A Brief History of Chimichurri & How We Maintain Tradition
Say it: Chimichurri. Chimichurri. Chimichurri.
One of the greatest pleasures I’ve had from the start of my cooking lifestyle was hearing people say Chimichurri. It’s fun hearing native Spanish speakers from Latin America say it, but the good humor lies when a non-native Spanish speaker says Chimichurri. Although the pronunciation isn’t always on-point, it’s the joy I see in the person’s face that captivates me.
It’s like they’re saying “Mama” for the first time, and I get to be a part of that.
But besides you learning a funny word to say, I want to take this opportunity to discuss the word’s origins and the conception of one of the most flavorful sauces in the culinary world.
Please note that the exact details of the origin aren’t definite, but this is what I’ve gathered since first slapping the delicious sauce on my meats as a young boy.
Let’s begin with the origin of the name. We can trace the genesis back to the Basque region, where Spain and France meet. During the 19th century, a big influx of French, Spanish, Italian, English, and even Basque people migrated to Argentina. Bringing with them wonderful cultures, adding to the growing diversity of the country. Migrants moved throughout Latin America, but most Europeans remained in Argentina. Giving Argentina the title of the Europe of South America, which today I disagree with but that’s neither here nor there.
In the Basque language, there is a word that translates to “a mixture of several ingredients” and it’s spelled Tximitxurri.
Already, one can see the resemblance. After speaking with two Basque friends from Bilbao and San Sebastian, I determined that the Spanish term, Chimichurri, must stem from the Basque word, Tximitxurri. And other than the visual resemblance, Chimichurri is most definitely a mixture of several things.
A funnier story that more people are familiar with is of an immigrant Irish man that lived in Patagonia. His name, Jimmy McCurry. McCurry was said to have settled in Patagonia and worked with many Gauchos, Argentine Cowboys, and helped them herd the livestock.
The romantic story we tell is that he helped fight for Argentine independence, but it makes more sense that he just worked in the meat trade.
Whenever the Gauchos would grill meats on open flames, they would marinate the meats to keep them fresh and dress the cooked food to add flavor. McCurry was said to have consistently asked for the sauce they made. Argentines, having a funny and exotic English pronunciation, would eventually call the sauce-Chimichurri.
Just say his name fast with a Spanish accent and you’ll understand why this story could make sense.
Another idea of how it was brought to conception was when the British failed in their invasion of Rio de la Plata in 1806. The prisoners would request condiments to flavor their bad food.
Where this sauce was mainly used is no debate.
It originates from Argentina's Patagonia. The ingredients within Chimichurri are common ingredients found in the Mediterranean region. Olive oil, red wine vinegar, dark flavorful herbs and spices, and powerful garlic. Going back to the immigration influx of Europeans to Argentina, we can note that many worked in the Patagonia region. Considered to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet, Patagonia is famously known for its gorgeous environment and a landscape that can only be understood when visited. If there is a place where people want to be in-tune with nature, Patagonia is one of them. The Gauchos would roam all over the land, herding cattle, grilling the tastiest meats and settling in very remote areas of Patagonia.
As they killed the cows, they needed a multi-purpose sauce to preserve/marinade and compliment meats. A simple concoction of herbs, spices, and a few liquids would provide them with the means to save and eat the meat.
I would like to add here an important note on why our AXEL Traditional Chimichurri is the authentic recipe for Chimichurri. Gauchos were not farmers, gardeners, or chefs. They were cowboys. They embraced efficiency and technique. They didn’t have time to plant bundles of fresh herbs and spices, let alone deal with any spoilage. They needed to be able to dry, pack, and efficiently use materials. Thus, the traditional recipe called for dry herbs and a heavy dose of vinegar to preserve it all.
Francis Mallmann, arguably the most important Argentine chef and one of the best grilling chefs, lays it out for us in his books: Tierra De Fuegos and Seven Fires. He subtly admits that although he uses fresh herbs when making his Chimichurri, the traditional Gaucho-way calls for dry herbs.
Today most recipes call on fresh herbs, fruit, citrus, and almost no vinegar. Now you know that is completely contrary to the Gauchos’ way.
I’m not saying everyone is doing it wrong, I’m saying that our AXEL Traditional Chimichurri is the authentic translation of how Chimichurri is traditionally made.
And of course, other than being number one in our category, ours taste the best.
Over the years, I was appointed the responsibility of making the Chimichurri for family gatherings, parties, events, and gifts. My father first taught me his recipe, and then came uncles, grandmothers, family friends, cousins, 2nd uncles and cousins, chefs, cooks, foodies, etc. I researched more about the origins and compiled a list of what made sense and what was just funny nonsense.
After creating a brief idea of how it came to be and its origins, I think food historians would agree with my theory.
Many of our Chimichurri competitors today do two things we completely avoid. 1) Rapidly and carelessly manufacturer their Chimichurri, and 2) Unnecessarily cook it to extend the shelf life and ultimately burn the essentials of what makes Chimichurri, well, Chimichurri. Two stupid steps chefs avoid in any kitchen.
They use machinery, like pistons, to squirt the sauce into the jars. For this to happen, they have to add chemicals like Xanthan Gum, which causes the substance to become viscous. Before this, they cook Chimichurri in a big 200-gallons tub to kill all sorts of bacteria, good and bad, so they can meet certain FDA rules to extend shelf life and store for a way to long. This is contrary to the ideology of Chimichurri-an UNCOOKED sauce that can quickly be made by adding a mixture of several ingredients. That’s why at AXEL Provisions we hand-fill every single jar, just like I would make it when I was 10 years old.
I want to iterate here that we care about quality and safety, and our production team holds the highest quality and safety standards.
By cutting corners these competitors lose sight of authenticity that you and every other foodie is looking for.
Luckily for all of us, our line of Chimichurris will remain as the first authentic Chimichurri recipe because of our obsessive passion for food.
And if there is any certainty in Chimichurri, it’s two things 1) a vital-aid for any chef grilling and 2) it always seems to result in smiles.
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