Chimichurri 

On any given day when we’re preparing something in the kitchen, anything really, that little light bulb blinks on and we think, ‘This would be so much better with a sauce or marinade, or both.’ 99% of the time, we’re right, but what to make? When you’ve nothing definite in mind, and maybe even not 100% sure what you’ve got in fridge and pantry, the correct answer is Chimichurri, (or chimmichurri, if you really like Ms). 
Chimichurri is a green sauce designed ostensibly for grilled meats, but that’s frankly selling it short. It’s fabulous on pasta, goes great with fish, makes a great seasoning for soups and stews, and shines on roasted or steamed veggies as well – It’s even great on eggs. The popular claim is that this legendary creation hails from Argentina, the Holy Land of grilled meats, but its roots go deeper yet. Given the classical Spanish pronunciation of the word, with the initial ch spoken almost as a tz, and the double rr well rolled on the tongue, it’s a good bet that the origin of chimichurri lies with the Basque settlers who arrived in Argentina back in the 1800s. The Basque have a word designed specifically for the kind of spur-of-the-moment sauce we’re discussing here – Tximitxurri, which more or less means, ‘a mixture of several things in no particular order’. Perfect, right?

That’s exactly what chimichurri is. The classic version consists of flat leaf parsley, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and red pepper flake, but variants on this are not only OK, they’re expected. It’s very much like spaghetti sauce – Sure there’s a ‘classic’ version, but everybody makes theirs different, and all those variants are equally as valid. Chimichurri was designed to take advantage of what you’ve got on hand, and the beauty lies in the options. Other parsley variants, cilantro, culantro, kale, celery leaves, or arugula can replace the flat leaf. Onion or shallot can augment the garlic. Any one of a number of herbs can be added – smoked or sweet paprika, cumin seed, lemon thyme, or any variant of basil come readily to mind. Sweet pepper, chiles, tomato, tomatillo, citrus, all go great as well. The only limits are your imagination and what’s on hand.

Marinate meat or veggies in chimichurri for at least two hours and up to overnight, refrigerated and covered. Fish should go no longer than an hour or so, so as not to overpower it. Freezing chimichurri works great; it’s a perfect sauce to do the ice cube tray trick with; you can snap out a cube or more whenever you feel the need. While store bought is available, that’s just an absolute no no; making chimichurri is so quick and simple, there’s no reason not to make a fresh batch; you’ll save yourself from preservatives and stabilizers., too.

Here’re a few versions to get you started. Bunches of parsley, cilantro, etc, all pretty uniform these days: If I had to hazard a guess at the volume of 1/2 Bunch, I’d call it 2 Cups loosely packed.  

 
Classic Chimichurri

1/2 Bunch Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley

8 cloves Garlic

3⁄4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1⁄4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar

1 teaspoon Red Chile Flake

Pinch Sea Salt

Few twists fresh ground Pepper

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until you have a smooth sauce.

Placed in an airtight, non-reactive container and refrigerated, it’ll last a week; frozen, it’s good for 90 days, easy.

 

Urban’s Chimichurri

1/2 Bunch Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley

1/4 Bunch Cilantro

6 cloves Garlic

1 Hatch Chile, (Anaheim Pepper will work too)

3⁄4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1⁄4 Cup Champagne Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Sweet Onion

1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice

1 teaspoon Smoked Paprika

1 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

1 teaspoon Turkish Oregano

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper

Pinch Sea Salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until you have a smooth sauce.

Placed in an airtight, non-reactive container and refrigerated, it’ll last a week; frozen, it’s good for 90 days, easy.

 

Red Chimichurri

1/2 Bunch Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley

2 small ripe Tomatoes

6 cloves Garlic

1 sweet red Pepper

3⁄4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1⁄4 Cup Red Wine Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Sweet Onion

1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice

1 teaspoon Turkish Oregano

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper

Pinch Sea Salt

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until you have a smooth sauce.

Placed in an airtight, non-reactive container and refrigerated, it’ll last a week; frozen, it’s good for 90 days, easy.

 

Tomatillo Chimichurri

1/2 Bunch Flat Leaf (Italian) Parsley

4 ripe Tomatillos

1 small ripe Tomato

6 cloves Garlic

1-2 Jalapeño Chiles

3⁄4 Cup Avocado Oil

1⁄4 Cup Cider Vinegar

2 Tablespoons Sweet Onion

1 Tablespoon fresh Lemon Juice

1 teaspoon Mexican Oregano

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground Pepper

Pinch Sea Salt

Roast tomatillos, tomatoes, and chiles under a broiler until skins are blistered.

