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Chimichurri has versatile uses, flexible recipe chefs say

As a native of Argentina, Jose Luis Pawelek grew up eating chimichurri, a condiment/sauce found on just about every table in the country. So maybe it’s understandable that he’s a little bemused by its recent flash of widespread popularity in the United States, and sees a parallel to another familiar food.

“I grew up eating polenta,” Pawelek said. “In the days when I was growing up, polenta was just polenta. Now, if you look at the recipes from restaurants, it’s glorified polenta with this and polenta with that. It was a simple dish in those days. Chimichurri is one of those, too, that’s been in the background for many, many years, and all of a sudden it’s gone mainstream. Everybody uses it.”

“Everybody” would include Pawelek, chef/co-owner of Elements Kitchen and Martini Bar in Las Vegas, where he uses a recipe that’s been in his family for more than 60 years. And he acknowledges that, like marinara sauce for Italians or black beans for Cubans, every family has their own way of making it.

“Mine basically is done with garlic, olive oil, parsley, red pepper flakes and a combination of citrus juices, lemon and lime, a little kosher salt and a touch of demiglace,” said Pawelek, who likes to serve it with New York steak.

But he uses it in other ways, which point up the flexibility that has helped drive the popularity of chimichurri. Sometimes, he said, he’ll marinate flank steak in it overnight, to grill it the next day. He also remembers his aunts and uncles using it as a salad dressing.

“It has many uses,” Pawelek said.

Beni Velazquez, chef/partner at Bar + Bistro in the Arts District, said he’s been using chimichurri for about 10 years and sees it as a reflection of his restaurant’s eclectic Latin fusion food. He uses it primarily as a salad dressing and marinade, and starts with parsley, honey, garlic, Spanish sherry vinegar, sweet smoked paprika and chili flakes.

“What I do is puree everything and then add olive oil very slowly to make the dressing,” Velazquez said, for his Latin chopped chicken salad. For his chimichurri steak Cobb salad, he’ll marinate flat iron steak with the chimichurri, then grill the steak and serve it with a deconstructed Cobb salad tossed with a citrus dressing.

“I find that the citrus dressing combined with the chimichurri highlights it even more, with a little bit of that honey,” Velazquez said.

At the Charcoal Room at Santa Fe Station, room chef Johannes Bernau also uses chimichurri in a salad.

“Every now and then I’ll have a killer special,” he said, for which he’ll take half of a Romaine heart and flash-grill it for about 30 seconds.

“With that I’ll usually do a skirt steak, or right now I have this killer rib cap,” Bernau said. “I marinate it in the chimichurri and then grill it. Usually I’ll throw down some toasted almonds and julienne peppers, and then fresh chimichurri just drizzled over it.”

At 35 Steaks + Martinis at the Hard Rock Hotel, chef de cuisine Martin Swift likes to serve chimichurri with Colorado lamb chops, a combination he sees as an extension of the classic lamb with fresh mint sauce he grew up with in the United Kingdom, or the salsa verde that’s ubiquitous in Latin countries.

“It’s not so far removed from them all, if you think about it,” he said.

Having worked extensively in Asia, Swift gives his chimichurri a bit of an Asian twist with Thai basil and sambal.

“I also will sneak in a little bit of fish sauce,” he said.

Like Pawelek, the other chefs said they think the popularity of chimichurri stems largely from its versatility.

“They’re even putting it in pasta, similar to a puttanesca,” Velazquez said. “It’s a condiment that you can use on an everyday basis. You can use whatever is available at the time. You can use your parsley, and then you can pretty much add anything to it. Some people use lemon. Some people use cilantro. I know of other people who use red peppers.”

“I like it because it’s really fresh and it goes really well,” Bernau said. “It’s really versatile. It’s best with red meat, but with fish or chicken or even pork, it’s awesome.”

“It’s such a complement to any grilled meat,” Swift said. “It runs the gamut from high-end to low-end as well.”

Bernau said he thinks the only essential ingredients are parsley and garlic; “everything else is just a variation.”

And Pawelek said chimichurri’s most outstanding characteristic is its brightness of flavor.

“I think it’s a refreshing sauce, in a way,” he said. “It’s something new, and it’s an excellent sauce. It’s very popular. People love it.”

TRADITIONAL CHIMICHURRI

¼ cup coarsely chopped parsley

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

4 large garlic cloves, minced (2½ tablespoons)

2 tablespoons oregano leaves

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a food processor, combine the parsley, vinegar, garlic, oregano and crushed red pepper. Process until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Transfer the sauce to a bowl and pour the olive oil over the mixture. Let stand for at least 20 minutes.

