I’m not much of a meat eater, but I can’t say no to a display of slow barbecued beef ribs and chorizo attentively cooked by a proud Uruguayan. The Uruguayan male is defined by his ‘parrilla’ (barbecue grill). It’s where he feels most comfortable and grounded. Here he can nurture his family and friends, while he shows off his home-made ‘parrilla’ and grilling skills. It can take hours of carefully arranging coal to get it to the right temperature, and the meat must be cooked at the right angle. Because of this slow process there is a tendency for Uruguayans to pick at junk food or bread before the main meal as the women exchange memorable and hilarious migrant stories, while the men stand around the parrilla watching the host’s skills, secretly believing they could do it better.
By the time the meat is ready everyone is so bloated, but continue to push through the boundaries of human capacity by eating meat until the cows come home. Other delicacies found on a Uruguayan barbecue that I avoid, or politely turn down, is ‘morcilla’ (blood sausage), chinchulines (small intestines), mondongo (tripe) and other bits and pieces known as ‘offal’. A ‘vegetarian’ Uruguyan among these guests or ‘carbonarians’ as my cousin and I affectionately call them, will graze on more bread, potatoes, and ‘masitas’ (savoury and sweet pastries). There is always a mayonnaise doused potato salad on the menu, and if you’re lucky you may find a ‘healthy’ alternative with a wilted iceberg lettuce salad or a tomato and white onion salad sprinkled with dried oregano.
What really makes the Uruguyan barbecue so unique is ‘Chimichurri’. There is nothing more tasty, fresh and healthier than this salsa for anything that comes off that ‘parrilla’. It is truly the hero of the barbecue. It takes the meat to another dimension and balances out all the naughtiness of a typical Uruguayan diet. The special mix of herbs called ‘adobo’ gives the salsa its distinguishable taste that no other salsa verde offers.
Being an offspring of Uruguayan parents I’ve been to a lot of these barbecues (asado) in my lifetime , and they never evolve! This is what I love about them. There is comfort knowing nothing changes and that there will always be a bowl of Chimichurri on the table, made by a Uruguayan for the Uruguayan. There is just no pretence! It’s still normal to see side dishes displayed on cardboard plates suffocated by cling wrap, just as it is normal for someone to point out how much weight you’ve put on! Gee…thanks.
Once you try Chimichurri you will throw out the tomato sauce forever. Next time you go to a barbecue take a jar of Chimichurri for your host and watch yourself become the hero of the barbecue.
2 x bunches of curly leaf parsley chopped finely (avoid food processor)
1/2 cup sunflower oil or vegetable oil*
1/2 cup boiled hot water
1/2 fresh lemon (squeezed)
5 x cloves of garlic
1/2 cup Adobo* spices
Salt to taste
Yields about 2 cups
Nb: Chimichurri is not meant to be spicy hot. Only red bell peppers are used.
Chop the parsley finely, but do not process it. By using curly parsley you will get the traditional texture and slight bitter taste qualities. Chop garlic cloves finely. Transfer chopped parsley and garlic into a bowl. Add the dried herb mix of adobo and a good pinch of salt. Combine with a fork.
Next add the warm boiled water, lemon juice, vinegar and oil to the fresh/dried herb mixture and combine until it resembles a balanced oil to herb ratio (see pic for reference above) This depends how big your parsley bunches were to start with. By sight you should be able to judge if you need more adobo or oil, water and vinegar. Nb: The salsa should not be oily or watery or taste like vinegar. Taste before adding more salt.
Transfer mixture to a serving bowl and let rest for at least 20 minutes. The longer the better for better infusion. To store, transfer to a glass jar with an air tight lid. Can be stored in fridge for up to 7 days.
Nb: This salsa also works well with chicken and fish (as a marinade)
*Sunflower or a vegetable oil is required in this recipe as olive oil is too heavy and gives the salsa an olive oil flavour found in Mediterranean dishes.
*Adobo is a traditional South American seasoning that combines oregano, red bell pepper and cayenne pepper. It can also be used as a rub on meat as a marinade. You can buy a packet of adobo from any good deli in Sydney for about $3 or contact Milano food traders on http://www.milanofoods.com.au to find stockists.