Remove from heat and cool until they’re workable.

Remove skins, stems and seeds

Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until you have a smooth sauce.

Placed in an airtight, non-reactive container and refrigerated, it’ll last a week; frozen, it’s good for 90 days, easy.

Lamb Merguez & House Made Harissa – North African Specialties

My friend David Berkowitz is a true renaissance guy; on any given day, he might be mixing sound at Wolf Trap, or building guitars of truly sublime beauty and power; often enough, he follows that up with some very inspired cooking. I’ve seen great dishes with influences from French, through Middle Eastern and North African come from his talented hands. The former launched this question the other day.

“Do you have a good recipe for lamb merguez? The ones I’ve found around here are mostly beef and then end up having kind of a gritty texture. Not sure why that is.”

As always, big thanks for asking; first, let’s look at that grainy issue. Merguez is highly spiced, and on top of that, if those makers close to Dave are using mostly beef, I can see a few potential issues. My first suspect would be not processing at cold enough temperatures – With as much dry spice as merguez boasts, you need to make sure that everything is really cold – Meat semi-frozen, spices fully chilled, and all vessels frozen throughout production. If those steps aren’t taken, then I’d think the chance of ingredients separating is quite high, and that’s the number one reason sausage will get grainy. Secondly, beef is quite marbled compared to lamb, or at least the most common sausage making cuts are, so potentially one could have a meat/fat ratio issue there. And finally, for a relatively heavily spiced sausage like this, you pretty much gotta add a bit of liquid after grinding and work that into the mix before stuffing.

Merguez is a French derivation of the Berber word for sausage, mirqaz. This is a fresh sausage, bright red before cooking, made from mutton or lamb, and heavily laced with North African spices – chiles, garlic, fennel, and cumin are dominant notes. The characteristic red color comes from paprika and harissa, a Tunisian chile paste. While some recipes just add chile flake or powder, as far as I’m concerned it’s not the real deal unless it includes harissa, and that too should be home made. We make ours with roasted red Hatch and Serrano chiles, and it’s got all the heat you need – Knowing David as I do, I’ll bet his version will have Habaneros in it, if not ghost chiles – He’s that kinda chile head…

Traditionally, Merguez is stuffed in lamb casing, and you can get those online from Butcher & Packer, Amazon, etc, but frankly, there’s nothing wrong with using beef or even synthetic if that’s what you like. Served with a nice couscous and a cucumber salad with yoghurt sauce, you’ve got a truly fabulous meal.

First off, here’s the harissa; refrigerated, it’ll last a couple weeks in an airtight container. It’s great with all kinds of meats, veggies, and even eggs.

Harissa - Tunisian Chile Paste

Urb’s Harissa

5 red Hatch New Mexican Chiles

5-7 fresh Serrano Chiles

3 cloves Garlic

2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil

1 teaspoon Coriander

1 teaspoon Caraway Seed

1/2 teaspoon Cumin

1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt

 

Set oven to broil and a rack on the highest setting.

Place whole chiles on a dry sheet pan and roast, turning steadily, until skins are blackened uniformly.

Pull chiles from oven and set aside to cool.

Combine coriander, caraway, and cumin in a spice grinder and pulse until uniformly blended and powdered.

Remove skins and stems from cooled chiles. If you’re a heat weenie, use gloves when processing them, and you might want to remove some or all of the seeds, (but you should feel shame for doing that, because this stuff is meant to pack a punch.)

Smash garlic, peel, and remove nibs from both ends.

Load all ingredients but the salt in a blender or processor and pulse to a uniform paste.

Add half the salt, pulse again and taste; adjust salt as needed.

Store refrigerated, in an airtight, glass container.

 

And here’s the sausage. If you have access to local grass fed lamb, that’s what you want; the benefits of that far outweigh commercially packed stuff. Whatever you get, make sure it’s as fresh as can be. Lamb gets a bad rep for being funky, but to be honest, that has far more to do with how the animal is raised and fed than it does the meat itself. Lamb fat is more piquant than beef, but the beauty of lamb is that the fat isn’t marbled into the meat nearly as much, so when you trim, you can remove exactly as much of the fat as you like, and end up with beautiful, lean meat to work with. Lamb fat is traditional for Merguez; you can add some pork or beef as well, if you like. I use 50% – 50% lamb and pork fat; that balance makes a sausage that many folks really enjoy.