Note: The chimichurri can be refrigerated overnight. Bring to room temperature before serving.

— Recipe from Food & Wine magazine

CHIMICHURRI

1 bunch parsley, leaves finely chopped

1 bunch cilantro, leaves finely chopped

3 tablespoons capers, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar

1½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ cup olive oil

Put the parsley, cilantro, capers and garlic in a medium mixing bowl and toss to combine. Add the vinegar, salt, red and black pepper and stir. Pour in the olive oil and mix until well combined. Let sit for 30 minutes so that the flavors blend.

Makes 1 cup.

— Recipe from the Food Network

CITRUS-CHIMICHURRI VINAIGRETTE

½ cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup loosely packed fresh cilantro

1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon coarsely ground pepper

3 tablespoons fresh orange juice

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

1/3 cup olive oil

Process first eight ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Turn blender on high; gradually add oil in a slow, steady stream. Cover and chill 30 minutes. Store in refrigerator for as long as 24 hours.

Makes about 1 cup.

— Recipe from Southern Living

FLANK STEAK WITH CHIMICHURRI

1½ pounds trimmed flank steak

1½ teaspoons kosher salt

½ teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground coriander

¼ teaspoon black pepper

1 large garlic clove

1½ cups fresh cilantro

1½ cups fresh flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup distilled white vinegar

1/3 cup olive oil

¼ teaspoon cayenne

Preheat broiler.

Pat steak dry. Stir together 1 teaspoon salt, cumin, coriander and pepper in a small bowl and rub mixture onto both sides of steak. Broil steak on a broiler pan about 4 inches from heat 6 minutes per side for medium-rare.

Transfer to a cutting board and let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, with motor running, add garlic to a food processor and finely chop. Add cilantro, parsley, vinegar, oil, cayenne and remaining ½ teaspoon salt, then pulse until herbs are finely chopped.

Holding a knife at a 45-degree angle, thinly slice steak. Serve with sauce.

Serves 4 to 6.

— Recipe from Gourmet magazine

CHIMICHURRI HALIBUT TACOS

2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 tablespoons fresh oregano

¾ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

5 garlic cloves, crushed

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

5 (6-ounce) halibut fillets

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon black pepper

Cooking spray

12 6-inch corn tortillas

Place first five ingredients in a food processor; process until finely chopped. Slowly pour oil through food chute; process until smooth. Place fish in a shallow dish; rub mixture over fish. Cover and chill 2 hours.

Preheat grill to high heat.

Sprinkle fish with salt and black pepper. Place fish on a grill rack coated with cooking spray and grill for 4 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from grill. Break fish into chunks. Heat tortillas according to package directions. Divide fish evenly among tortillas.

Serves 6.

— Recipe from Cooking Light

CHIMICHURRI CHEESESTEAKS

2 cups packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves (about 2 bunches)

4 garlic cloves, chopped

¼ cup lemon juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1¾ teaspoons salt (divided use)

1¼ teaspoons pepper (divided use)

4 cups thinly sliced sweet onion (about 2)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1½ pounds boneless chuck-eye steaks (¾ to 1 inch thick)

6 deli rolls, split

¼ pound thinly sliced provolone cheese

Pulse parsley and garlic in a blender or food processor just until finely chopped. (Do not puree.) Remove to a medium bowl and stir in lemon juice, olive oil, ¾ teaspoon salt and ¾ teaspoon pepper; set aside.

Cook onion and ½ teaspoon salt in hot vegetable oil over medium-high heat, stirring often, 15 minutes or until onions are golden brown and tender.

Sprinkle steaks evenly with remaining ½ teaspoon salt and remaining ½ teaspoon pepper.

Grill, covered with grill lid, over medium-high heat (350 to 400 degrees) 7 to 10 minutes on each side, or to desired degree of doneness.

Cut rolls in half lengthwise and grill cut sides of rolls during the last few minutes of cooking steaks. Remove steaks and rolls.

Cut steaks into thin slices. Spread parsley mixture evenly on cut sides of bread; place steak slices and onion evenly on bottom bread halves and top each evenly with cheese and remaining bread halves. Wrap each sandwich in foil. Grill, covered with grill lid, 3 to 4 minutes or until cheese melts.

Serves 6.

— Recipe from Southern Living

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@review journal.com or 702-383-0474.

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