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What is Chimichurri?

By S. N. Smith
Updated May 16, 2024
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Chimichurri is an herb condiment sauce that is considered a culinary specialty of Argentina. Typically served with grilled or roasted beef, it is made from parsley, oregano, garlic, onion, salt, and pepper in a liquid base of olive oil and vinegar.

Reflecting the Italian influence that is evident in cuisine and culture to a greater or lesser degree depending on where you are in Argentina, chimichurri is somewhat analogous to the green pesto sauce of northern Italy. Chopped fresh herbs — parsley and oregano in the case of chimichurri, and basil and Italian parsley in pesto — are combined with garlic and seasonings and added to an olive oil base.

The exact origins of the name “chimichurri” have been lost to time, but stories abound to suggest how the sauce got its name. Oddly enough, these stories differ in detail but not too much in kind. One version has at its center an Irishman named Jimmy McCurry, who was traveling with native troops in Argentina’s nineteenth-century struggle for independence. Jimmy McCurry is said to have been the creator of the sauce, but his name, being a tongue twister for the locals, morphed into “chimichurri.”

Other stories feature Jimmy Curry, an English importer of Argentine beef, or James C. Hurray, a Scotsman on the hoof with some gauchos. In both of these cases as well, the local tongue managed to turn j’s to ch’s, and the new name stuck.

Although it is typically served with beef, chimichurri can be eaten with pretty much any variety of grilled or roasted meat, poultry, and even fish. It is available prepared in jars and as a powder that is reconstituted wth oil and water or vinegar. Although these can be convenient options, making chimichurri from scratch is easy and the payoff is big — commercially processed sauces cannot compared to the taste of fresh herbs.

To make your own chimichurri, you’ll need 1 bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley; 4 cloves of garlic, minced (you can use more or less, to taste); 1 to 2 tablespoons of chopped fresh oregano (or 1 to 2 teaspoons of dried oregano if you can’t get fresh); 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper; 1 tablespoon paprika; 1 bay leaf; 1 teaspoon coarse salt; 1/4 cup (60 ml) red wine vinegar; 2 tablespoons (30 ml) water; and 1/2 cup (120 ml) olive oil.

Wash the parsley under cold running water until all grit is removed; spin dry or pat dry with paper towels. Chop parsley leaves, discarding stems, and place in a medium nonreactive bowl. To parsley in bowl, add minced garlic, oregano, pepper, paprika, and bay leaf; toss to mix. In a small bowl, whisk together salt, vinegar, and water until salt is partially dissolved. Pour vinegar mixture over parsley; toss to combine. Pour olive oil over parsley mixture; stir to distribute all ingredients evenly. Transfer this mixture to a nonreactive container with a lid. The herbs should be covered by the liquid; if not, add additional olive oil, vinegar, and water in equal measure to cover. Seal tightly and refrigerate until ready to use, at least 1/2 hour.

For best results, make your chimichurri a day or two before you plan to use it. This will allow the flavors to blend. Before serving, allow chimichurri to come to room temperature, and remove and discard bay leaf. Serve alongside grilled or roasted beef, chicken, pork, or fish, or use as a marinade before grilling any of these.

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