NOTE: I use a Kitchenaid grinder and stuffer attachment, so I’ve got a stand mixer basically set up when I build this sausage. If you have a dedicated grinder, prep your stand mixer with a paddle blade attached before you start.

 

Real Deal Merguez Sausage, (Makes 4 pounds of pre-cooked sausage)

3 Pounds Lamb Shoulder

1 Pound Lamb, Pork, or Beef Fat

1/2 Cup Harissa

1/4 – 1/2 Cup Ice Water

6 cloves Garlic (pick uniformed sized ones)

2 Tablespoons hot, sweet Paprika

2 Tablespoons Sea Salt

2 teaspoons Fennel Seed

2 teaspoons Cumin

2 teaspoons Coriander

1-2 teaspoons Sumac

Natural Casings, 28mm to 32mm

NOTE: Sumac has a tart, citrusy flavor that is potent and complex. Try a dab on your fingertip and decide how much you like it, then add either 1 or 2 teaspoons.

 

Have all spices and Harissa refrigerated and thoroughly chilled.

Meat needs to be semi-frozen prior to production; I usually trim and size it, then lay it on a small sheet pan and put that in the freezer. All bowls need to be frozen as well.

Trim all gristle and connective tissue from lamb and fat.

Trim meat to size so that it’ll feed smoothly through your grinder.

Set grinder up with a coarse plate for your first run.

Casings should be thoroughly rinsed, inside and out, then soaked in warm water for 30 minutes prior to stuffing.

In a heavy skillet over medium heat, add fennel, cumin, and coriander; toast spices, (staying right with it, ’cause they can burn really quickly), mixing with a fork for 1 – 2 minutes until their fragrance tells you they’re done. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.

Smash, peel, trim ends from garlic, then mince and set aside.

Transfer cooled spices to a grinder and process to a uniform powder.

Transfer ground spice to a small mixing bowl, add sumac, paprika, and sea salt, blend thoroughly, and set aside.

Set one of your chilled bowls up inside a slightly larger bowl with plenty of ice in it – snug your receiving bowl down into the larger so it’s well iced.

Run fat and meat through your grinder.

Add spice blend, harissa, and garlic to ground meat and combine thoroughly by hand. Return grind to freezer.

Set your grinder up for a second run with a fine plate, with the same iced set up for your receiving bowl.

Set a small sauté pan over medium high heat.

Transfer bowl with sausage grind to your stand mixer with a paddle blade attached. Add half the ice cold water and process at fairly low speed, (2 or 3), until you’ve fully incorporated the water, about 1 minute. Sausage should be moist and slightly sticky; if it’s not quite right, continue mixing and add more water, a tablespoon at a time, until you get there.

Hand form a small patty of the sausage, (about 3″ around and 1/4″ thick), and return the rest to the fridge. Cook the patty through, 1 – 2 minutes per side. Taste and adjust seasoning as desired. If you add more seasoning, blend with the paddle on the mixer. You can add another teaspoon or so of water, if needed.

Set up your grinder for stuffing; fill about 3/4 full and twist into 6″ links. Coil and refrigerate for at least 4 hours prior to cooking.

Merguez - Spicy North African Sausage
Merguez stands out with its bright red color

Merguez should be cooked over wood or charcoal. Once you’ve got nice, glowing coals and a preheated, brushed, and lightly oiled grate, grill to an internal temperature of 155° F. Allow a 5 minute rest prior to serving.

Merguez - Spicy a North African Sausage

 

 

 

Super Bowl Chicken

 

Here in the great northwest, our beloved Seahawks are, miracle of miracles, poised to play their third Super Bowl and first back-to-back appearance therein. I was born and raised in New England, so I'm kinda tied to both contestants. That said, I find Tom Brady insufferable and Belichick a troll, so…

 

GO!

SEA!

HAWKS!

 

If you've not settled on your fare for Da Big Game, consider this: If a nicely grilled chicken is a thing of beauty, then a brined, butterflied bird wins every pageant. Chicken on the grill is hugely popular for good reason, but it’s also a common victim of overcooking, which results in a stringy, dried out final product. A brined, whole chicken stays plump and juicy, even on outdoor cookers.

