June 23, 2009 / 3:04 PM / 10 years ago

Mallmann grills the Argentine way

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - If you’re going to grill the Argentine way, it helps to have a hunger for meat, a big wood fire, and plenty of open space.

Patagonia will do.

Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, who runs three highly-regarded restaurants in Argentina and Uruguay, was raised in the Patagonia region and credits its culture and style for inspiring his cooking.

His television show airs across Latin America, and he may launch a program for U.S. audiences to help fight a trend toward overly complicated recipes.

Mallmann, who spoke with Reuters this month, aims to inspire American cooks with the simple, unpretentious food in his new cookbook, “Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way.”

Q: Yours may be the only cookbook to include a recipe for grilling an entire cow. Who is your audience?

A: “The idea was to adapt all the Argentine ways of cooking into a home, where you can do these things in the backyard or a kitchen even if you don’t want to light a fire. You can still achieve good things on a stove, the burned orange with rosemary, burned tomato with oregano, the smashed beet with the goat cheese and garlic chips. You can’t do the cow inside.”

Q: What defines Argentine cooking?

A: “It has to do with our culture, our idiosyncrasies. We are a bleeding country, economically, socially, but there is a huge beauty in that adversity. That struggle makes you creative. That goes into cooking, into tango, into soccer.”

Q: Why is it often important to burn the food a little?

A: “I like the taste of burned. In some things it works really well, like with tomatoes or oranges. Lamb is good slightly charred. I don’t believe in harmony when you eat, I like contrasts. Charred meat has that bite, but there’s a boundary, it can’t be black.”

Q: You say in the book food shouldn’t be too pretty. Why?

A: “I believe that you cook, and when it’s ready you just put in on the plate. Don’t touch it, don’t move it around. Cooking is a craft, it’s not an art. I don’t believe in decoration. (On my TV show) I only cook outside in beautiful places with fires and it’s very simple. I do it to fight this trend in the world of cooking of complicated recipes. I just have a couple of eggs in my pocket and I chop an onion on my knee and cook something on a stick.”

Q: Is cooking never an art?

A: “Never. The only reason to eat and drink well is to have better conversations with peers. It’s arrogant to think that cooking is an art. It shouldn’t be like going to a cathedral.”

Q: What makes a good chimichurri sauce?

A: “There’s only one chimichurri. It’s like minestrone in Italy, it can change from town to town, but the basics are olive oil, salmuera, which is kind of a brine ... red wine vinegar and fresh, chopped parsley and oregano. Once I saw pineapple chimichurri, strawberry chimichurri, I was horrified. That’s what happens with trends. A trend comes up and we destroy the culture. If you want to make it with strawberries, call it something else.”

Q: Are there certain ingredients you can’t do without?

A: “Very good salt, very good olive oil, very good red wine vinegar. With that you can do anything. Good sea salts have texture, they’re big, but when you bite them they fall apart. The best olive oils for me are the peppery ones.”

Q: How do you cook a complete cow?

A: “Very slowly, over 14, 16 hours. It’s not the most delicious thing, it’s a culture thing. You have 200 people at a party. some parts will be tasty and tender, some will be very tough. it’s not the best recipe in the book.”

Mallmann’s Chimichurri recipe:

1 cup water

1 tablespoon coarse salt

1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled

1 cup packed fresh lat-leaf parsley leaves

1 cup fresh oregano leaves

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

To make the salmuera, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the salt and stir until it dissolves. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Mince the garlic very fine and put in a medium bowl, Mince the parsley and oregano and add to the garlic, along with the red pepper flakes. Whisk in red wine vinegar and then the olive oil. Whisk in the salmuera. Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and keep in the refrigerator. Chimichurri is best prepared at least 1 day in advance so that the flavors have a chance to blend. The chimichurri can be kept refrigerated for up to 2 or 3 weeks.

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