Chimichurri is a classic topping for grilled steaks, but you will soon discover that it can be used in, on, and with any number of things. It is terrific on fish, in seafood stews, with pasta, grilled chicken. You name it, and you’ll want to try it with a spoonful of chimichurri.
The key ingredient to a successful chimichurri is flat-leafed Italian parsley. The last time I made this sauce I didn’t have any and substituted curly-leaf parsley. It was good, but not quite the same. Flat-leafed parsley is darker in color and has a more pronounced parsley flavor and parsley aroma. In a word it’s parsleyer.
Some versions of this sauce substitute white vinegar for lime-juice. If you can’t find a lime, this works fine, but I like the citrus flavor with the other fresh ingredients. It reminds me of a steak I had in Costa Rica that had been marinated in a rough-chopped chimichurri redolent of lime and garlic, grilled rare, and then slathered with more green stuff when it was plated. I can still taste it. Why do the simplest combinations of ingredients produce the greatest flavors?
Serve these steaks with rice, sautéed peppers and onions, mixed greens and tomatoes. There are a number of red wines that would go very well with this meal such as a plum-scented Malbec or a full-bodied Syrah. My choice would be a spicy Zinfandel to pair with the deep aromas and flavors of the chimichurri. A brew to pair with the garlicy grilled meat would be amber ale that has good malt flavors and a toasty finish.
Chimichurri (Central American Parsley Garlic Sauce) makes 2¼ cups (525 mL)
2 bunches flat-leafed parsley
8 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ of a medium onion
1 tsp salt (5 mL)
4 Tbsp lime-juice, freshly squeezed (60 mL)
4 Tbsp water (60 mL)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil (240 mL)
Pick the leaves from the stems and wash them in a colander under cool running water. Shake them dry and put into the container of a food processor. Peel the garlic, cut off the little root ends, and chop into a few pieces. Sometimes whole garlic will just roll around in the processor like clothes in a dryer. Roughly chop the onion and add to the mix with salt and pepper.
Run the processor to roughly chop everything. Scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula. Add the lime-juice, water, and olive oil. Run the machine until the mixture is emulsified but still retains a rough texture.
When first made, chimichurri has a neon green color that will gradually fade as the acidity of the lime-juice reacts with the parsley’s chlorophyll. Pack the chimichurri into half-pint Mason jars (250 mL) and store in the freezer. The freezing will help retain the bright color. Pull it out of the freezer an hour or so before you want to use it, scoop out what you need, and put it back in the freezer. The olive oil not only serves as a preservative for the fresh ingredients, it doesn’t freeze as solidly as other liquids, and therefore makes it easy to use out of the freezer.
Spread a teaspoon or so (5 mL) of chimichurri on each side of as many steaks as you are grilling. Put the steaks in a shallow refrigerator dish and refrigerate at least 2 hours before grilling. Prepare a glowing bed of charcoal, or set your grill on high heat. Make sure the grill has been given a good scrubbing with a wire brush, and a thin coating of vegetable oil before cooking the steaks.
Turn the steaks over and cook to the desired doneness. The main variable for cooking time is the thickness of the steaks, a secondary one is the heat of your fire. A steak that is 1-inch thick (2.5 cm) will take about 3 minutes per side for rare and 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium. The way professional chefs check for doneness is by sight and by touch. When pearls of blood appear on the surface it is time to turn the steaks. When pearls appear again, the steak is rare. From that point on you press the steak with your index finger (or index and middle finger) and test the resistance—that is, assessing firmness and the way it springs back after you press it.
The best example I was ever shown to simulate how to test for doneness is equipment you already own. Make a firm fist with one hand, turn your fist so that the palm side faces you. Using your other hand, press the center of the pad beneath your thumb with your index finger, that’s rare.
Turn your fist over and press the muscle between your index finger and your thumb about an inch down, that’s medium.
Remove the steaks to a serving platter and allow to rest while you assemble the remaining parts of the meal. Slice the steaks on a bias if you wish. Spoon more chimichurri over the steaks and serve.