Posted by: acooksca | 04/03/2009

Great Tastes in Argentina

patagonian-lamb-1aCordero Asado, Patagonian lamb cooked over an open fire, is reason enough to visit the far south. Whole lambs, stretched on metal cross sticks, roast for hours above a live fire. As they cook the fat melts, basting the meat, leaving it succulent with a crisp exterior. Your portion is a platter of mixed cuts: ribs on the bone, shoulder, leg. Lamb sweetbreads, seasoned simply with salt and grilled, are a wonderful treat also. The accompanying Chimichurri sauce is a fine balance of chopped mild red chilis, aromatic herbs and garlic in vinegar and oil.

There is a restaurant advertising Parrilla on every block in Buenos Aires. A Parrilla has a charcoal grill turning out huge cuts of beef. Locals will sit down to a steak accompanied by French fries and a simple salad for lunch as well as dinner. Cattle are grass fed in Argentina, not grain finished, and far leaner than their U.S. cousins. Because it is not as marbled, the beef is lower in calories, cholesterol and also chewier. Steaks mostly come to the table cooked well done, unless you dine at restaurants accustomed to foreign visitors.  Don Julio and La Cabrera, both in the Palermo Viejo district, are quite possibly the most popular Parrillas in B.A. They boast large portions of expertly prepared steaks from their own herds served by a professional staff. At these two restaurants you can enjoy a medium rare steak with a fine bottle of Malbec for half the cost of a steak house in the U.S.

We sampled Argentinean made salumi where ever we could, from the breakfast buffet in our hotels to fancy food shops to a sandwich in the airport. It would be easy to mistake Argentinean Prosciutto, Coppa and Salami as coming from Tuscany.

Hand-made chocolates beckon to you from sparkling shops that would look at home in Paris or Brussels. Diminutive ovals come filled with delicate raspberry mouse. Maybe you would prefer an ultra-smooth dark truffle. These chocolates are as finely crafted and delicious as their Old World counterparts at about one third the cost.

Octopus seemed to be the one seafood that was consistently treated with great respect. Cold as a salad, in a seafood risotto or sautéed with olive oil and paprika in a Spanish tapas bar, it was always gently seasoned and tender. Argentina produces fine Sauvignon Blancs to pair with octopus.

Wine inspired helados (ice cream) from Ferruccio Soppelsa are a Mendoza specialty. This immigrant family, from the Dolomiti area of Italy, brought their gelato expertise to the Argentinean wine country. Every flavor is housemade from classic vanilla or Dulce de Leche to Peach-Syrah (my favorite) and Malbec-Vanilla.

Lunch at Ruca Malen Winery, a French owned venture outside Mendoza, proves that the best food is often found ruca-malen-1ain wine growing regions. A visit to Ruca Malen lets you sample their highly sought after wines paired with a creative five course menu. Global cuisine is tricky to pull off in Argentina. Few cooks have the training (yet) to reliably reproduce the Chef’s vision. But not in this kitchen. Each of the five courses were executed carefully. Some wine-food matches were boldly conceived such as a 2005 Merlot/Tempranillo blend poured alongside a lentil salad with black tea and mushroom syrup. The salad (shown in the image) with a balance of smoky, earthy and bright components beautifully matched this complex wine.

And speaking of wines, Argentina is known for its reds but we consistently found delightful white wines. Generally these white had bold New World forwardness with a splash of Old World refreshing Sauvignon Blancs, modestly-oaked Chardonnays with wonderful fruit and Argentina’s own delightfully aromatic Torrantes.

Originally published in Farmstead Cheese News by Karen Bolla, edited for A Cook’s California (A Cook’s CA)  by Karen Bolla.

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