Chef Column: Fire up the barbecue, Argentina style

Argentina in the mind. How things fetch up,
Flotsam along a coastline stretching
To a land of fire where one may find
Glaciers, ice like glass, permafrost, snow.
The surreal is important because it is true.
Disparate things connect. Life is a palimpsest,
And lost images below show through.
—Margaret Wilmot

Argentina is one of the world’s biggest exporters of beef and Argentinians are huge consumers of meat. The Argentine barbecue, or asado, is the most popular way to enjoy it. This involves using a wood-fired grill, various cuts of meat and the signature sauce called chimichurri. The following recipes are for an Argentine style mixed grill using both charcoal briquettes and hickory wood chips.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Delicious mixed grill

Mixed Grill
Purchase 2 pounds of beef short ribs, 2 pounds of skirt steak, 1 whole chicken and 2 pounds of fresh chorizo sausage. Cut the chicken into 8 pieces and bone out the breast meat. Slice the boneless breast meat lengthwise to make 4 cutlets, leaving the skin on. Place all of the meats in a shallow pan and brush them with chimichurri sauce as a marinade. Marinate from 2 hours to overnight.
Serves 6-8.

Chimichurri Sauce
Place in a food processor 1 cup fresh cilantro, 1 cup fresh Italian parsley, 5 cloves garlic, minced, 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 2 tablespoons fresh oregano, 2 tablespoons minced shallot, 3 tablespoons lemon juice and the zest from one lemon, 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 3/4 cup canola oil. Process to a finely chopped consistency, but do not turn it into a purée. Use about half of this sauce to marinate the meats (above) and save the rest to serve on the side.

Barbecue Instructions
If you have an outdoor barbecue smoker, place charcoal in the bottom, light it and wait for it to form white coals. Soak one pound of hickory chips in water for 15 minutes, drain and place over the coals. Place a bowl of hot water on the shelf above the coals to catch the drip. Above the water, place the grill with the beef short ribs, chorizo sausage and legs and thighs of the chicken. Cover and cook for 3 hours at low heat, allowing the hickory smoke to permeate the food. When the smoked meat is cooked, remove and set aside in a warm spot. Remove the water pan, add some fresh coals to the grill, and lower the grill so that it is directly over the coals. At service time grill the skirt steak and the chicken breasts to desired doneness. Place all the meats on a platter and serve with chimichurri sauce.
If you do not have a smoker, you can use your charcoal grill by placing a pan with water in it under the food. Rake the hot coals to the side of the grill, allowing space for the water pan. Place the soaked hickory chips on the coals and cover the grill.

The accompaniments:
Argentine Style Potato Salad
Scrub 6 Yukon gold potatoes and place them in boiling water to cover (do not peel). Simmer until they are just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove, cool and cut into half-inch chunks, leaving the skins on. Boil 4 eggs until hard, about 12 minutes. Cool, peel and chop. Trim, peel and dice 4 carrots. Trim the ends off of 1/2 pound string beans and cut them into half-inch pieces. Steam the carrots and beans together until just cooked, about 5 minutes. Rinse under cold water and set aside.
Trim and cut 6 scallions into small slices. Cut into quarters 1/2 pound of pitted olives, preferably almond stuffed or garlic stuffed, and set aside. Combine the potatoes, chopped eggs, cooked carrots and beans, sliced scallions and quartered olives in a large bowl and toss together lightly.
For the dressing, combine 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 2 tablespoons chopped dill, the juice from 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon ground mustard, 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper. Toss the dressing with the potato mixture and check for seasoning.

Spinach Salad with
Bacon Vinaigrette
Mix 2 bags of baby spinach with 1 can of drained and rinsed chick peas and 1 cup diced red bell pepper. For the dressing cook 4 slices of bacon in a sauté pan until almost crisp. Transfer bacon to a paper towel and chop. Add to the bacon fat in the pan one sliced red onion and 1 teaspoon sugar. Cook until onion is soft and add 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard and 1/4 cup cider vinegar. Season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss with spinach mixture and serve.

Grilled Tomatoes
Slice 4 large beefsteak tomatoes in half and remove the cores. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper. Place on the outer edges of the charcoal grill while the meat is cooking. Serve alongside the meat on a platter.

Make a dough by placing 2 cups flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a food processor. Add 1/3 cup chilled butter that has been cut into small chunks. Add 1/3 cup chilled shortening cut into small pieces. Pulse about 12 times to form a coarse meal. Add 1/2 cup ice water and pulse to form a dough. Remove onto a floured surface and knead briefly into two balls of dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 minutes.
Make the filling by cooking 1/2 pound of ground beef in a skillet. Remove with a slotted spoon and clean out the pan. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil to the pan along with 1 cup diced onion, 1 cup chopped red bell pepper, 1 small minced jalapeno pepper and 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Combine the ground beef and vegetables in a large bowl and set aside.
Peel one large potato and place in boiling water with two eggs in the shell. Simmer until the eggs are hard cooked and the potato is just tender, about 15 minutes. Dice the potato and add to the meat mixture. Peel and chop the eggs and add to the mixture. Add 12 chopped green olives along with 1/4 cup raisins, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Stir all ingredients together and refrigerate while rolling out the dough.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to 1/8-inch-thick rounds. Mark out 6-inch circles in the dough and cut them out. Place 2 tablespoons filling on the side of each circle. Brush the edges with a little water and fold the dough over the filling and crimp with a fork around the edges. Make a slit in the top and place on an ungreased sheet pan. Repeat with all the dough — you should have 8 empanadas. Place them in a 400-degree oven and cook until the filling is bubbling and the crust is lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Serve as a first course.
Serves 8.

The Wine: Argentina is the largest producer of malbec in the world. The full-bodied red wine is especially good with rich, marinated meats as in the above recipes. These dishes would also be very good with a North Fork merlot.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: [email protected]