Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way
Burnt Tomato, Goat Cheese and Anchovy Bruschetta
Rescoldo Vegetable Plate
My childhood home stood on a cliff overlooking Lago Moreno in Patagonia, where the snowcapped peaks of the Andes tower over everything. It was a simple but beautiful log house built by an English family in the 1920s and bought for my father by “Papapa,” my grandfather Arturo. In that house, fire was a constant part of growing up for my two brothers and me, and the memories of that home continue to define me.
When I close my eyes and think back to those times, I can hear the breakfast conversation of my parents announcing the arrival of a truckload of firewood. The truck would dump the wood in the parking lot. We would all load up the wheelbarrows; my brothers and I would help in sorting and stacking the logs in the woodshed. When the work was done and the shed was packed to the roof with air-cured logs, I felt proud to be part of such a wealthy household...
(In 1995 the) International Academy of Gastronomy--the most prestigious culinary organization in the world-- had invited me to prepare a meal for them. I was in great company--such European superstars as Alain Ducasse, Ferran Adrià, and Frédy Girardet had received the same invitation, and I would be the first New World chef. The request was for a menu with a South American theme. The rest was left up to me.
I think a guardian angel--a very Argentine angel-- whispered in my ear at that point. She suggested an entire menu featuring potatoes, the great gift of South America to the world’s larder. I sent German Martinegui, who was at that time a chef in my Buenos Aires restaurant, to Cuzco, Peru--the royal capital of the Incas, where the greatest potatoes are grown. He had a simple shopping list: a thousand pounds of potatoes. For those of you who think of potatoes simply as the plain-looking things one sees in the supermarket, you have not yet seen the potato in all of its Andean glory. German came back to Buenos Aires with golden potatoes, red ones, purple, yellow, orange, marbled--and in all sizes, from little balls to big lumpy ovals barely distinguishable from a clod of dirt.
My crew and I filled our luggage with our precious edible cargo and flew to Frankfurt, where the academy dinner was being held at the Schloss Hotel, a fairy-tale castle. Thankfully, the customs inspectors were not on the lookout for a band of South American potato smugglers.
The manager of the hotel--a very formal old-school fellow--greeted me and asked, “How would you like to decorate the table?”
“With potatoes,” I answered...
...I piled potatoes about ten inches high, running down the center of the whole length of the table, and then set about preparing the meal...
After the lunch, I entered to receive my “grades.” They were very high. They were intended as much for the Andean potatoes as for the chef.
The president of the Italian branch of the academy asked to speak. He was a vigorous man of about eighty, trim and elegant. “Before I left Rome,” he began, “I was very unsure about this ‘potato feast.’ In fact, the thought of coming to Germany to eat many potatoes soaked in oil gave me nightmares of indigestion. But what I have eaten today, I truly believe, was food made by the angels.”
His words, and that event, had a profound effect on me. I was forty years old and very successful doing an Argentine version of contemporary fine dining. I had been at it for twenty-seven years.
A feeling of resolve came over me. I was through with the fancy sauces and the elaborately arranged ingredients piled high on the plate like one of Marie Antoinette’s coiffures. I wanted to create a cuisine based on my Andean heritage. For inspiration, I turned to the methods of the frontier, of the gauchos and, before them, of the Indians.
My cuisine became, for want of a better word, barbaric in its attempt to achieve the pinnacle of flavors through the use of fire, whether the massive heat of a bonfire, or the slow steady warmth of dying embers...
To be sure, there are times when it is not practical to cook over a wood fire--but as I have found over the years, a charcoal fire, a gas grill, or even a cast-iron pan on the stove of a home kitchen can serve to create the texture and wonderful slightly burnt taste of open-fire cookery. Throughout this book, you will find instructions for cooking outdoors, but because I recognize that not all of you will always have access to open fire, you will also find instructions for how to achieve many of the same effects indoors. As long as you apply the same amount of heat to your food, then, regardless of the method or medium used--wood, charcoal, gas grill, cast iron--cooking will be successful. Of course, I always prefer a hardwood fire.
In this book, I share my versions of the recipes of a lifetime inspired by campfires and cattle drives, harvest festivals and fishing camps, street fairs and family Sundays. There are seven different fires that form the backbone of my cuisine. North Americans may recognize in them a kinship to barbecuing and charcoal grilling and will, I hope, find new possibilities in them. I’ve served these dishes to popes and presidents, prime ministers and kings, and, with equal success, to neighborhood kids in Buenos Aires and shepherds in the mountains of Patagonia.
May they kindle the same fire in your belly that they do in my soul.
