Secrets of grilling Argentine-style

Norberto Zas has a recipe for a great grilling session, Argentine-style: "You need to have a good grill, you need to be near friends and you need to have a good glass of malbec."

The Argentine-born chef/owner of Piccolo Mondo Restaurant in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood seasons his meat simply with sea salt and grills over a slow charcoal fire.

"You can experience the flavor charcoal gives the meat when it is cooked slow," he said. "You could do it over gas too, but there's a big difference."

Most Argentines cook over wood fires, and it would most likely be beef on the grill. The country consumes an average of 154 pounds of beef per person yearly, compared with 89.8 pounds in the United States, according to Steven Raichlen, author of "Planet Barbecue!" (Workman, $22.95).

Argentine beef is grass-fed, appropriate given the country is home to The Pampas, 300,000 square miles of grassland. While grass-fed beef is all the rage these days among eco- and health-conscious Americans, Raichlen notes it will seem "less luscious and less luxurious" than corn-fed beef. At first.

"With time, you come to appreciate its forthright natural flavor, and in particular, the distinctive flavor of each cut of beef," he said.

As for cooking a steak, aim for a crust. "A steak that is seasoned and cooked properly has a salty crust produced by searing," wrote Francis Mallmann in his book, "Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way." The crust, "sublime in its own right," keeps the meat moist by preventing the juice from escaping as the meat cooks. The meat should attain a uniform rosy pink throughout.

"It can be achieved only if you cook the meat at the proper rate," Mallmann insists. "To get that uniform color, you need even lower heat and longer cooking for thicker cuts."

Rib-eye steaks with chimichurri

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 18 minutes

Makes: 8 servings

Adapted from a recipe by chef Francis Mallman in "Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way."

4 boneless rib-eye steaks, 1 1/4- to 1 1/2-inches thick, at room temperature

1/2 teaspoon salt

Chimichurri, see recipe

1 Prepare a grill for medium-high heat. Salt the steaks. Grease the grill grate.

2 Grill steaks 5 minutes; rotate the meat 90 degrees to create crosshatch grill marks. Grill 4 minutes; turn the steaks. Grill until cooked medium-rare, about 7 minutes, rotating the steak if necessary.

3 Transfer the steaks to a platter; let rest 3 minutes. Serve with chimichurri sauce.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 429 calories, 59% of calories from fat, 27 g fat, 11 g saturated fat, 204 mg cholesterol, 0 g carbohydrates, 43 g protein, 231 mg sodium, 0 g fiber


Prep: 20 minutes

Cook: 5 minutes

Makes: 1 2/3 cups

"From gaucho campfires to society weddings, you can always find chimichurri in Argentina," writes Francis Mallmann in "Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way." Make the chimichurri a day in advance, he writes, so the flavors have time to blend. Chimchurri may be refrigerated for two to three weeks.

1 cup water

1/2 tablespoon salt

1 head garlic, separated into cloves, minced

1 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced

1 cup fresh oregano leaves, minced

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Heat the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the salt, stir until dissolved. Remove from heat; cool. Combine garlic, parsley, oregano and red pepper flakes in a medium bowl. Whisk in the red wine vinegar; whisk in the olive oil. Whisk in the salted water. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid, refrigerate.

Nutrition information: Per tablespoon: 43 calories, 88% of calories from fat, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 g carbohydrates, 0 g protein, 136 mg sodium, 0 g fiber

Roasted bell pepper salad with anchovies and garlic

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

When "overdosing" on red meat grilled Argentine-style, Steven Raichlen recommends a grilled pepper salad on the side. "This is about as elaborate as an Argentine vegetable dish gets." It's adapted from his book, "Planet Barbecue!"

4 large red bell peppers

1 can (2 ounces) anchovy fillets, drained

1 to 2 cloves roasted garlic (see note) or raw garlic, minced

2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper

1Prepare a grill for hot, direct heat. Grill the peppers until darkly browned and blistered on all sides, 3-4 minutes per side. Cool to room temperature. Scrape the charred skins off the peppers. Halve the peppers, core, scrape out the seeds. Cut each pepper in half again lengthwise.

2Arrange the pepper pieces on a platter or plates. Arrange the anchovy fillets in a decorative pattern on top. Sprinkle with garlic; drizzle olive oil over. Sprinkle with the parsley; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Note: To roast garlic, place a whole head with skin intact on the grill away from direct heat. Cover the grill. Roast the garlic until the skin is lightly browned and the cloves feel squeezably soft, about 30 minutes.

Nutrition information: Per serving: 143 calories, 54% of calories from fat, 9 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 12 mg cholesterol, 11 g carbohydrates, 6 g protein, 819 mg sodium, 3 g fiber

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