes the sauce have a nice peppery finish. When I want a Southwestern spin, I add two grilled and chopped tomatillo and add a finely diced jalapeno in place of the red pepper flakes. Tomatillos are in the gooseberry family and are slightly tart. When you grill them that smokiness works with their natural acidity and they become magical. You can do a red chimichurri. To the recipe above, add two diced tomatoes. The tomatoes need to be de-seeded and also have all their pulp removed. To this red version, also add one chopped roasted red pepper.
Feeling tropical? Add to the sauce a diced mango or pineapple. This version is especially good with seafood. Finally, I sometimes, just for the fun of it, add a large avocado, finely chopped. It brings an element of creaminess to the sauce that works well with chicken.
Now you can make so many variations of this delicious sauce. Use your imagination and have fun with it. As with any technique or recipe, the most important component is the cook’s heart. The heart is what creates delicious.
Chef Ivan Flowers brings 25 years of fine cuisine experience to Top of The Market, San Diego. Prior to becoming Executive Chef at Top of The Market, Chef Flowers owned Fournos restaurant in Sedona, Arizona, named a top 25 restaurant in Arizona. He was also Executive Chef at L’Auberge de Sedona, the AAA Four-Diamond, Four Star award winning restaurant. Flowers has created extraordinary cuisine for some of the finest restaurants in Arizona, including T. Cooks at Scottsdale's Royal Palms Resort and the Phoenician's Mary Elaine's and Different Pointe of View.