Friday, January 18, 2013

Dish #7: Argentina - Bife A Caballo with Chimichurri

I was very excited to cook the food of Argentina.  I wrote my college thesis on Argentine gaucho poetry and political identity, and I got to live in Buenos Aires briefly on a research grant.  Argentina has a rich and fascinating history due to two factors: (1) being mostly ignored by the Spanish during colonialism because of its lack of silver to mine and (2) experiencing many waves of immigration from all over Western Europe and even Asia throughout its history.  Buenos Aires is a lovely, sophisticated city with vibrant nightlife, beautiful parks, quaint neighborhoods, ritzy shopping, and a deep history.  I personally prefer Buenos Aires to New York City or Madrid or Paris, cities to which it is often compared.  I would absolutely love to travel there again, so cooking a typical porteño meal is going to fill in as the next best thing for me.

When I lived in Argentina, I was a strict vegetarian.  In fact, I often observed a very simple vegan diet but did stray into consuming gummy bears (which contain gelatin) or cheese.  That pretty much sums up my perennial dietary weaknesses - my sweet tooth and my love for cheese.  There are large French, Italian, and German populations and influences in Buenos Aires, which means that the food there is more modern European-influenced than throughout the rest of Argentina or certainly the rest of Latin America.  One of my favorite supermarket snacks while I lived there, in fact, was a spanakopita-type spinach and feta pie.  I also loved soy milanesas (breaded cultets of tofu) with rice and ate huge fruit salads of mango, papaya, pineapple, and banana every day.  I mentioned previously that I would go to a restaurant in Palermo, the neighborhood where I was going to school, a lot and order a cassoulet of lentils and vegetables that was reminiscent of Feijoada.  I also would have simple dinners of grilled squash, potatoes, carrots, and zucchini bought from the farmers market near the Cathedral in Recoleta, the neighborhood where I lived.

All this detail on the food that I did eat should make it glaringly obvious what food I did not eat while in Buenos Aires: the world-famous Argentine beef.  I actually did eat it once, at a ranch in the famous asado style (think Fogo de Chao or any other AYCE Brazilian steakhouse but with a lot more wine and a wider variety of cuts and meats unusual to the palate of most people from the United States, like organs, offal, blood sausage, or goat).  Because I hadn't consumed any kind of red meat in almost two years at that point and also because I washed it down with a bottle and a half of red wine in the sweltering summer heat, all before going on a ridiculously bumpy and fast horseback ride into the forest, my memories of that meal and its aftermath aren't too pleasant to recall. 

However, I would always see bistro style dishes featuring steak that looked so straightforward, simple, and delicious.  I decided to cook the meal that I would order were I to return today to that little restaurant in Palermo where I always ordered the lentil cassoulet and a litro (or two) of Quilmes - Bife A Caballo (literally "beef on horseback"), which is a pan-fried steak with two fried eggs on top.  The recipe below calls for rib-eye steaks, but I used thin-cut New York strip steaks because they looked better at the market.  Along with that I prepared Chimichurri - a bold, bright sauce of parsley, olive oil, lemon, red pepper flakes, and garlic.  I could be very happy eating Chimichurri out of a bowl with a spoon (it's right up there with salt-and-peppered ricotta, peanut butter, and speculoos cookie butter for me as far as that goes).  This dish is usually served with french fries or rice, but I chose to prepare a simple green salad, which is equally typical of porteño restaurant presentations of this dish.

Needless to say, we loved this meal.  It was simple, hearty, and so good.  For my money there is no better sauce than a runny egg yolk broken over meat with some herbs, spice, and oil mixed into it.  So delicious!

Bife Al Caballo (recipe from Refogado)

4 T olive oil
2 1/2 pound rib-eye steaks, trimmed of any excess fat
2 large eggs
1 clove garlic, minced
2 T dry white wine (I always use whatever I have open for this purpose, which is typically a Sauvignon Blanc)
enough olive oil or butter to fry an egg
Season the steak on both sides with sea salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. 

Heat 2 T of the olive oil in a frying pan over medium high heat.  Add the steak and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare, then remove from the pan and tent under aluminum foil to keep warm.

Add the other tablespoon of olive oil to the same frying pan, along with the garlic, and cook for 1 minute, then add the white wine.  Lower the flame to low and cook for a few more minutes. 

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, fry four eggs.  To serve, pour the sauce over the steaks and top with two fried eggs per steak.  Serve with french fries, rice, or a salad, with Chimichurri on the side to spoon over over the steak and eggs.

Chimichurri (recipe from Blue Kitchen)

3/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 cup olive oil
3 T fresh lemon juice
2 1/2 T finely chopped garlic
2 1/2 T red pepper flakes
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Mix all all ingredients in a small bowl.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  Bring to room temperature before serving.


  1. Sal if you ever want to travel back to Buenos Aires, we would totally go with you! I am dying to visit & your description makes me want to go even more!!

    1. I love that idea! Let's prepare ourselves by doing a girls' trip to Miami sometime in the meantime ;) xoxo

  2. Excellent commentary to go with the (awesome) photo Sally. :) I absolutely loved reading this entry!