Friday, October 26, 2007

Jim McCurry

My mother-dear was out of town last weekend, so I decided to use the oppotunity to experiment with garlic. That's right, I made the famous salsa chimichurri of the Gauchos.

A bit of background: Argentina is famous for its beef and the cowboys are called gauchos. They eat their steak with a steak sauce made from, in its most basic form, garlic, parsley, and olive oil. Supposedly, it gets its name from the first person to serve it, an Irish chuckwagon cook named Jim McCurry, which became chimichurri in Spanish.

So, how did I make it?

A small bunch of Italian parsley, which I chopped whole (I chopped the stems finely and the leaves coarsely), to which I added one small tomato diced, two cloves garlic smashed into a puree, a tablespoon of white wine vinegar, enough olive oil to bring it together into a sauce-like consistency, and quite a bit of salt (it's a sauce, right?).

I put it, covered, in the frigo overnight and then cooked my steaks. With a bit of this on top, they were like biting into the most delicious garlic-salad-covered pieces of undercooked meat I've ever had. I should work on my cooking times for steaks.

By the way, the way I cooked the steaks seemed to work really well. It produced an excellent char and, if I'd cooked them long enough, they'd have been done perfectly. Here's how I did it.

I put a cast iron skillet in the oven and then set it to 500 degrees (that's F). I waited until everything was good and hot, and then I put the skillet on a burner turned to high. While that was heating up some more, I covered the steaks with oil and then salted them (again, quite heavily). I then put a tablespoon or so of oil in the skillet, waited the half-second for it to heat up, and then laid the steaks in. I left them for maybe a minute and a half untouched, then I turned them over, left them for another ninety seconds, and then put the whole thing into the oven. Once there, I waited until they were cooked to medium-rare (except I didn't actually do that and so my second, thicker steak, was about a rare as a steak can be).

Perfect steaks with an amazing char, just like being in a steak house, only much more expensive (I bought some really good steak at a high-end grocery store without looking at the price first).

One note of importance: The cooking method for the steaks produces a TON of smoke. It was fairly billowing out of the oven vent. Make sure you have a well-ventilated kitchen with a fan on high.

I also found some Argentine-style chorizos, which are like a bratwurst flavored with garlic. I made choripánes, an Argentine sandwich consisting of split French bread with a sausage cut lengthwise in the middle and topped with chimichurri. That was a garlic-fest if I've ever had one. After eating it, I told Timth that I was seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling, and hearing garlic and only garlic. Then I went to see Joanna Townsend. Boy, was that a weird day!


Friday, October 19, 2007

Siwichi Revisited

I decided to try again, using what I had learned from my first try. This time, I bought the much cheaper tilapia (and it seemed quite fresh). I cut it large, but I used an equal mixture of lemon and lime juices. The bitterness was gone. I also salted it much more. Half an onion and the other half of the jalapeño, though this time I didn't completely de-seed it.

Also, I didn't have any cilantro as what was left over smelled, strangely enough, fishy. I threw it out.

I mixed it up and let it sit for only about twenty minutes this time before starting to eat. I ate it while I drank an all right Czech beer and watched a Fire game. Here's what I noticed:

The fish started out stringy, but after it had been sitting in the acid for the better part of a half, it was perfectly tender. Definitely, letting the fish steep for maybe an hour would make the ceviche just about perfect (as would letting it sit overnight).

It's very rich. I ate nearly a pound of ceviche and felt rather ill afterwards. I'm sure it was the large amount of acid I consumed (that's citrate, not LSD). It really does need to be drained.

It needed chips or tortillas or tostadas or something.

Cilantro, though a very nice flavor, is not necessary and, at $0.99 a bunch, maybe a luxury I can't afford right now (of course, I paid something like $5.50 for the fish).

The Fire are good, but not great, and they seem to lake the cut-throat mentality of the perennial powers of Houston and DC.

Czech lager is still not as good as English ale, but it does go better with ceviche than the former.


Tuesday, October 2, 2007


Supposedly, the Quechua word for that wonderful dish of citrus juice and raw fish is siwichi, and that became ceviche in Spanish. Others suggest that it comes from the word escabeche. Either way, this South American dish is one of my favorite things in this world, as is anything that involves seafood, especially when it does not involve the application heat (uh, oyster and wine, hello?).

So, I decided to make some this past week. It's a simple preparation. I bought a half pound of halibut, which was actually the most expensive fish I could buy. I really should have gone with the tilapia, which was half the price, but I didn't see it until the fishmonger was already cutting off my piece.

I diced the fish in fairly large pieces, then I juiced two limes and a lemon and poured the juice over the fish. I also finely diced half an onion and half a jalapeño (minus the seeds). I put those in with the fish, along with a fair amount of salt, and put the whole thing in the frigo overnight.

The next day, for lunch, I heated up some tortillas, chopped a large amount of cilantro (probably three tablespoons), poured off the juice into another container, and served up some ceviche tacos.


I think I used to much lime juice, because it was very bitter. Salting more helped. Maybe ceviche has to be a salty dish, or maybe it needs lemon. I would also like to try out sour oranges.

The fish flavor was also lost in the midst of all the other ingredients. I think, if I make it again, I'll either use a stronger-flavored fish or else cut the pieces to be larger (closer to the size of a gumball).

The tortillas got water-logged almost instantly, and a water-logged tortilla resembles masa more than a tortilla. Also, they cooled off almost instantly, which was kind of disappointing. I think tostadas or just in a bowl are the ways forward from here.

There was no spice from the chiles. I'm not sure if the dish is supposed to be about the flavor of the chiles, rather than their spice, or if I made it wrong, but I definitely got no capsaicin whatsoever. Maybe I should crush some seeds next time (but just a few, I don't want it to be overwhelmingly spicy).