Secrets of grilling Argentine-style
Start with salt, cook over wood for great steaks
Argentinean chef Francis Mallmann at the grill. (HANDOUT/Excerpted from "Seven Fires" by Francis Mallmann / May 4, 2010)
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.