Argentinian beef, renowned for its quality, is the perfect match for the country's red wines, writes Fiona Beckett as she explores Argentinian recipes.
The best beef I ever had – and I’m sure anyone who’s visited the country would agree – was in Argentina. If you think of yourself as a bit of a dab hand with the barbecue you soon realise you were totally outclassed by the parilladas, whose sole task is to bring the meat to charred but juicy perfection and who have probably been practising the art of these recipes for the best part of 30 or 40 years. I soon realised you shouldn’t express too much enthusiasm as your ever-hospitable host will instruct another round of steaks to be brought to the table. I can still remember the taste now.
Argentinian beef is, of course, reared on the lush grass of the pampas which apparently contains some 190 varieties of grasses. It’s a completely natural diet – there is no intensive feeding or use of antibiotics or growth promoters and the amount of exercise the animals get makes the meat wonderfully lean. Most Argentinian cattle is bred for eating rather than dairy which means that only the best breeds for beef are used. Producers are very proud of their herds, says Francis Mallman, one of Argentina’s top chefs. ‘Every summer there is a great competition among the estancieros (producers) to win the prizes at the annual Palermo fair in Buenos Aires.’ All meat is also well hung – for 21 days on the bone, says Mallman. ‘But remember that tenderness isn’t always synonymous with taste. I myself love a cuadril, a cut which comes from the leg – a bit tough, but delicious!’With such good quality there’s little need for fancy dishes. Most Argentinians would accompany their steak with chimichurri sauce (see right) the recipe for which, Mallman says, varies as much as minestrone in Italy. Although it’s quite sharply flavoured (Mallman’s version, unlike others, omits raw onion) you’ll find that Argentina’s big reds take it in their stride. A more wine-friendly dish for older vintages might be winemaker Nicolás Catena’s Lomo Tata, a family recipe we persuaded him to part with especially for Decanter readers.
Sadly, like Britain, Argentina has suffered an outbreak of foot and mouth which means that you’ll find it hard to get hold of their meat outside the country for the time being. So substitute some good, naturally reared, home-grown beef until you have a chance to sample the real thing. Or simply jump on a jet to Buenos Aires…
I got the recipe for this homely but luxurious dish from Nicolás Catena. It’s named after his grandmother and is, he says, ‘a favourite traditional family recipe that we often serve for our Sunday family meals. It goes particularly well with the Catena Malbec.’ I’ve modified it slightly to account for British ingredients and oven temperatures.
1.1kg (2lb 2oz) piece of
150g (5 oz) ready to eat stoneless prunes
8–10 thin slices of smoked pancetta or bacon
100ml good quality beef stock or demi glace
1 rounded tbsp
Salt, pepper and a pinch
Pre-heat the oven to 230˚C/450˚F/Gas 8. Trim the beef fillet, removing all fat. Cut the joint lengthways through the middle until you have opened the meat up but not completely separated the two halves. Flatten the prunes and lay them out over the lower half of the meat. Season lightly with a pinch of allspice, cover with the top half of the fillet and tie the joint together with string. Season the joint with freshly ground black pepper. Wrap the pancetta strips in a single layer around the roast. Place the roast in the oven for 10 minutes then reduce the heat to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas 6 and cook for another 5 minutes. Baste the joint with the beef stock and return to the oven for 5 minutes. Then baste it again with the redcurrant jelly dissolved in 100ml (31/2 fl oz) hot water. Cook for another 10–15 minutes for a medium-rare roast, longer if you like your meat well done. Remove from the oven and rest for 10 minutes in a warm place before carving. Serve with caramelised baby onions, glazed baby carrots (simmer in orange juice and a touch of mustard for 10–15 minutes) and sautéed mushrooms.
This is the punchy parsley, garlic and chilli-based sauce that Argentinians use as a standard accompaniment for their asados (barbecues). Everyone has their own version but this is Argentina’s leading chef, Francis Mallman’s recipe. Again, I’ve scaled down the amount of chilli for British tastes!
1 cup (225ml/8 fl oz) olive oil
1/2 cup (125ml/4 fl oz) red wine vinegar
1 cup (approximately 40g/
11/2 oz) chopped, fresh oregano or 1 tbsp dried
1/2 cup (approximately 20g/ 3/4 oz) chopped fresh
1 tbsp crushed dried pasilla chillies or other mild chilli
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
1 cup (225ml/8 fl oz) salmuera*
Mix all the ingredients together in a large screw-
top jar, shake well and
refrigerate overnight for
the flavours to infuse.
Serve with grilled or
* salmuera is a salt-water solution made by dissolving
2 tbsp of coarse sea salt in warm water.