The process can easily be done between morning coffee and kick off. Here's how.

Purchase a local, whole, free range chicken; fresh and local beats frozen every time. Read this piece through, check your spice cabinet, and head to the seasoning section of your market for anything you don't have, including pickling or canning salt. This non-iodized version has a very fine grain and dissolves readily, even in cold water. Add to your list a local Pilsner, Chardonnay, or a sparkling cider as an accompaniment. Grab some hearts of romaine, some Champagne vinegar, a few lemons, some sharp Asiago cheese, some butter, fresh sourdough, and a head of garlic as well.

 

Start your brine with a gallon of fresh, cold water under 40° F.

Weigh and then stir in 10 ounces of salt; stir to thoroughly dissolve. Toss in,

Juice and zest from 1 small lemon

1 Tablespoon whole Pepper corns

1 teaspoon Sage

1 teaspoon Savory

3 Bay Leaves

 

Pull all the guts out of your chicken, then set the bird in a bowl large enough to handle it and enough brine to cover completely. Weight the bird with a plate to keep it submerged. Brine the bird in the fridge, (or outside if it's cold enough), for 2-3 hours.

Pull the chicken out and discards the brine.

Let the bird rest uncovered in the fridge for 1 hour. Prepare this citrus powered wet rub while your chicken is resting, so the flavors have time to marry.

 

1 Tablespoon black Pepper

1 teaspoon Smoked Sweet Paprika

1/2 teaspoon granulated Garlic

1/2 teaspoon granulated Onion

1 Tablespoon extra virgin Olive Oil

Juice and zest of 1 small Lemon

Juice and zest of 1 small Lime

 

Making a chicken relatively flat is easy as all get out, and if, like Monica, (Sorry, Babe), you have a love-hate relationship with sharp knives, it’s a perfect process for you. A pair of decent kitchen shears is all you need, and here's how you do it.

 

flip your bird over so it’s breast side down.

Take your shears and line them up just to the right or left of the spine, and cut a straight line all the way through from one end to the other. Repeat on the other side of the spine.

That’s all the cutting you’ve got to do. Grab the spine and pull it free of the bird.

Now, turn the bird Breast side up, arrange it evenly, then give it a firm squish with your palms, as if you're giving it CPR. With a firm push or two, you’ll end up with a beautifully butterflied bird, ready to rub and cook. Tuck the wings in against the body, so they'll cook evenly.

Apply the rub liberally and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.

 

Preheat your grill.

 

While that's working, cut your romaine hearts in half, shave a generous pile of Asiago, quarter your lemons, and prepare this simple vinaigrette.

1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 Tablespoons Champagne Vinegar

Juice and zest of 1 small lemon

Pinch of Sage, rubbed fine

Pinch of Sea Salt

A few twists of fresh ground black Pepper

Combine all ingredients and whisk briskly. Allow the dressing to sit so the flavors can marry while you cook.

 

Cut slices of sourdough roughly 1/2″ thick, then cut those into cubes. Mince a couple cloves of garlic. Melt 4 ounces of butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Toss in the cubed sourdough and sauté until they start to brown. Add the garlic and continue to sauté until croutons are golden brown, taking care not to burn the garlic. Remove croutons to a clean paper towel and set aside.

 

Start the bird breast side down and grill for 15 minutes. This allows some of the fat to render and the skin to crisp up nicely. Using tongs, carefully flip the whole thing once, and grill for about 20 minutes more.

Check the internal temperature with a quick read thermometer, looking for 155° F.

Remove the bird from the fire and allow a 10 minute rest. The bird will continue to cook during the rest, ending up with an internal temp right around 165° F.

 

Lightly brush each half romaine heart with Olive oil, then squeeze a lemon quarter or two over them as well. Lightly season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper.

Set hearts sliced side down on a moderately hot grill and tend carefully for 1 minute. Flip and grill for another minute. You're not looking to cook the lettuce so much as you're adding a bit of grilled flavor and smoke, heating the oil and citrus somewhat while keeping the insides relatively cool.

Remove hearts from grill and arrange on a platter. Drizzle with the vinaigrette, and toss on some Asiago shavings. Arrange remaining lemon halves around hearts.

 

Portion chicken into breasts, wings, drums, and backs and serve with the salad, croutons and the beverage of your choice.

 

GO HAWKS!