Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Around the World in 80 Dishes: Uruguay

After a great meal of Camarao Mozambique and Matata, I depart from Mozambique to the location of my next challenge ... the country of Uruguay.  A relatively small country in South America that has long coastlines and only one land border, which it shares with Brazil.  The indigenous people of Uruguay (i.e., before Spain's colonization of the area) are the Charrúa people.  Although the Charrúa settled in Uruguay, the Guaraní ultimately provided the country with its name.  "Uruguay" is named after Uruguay River; however, the word "Uruguay" means "River of Painted Birds" in the Guaraní language.  

Uruguay's location has greatly influenced its cuisine.  Most notably, the country's proximity to Argentina and Brazil may very likely be the reason why Uruguayan cuisine is very beef-centric.  Brazil has also contributed other ingredients to Uruguayan cooking, such as beans, coconut, rice and manic.  In addition, the country's history as a Spanish colony has also left its mark on the dishes and cooking techniques of the Uruguayan people.  The Spanish are not the only Europeans to have influenced Uruguayan cuisine. Waves of immigrants -- from Portugal, France, Italy, England and Germany -- have contributed in various ways to the food, beer and wine that are enjoyed both in homes and restaurants.

During my research for this challenge, I narrowed down the potential main courses to two iconic Uruguayan dishes:  Steak Milanesa and Chivitos al Pan.  Steak Milanesa is akin to country fried steak ... a rather thin cut of beef, breaded and fried to a delicious golden brown.  The dish is very popular in Uruguay, as well as in Argentina.  By contrast, Chivitos al Pan is uniquely Uruguayan.  It is more than simply a steak dish.  It is an gastronomic experience ... slices of filet mignon, bacon, and ham piled on top of each other, along with lettuce, tomato, grilled onions, hard boiled egg, olive tapenade and red peppers.  All of these ingredients are held into place with a generous slathering of mayonnaise and bookended with a big roll.  This dish is so popular in Uruguay that it is sometimes referred to as the "national dish."  With such a pedigree, how could I turn down the challenge to make my own Chivitos.


So, for this challenge, I am making Chivitos al Pan, the sandwich version of the dish.  (Chivitos al plato is a more "formal" version with all of the ingredients served on a dish).  The story behind the Chivito takes on almost a legendary quality.  On day, more than fifty years ago, a woman walked into a restaurant called "El Mejillon" in Punta del Este, which is a famous summer resort.  The woman went to the owner and asked, something like "quiero comer la carne de chivito" or "I would like to eat some baby goat meat."  The owner did not have any goat meat to serve.  Instead, he prepared a sandwich with a list of ingredients that resemble the shopping list for an average family.  The owner called the dish "Chivito" or "baby goat."

The first time I heard about Chivitos was while I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations.  Tony and his brother visited Chiviteria Marcos to try what Tony called a "mind-scrambling sandwichness," and "the gift that keeps on giving."  Here is a clip from that episode:

Having watched Tony devour what can only be described as a carnivore's dream, I wanted to create my own truly Uruguayan Chivitos experience.  Rather than hop the first flight to Montevideo, I decided that I would incorporate it into my Around the World in 80 Dishes challenge.  I did a lot of research to focus on the ingredients that are critical to making a Chivito.  I scoured recipes, many of which seemed rather conservative compared to what I saw on No Reservations.  As you watch the clip, you did not see one slice of ham or one slice of cheese.  Instead, you saw slices of meats and cheeses, with toppings added.

A couple of notes about this recipe.  Filet mignon is cut in small pieces.  In order to make the beef "wide" enough for the sandwich, I suggest that you slice the beef in quarter inch slices.  Place one slice between two sheets of plastic wrap and, using a rolling pin, gently begin to "roll" the meat.  Use the rolling pin once, turn the meat 90 degrees, and use the rolling pin again.  Repeat until the slice of filet mignon is thin and even.  Then repeat this process with each of the remaining slices.  In addition, I just wanted to note that the olive tapenade can be either green or black olives, or a combination of the two.  I used a spicy tapenade made by the Louisiana Sisters, which was given to me as a gift by Clare's parents.  

Recipe adapted from Uruguayanfood.com
Serves 1

1 large sandwich bun, like a ciabatta roll
2 thin slices of filet mignon
2 slices of ham
2 slices of mozzarella cheese
3 slices of bacon
1/2 cup of sliced onions
1-2 slices of tomato
1-2 slices of lettuce
2 tablespoons of diced olives or olive tapanade
1 egg, fried or hard boiled
4 slices of red pepper
A good amount of mayonnaise

1.  Prepare the hot toppings (bacon and onions).  Fry the bacon in a pan until crisp.  Remove the bacon from the pan and add the onions and fry then onions until golden brown.  Heat the broiler.

2.  Saute the filet mignon.  In a clean pan, saute the filet mignon for about one minute and then flip.  Remove and set aside.

3.  Construct the Chivito.  Place the steal on the lower bun.  Add the ham, bacon, onions, bacon, tomato, red peppers, lettuce, cheese, tapenade and egg.  (In the alternative, you can place everything under the cheese.)  Place the sandwich under the broiler until the cheese begins melt. Once the cheese begins to melt, remove the sandwich from the broiler.  Slather the top of the bun with mayonnaise and place it on top of the sandwich. Serve immediately.

Before this challenge, my favorite sandwich was the Philly cheesesteak.  After this challenge, my favorite sandwich is the Chivito. Although a cardiologist may recommend that I only have one Chivito per year, the wait is truly worth it.

In the end, I only made the main course as part of this challenge.  I did not make an appetizer, soup, salad or even a drink.  I am fine with that because the main course included all of the food groups  and doubled down on the meat group.  Well, until next time ...


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