Chimi-Love

by Matt on August 21, 2007

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Would you like to see me whimper and wince? Then ask me to join you on
official Gourmet Magazine business in July but instruct me to keep it
under wraps until the September issue hits the stands. Luckily I’m
actually very good with discretion and secrets. But it gets hard when
you discover something in the process that you instantly fall in love
with and can’t disclose it. Until now, that is.

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Gourmet_coverBlessed by a temporary afternoon reprieve from the hot humid weather, I
spent a Saturday afternoon running around with my friend Marisa while
in New York City last month. As Chief Research Editor for Gourmet
Magazine she asked if I’d join her as she fact-checked a few locations
for an upcoming story. Being the professional editor that she is I was
only allowed to know we were checking addresses, tasting some food and
nothing more. However, after stopping by a few taco trucks a developing
sense of the subject matter became quite obvious. And now that the
September issue is out and I’ve read Robb Walsh’s feature on taco
trucks and a story on Dominican food from Junot Diaz I know exactly
what we were doing.

While I’ve only recently been introduced to Dominican food, tacos are in my
DNA. Combine one of my favorite foods with convenience and portability
and you’ve created a perfect experience. That’s why I love taco trucks;
it’s a culinary experience set in an environment that strips away any
sense of pretense or romance. Focus on the tacos and the sights and
sounds of everyday life become the setting. It’s an act I appreciate
yet one I clearly don’t take advantage of enough. It seems that here in
Los Angeles we’re always in our cars, zipping from point A to point B.
I simply must break this sad pattern and hit those trucks! Thank you
Mr. Walsh, as always.

Tacohorchata

But back to New York. We stopped at Tacos Express at 145th and Broadway
for tacos al pastor, washed down by a tepid horchata as we sat on steps
and shared some decent Mexican food. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m a
big boy and can easily pound down a few tacos; it took great strength
to sample and not gorge myself that afternoon.

After checking intersections of a few places in Washington Heights
(taco trucks don’t have street addresses but apparently some have web
sites!) we made our way to the Bronx. The last on the list to check was
a Chimichurri truck on the corner of Msgr Francis J Kett and W 204th
Street. A Chimichurri Truck? Truck? It was a phrase that instantly
aroused and confused me. Having spent time in Argentina I thought I
knew chimichurri, the flavorful mixture of olive oil, garlic and herbs
that is a condiment for grilled meats. What I was about to discover was
something just as brilliant and delicious, something that left me
begging for more.

The Dominican Chimichurri.

We all have those food moments, don’t we? Those ever-important moments
of culinary discovery. Ok, perhaps you’re a chef or super well-traveled
and know all there is to know, but this boy is still finding so many
things out there that continually amaze me. And when we make those
discoveries do we curse the gods for keeping the food in question away
for so long and leaving our encounter to chance? Or do we praise them
for finally putting us together? I’m still trying to figure that out–
I’ll get back to you on that one.

So, that Chimichurri. Latin, yes, but this Dominican delight has
nothing to do with its Argentine counterpart other than sharing a name.
In the simplest of terms chimichurri is a Dominican hamburger. But a
burger of the highest, messiest order and one that left me swooning and
pining and all those other hyperbolic terms we love to use. Imagine a
soft bun, a patty, grilled tomatoes and onions, cabbage (sometimes
quickly pickled) and dollops of mayonnaise and ketchup. It’s messy,
greasy, and one of the tastiest things to pass my lips in such a long
time.

Cg

The next day, while having a Sunday afternoon beer in the East Village
with my sister, brother-in-law and friend Carolina, I let it slip that
I discovered a Chimichurri.

“What were you doing in my neighbrhood?” Carolina asked. I told her I
was under a self-imposed order of secrecy about the details but that I
could reveal my new obsession with this messy burger.

“Ah! You’ve discovered the pleasures of Chimis!” announced Carolina,
and with that she graciously took me under her wing and gave me some
background about my new favorite snack. Born in New York and raised in the Dominican Republic before returning to NYC, I met Caro through my friend Lito in San
Francisco. As we drank Hefeweizen and I asked a million questions, I
realized this was all too good to be true. I’ve discovered one of the
world’s best foods and I have my own personal culinary and cultural
attaché? Pinch me!

Carolina informed me that chimichurri trucks are common in Santo
Domingo and easily found all along El Malecon, the avenue that runs
along the ocean. She also tells me that they are easy to find in New
York, particularly in the South Bronx and Washington Heights, but we
both lamented that I may not have much luck back in Los Angeles. I told
her that I’d have to find a recipe and make it at home because this
chimi business was too good to only live in a memory. That’s when Caro
told me that she doesn’t make them at home. But then again why would
you when they’re so easy to find?

“For me, part of the charm of chimis is getting one in the street at 3
am. It’s perfect post-prandial food – greasy, tasty and a challenge to
your motor skills (to avoid the inevitable drips on your clothes),” she
said.

Dripping messy shirts? Greasy? 3 am? It’s like she was seducing me with her words!

I’ve since learned to create a pretty close stand-in of the Chimichurri
burger with a few alterations. And while it’s not the same as standing
on the street at 1am or sharing one with my friend Marisa on a train
platform in Washington Heights and sipping on a hyper-sweetened fruit
drink, it does come pretty damn close. And for that I’m thankful.

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Chimichurri_for_blog

Chimichurri: A Dominican Hamburger

adapted from Tía Clara’s site at Cocina Dominicana with gracious advice from Carolina!

It was a bit of a hunt to find recipes for this online in English,
but it’s certainly not difficult to make. Messy is key, and blending
the sauce ahead of time makes for easy assembly. This month’s Gourmet
Magazine’s recipe instructs a quick sauté of the cabbage but it will
make a huge tasty difference if you do a very quick pickle of the
cabbage in vinegar ahead of time. But it’s not necessary.


Ingredients

4 hamburger buns
2 pounds of ground beef
1/2 teaspoon of garlic, crushed
1 large onion, sliced into rings
1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 large tomatoes, sliced
2 cups shredded cabbage
1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons of oil
salt and pepper
oregano
ketchup
mayonnaise

Method

1. Mix meat, worcestershire sauce, garlic, onion cubes, bell pepper,
and add a pinch of salt, a pinch of oregano and a pinch of pepper.
Divide meat into four portions and form 4 patties. Brush a stove-top
grill with some of the oil and heat. Grill the patties, rotating until
they are well done.

2. Briefly grill tomatoes and onion rings. Turn down the heat at its
minimun and briefly cook the cabbage. Reapply some oil to the grill and
warm up the bread.

3. Assemble the hamburger and garnish with ketchup and mayonnaise.