About Francis Mallmann
Francis Mallmann (left) is the most famous and popular chef in South America. He has three restaurants: one in Mendoza, Argentina's wine country, another in the La Boca neighborhood of Buenos Aires, and the third in the picturesque village of Garzon, Uruguay. USA Today and The Times of London have named his restaurants among the top ten places to eat in the world.
About Peter Kaminsky
Peter Kaminsky is the author of Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine. He has written cookbooks with chefs Michel Richard, Gray Kunz, Daniel Boulud, and Fabio Trabocchi. His work appears in Food & Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and The New York Times. He lives in Brooklyn.
A Perfect Steak
At the 1992 Seville World’s Fair, the Argentine booth was far and away the busiest among the international assortment of food concessions, even though we served only three things: rib-eye steaks, salad, and dulce de leche pancakes. There was a line from the minute we opened until we closed. We served 1,500 steaks a day!...
A steak that is seasoned and cooked properly has a salty crust produced by searing. This crust, sublime in its own right, keeps the beef juices from escaping and drying out the meat as the steak cooks. Under that crust, the meat should be basically the same rosy pink throughout. This is your goal, and it can be achieved only if you cook the meat at the proper rate, which is relatively slow in comparison to the sear-and-serve method that produces “black and blue” steaks, which is to say both burnt and raw.
This principle holds true for any beef cooked over direct heat. To get that uniform color, you need even lower heat and longer cooking for thicker cuts.
And now, to the grill.
One 1-pound boneless rib-eye steak per person,
about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 inches thick
About an hour before you plan to serve the meat, start a wood fire off to the side of the grill. In Argentina, we use a large iron basket for the fire, with a wide grate that allows the larger coals to drop through so you can easily move them under your cooking grill.
Remove the steaks from the fridge or cooler, giving them enough time to come to room temperature. Their temperature will affect the way that heat enters the meat. If it is cold when you put the meat on the grill, you risk toughness.
Shovel or rake a 2- to 3-inch bed of coals under the grill grate. This bed should extend for about 3 inches beyond the perimeter of the grill, so that every part of each steak will receive uniform heat. The grill grate should be 3 to 4 inches from the coals. Wait for the coals to cover over with a layer of whitish ash. You can test the temperature by placing your hand almost at the level that the meat will cook. The fire should be medium-high, and it is ready when you can hold your hand there for only 2 1/2 seconds (to determine 2 1/2 seconds, in Spanish, we say, “Uno matador, dos matador, tres . . .”; the English equivalent is “one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three . . .”).
Keep a spray bottle filled with water handy to douse any flare-ups.
Salt the steaks to taste. Using tongs, grease the grill grate with a piece of fat or a clean cloth or paper towel moistened with olive oil or other cooking oil.
Place the meat on the grill. You should hear a nice sizzle. Then don't touch the steaks, and don't move them. After 5 minutes, gently lift one edge to check the sear marks on the meat. If they look just right at that point, rotate the meat 90 degrees. This will create a crosshatch pattern and keep the meat from burning where it is in contact with the grill. After 4 more minutes, turn the steaks over and cook for another 7 minutes, or until cooked to medium-rare. As before, check after 5 minutes to make sure the meat doesn't burn where it touches the grill, and rotate the steaks if necessary.
Transfer the steaks to a platter and let rest for 3 minutes.
Serve with Chimichurri.
From gaucho campfires to society weddings, you can always find chimichurri in Argentina. The basics--olive oil, parsley, and oregano--never vary but the rest is up to the ingenuity of the chef and local tradition. Chimichurri changes from town to town. Sometimes I worry that since the world has discovered it, it will get “gourmet-ized” until it’s unrecognizable. At a Latin- American-themed James Beard Award evening in New York City, I couldn’t believe what some of the chefs had done with it: mango, strawberries, mint! I was so sad, I wanted to crawl inside my oven. Invention is fine, but you have to stay true to the original idea. My variation on the theme is fresh herbs instead of dried, which is what the gauchos use.
Makes about 2 cups
FOR THE SALMUERA
1 cup water
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1 cup packed fresh flat-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 the 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 the 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 to 3 weeks.
Recipes copyright © 2009 by Francis Mallmann. Reprinted from Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way with permission from Artisan, A Division of Workman Publishing Company, Inc.
Photographs excerpted from Seven Fires by Francis Mallmann (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2009. Santiago Solo Monllor photographer.
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A trailblazing chef reinvents the art of cooking over fire.
Gloriously inspired recipes push the boundaries of live-fired cuisine in this primal yet sophisticated cookbook introducing the incendiary dishes of South America's biggest culinary star. Chef Francis Mallmann--born in Patagonia and trained in France's top restaurants--abandoned the fussy more...