Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Savor Steaks South America Style

La Cabrera parilla in Palermo Hollywood section of BA.
 I’ve got Argentina on the mind this week. My daughter Katie just began a four month stay in Buenos Aires for a university program focused on Spanish and international business. Hopefully she’ll return fluent in the language and learn lots about a culture famous for tango and fabulous steaks. At 20 she’s old enough to legally enjoy Argentina’s signature red wine, Malbec, too. (At least while she’s living there!)

Another reminder of Argentine cuisine arrived in a newsletter from dietitian colleagues who are members of the Food and Culinary Practice Group of the American Dietetic Association. Paula Tsufis wrote about the groups’ trip to sample South American food customs such as ‘asado’, Argentina’s traditional barbecue of meats and empanadas as she described, “Turnovers filled with a mixture of ground meat cooked with onions, olives and raisins.”

Steaks are meant for sharing; condiments are inspiring.
La Cabrera parilla in BA. 

Argentines eat 160 pounds of beef per capita, and their tender, deeply flavored grass-fed beef (typically charred on an open fire called a parilla) is considered among the best in the world. During a visit to Buenos Aires a couple of years ago, I really liked that steaks were sliced to share and served with lots of different savory condiments such as pickled onions and chimichurri sauces made with olive oil, vinegar, finely chopped parsley, onion, garlic and herbs. When you add that kind of punch to the parilla plate you don’t need a Texas-sized steak hanging off the plate, as you see in a lot of U.S. steak houses. In Argentina the expertly seasoned and grilled cuts of beef, lamb or pork may be center stage, but interesting salads, such as hearts of palm with tomato, onion and green olives grace the tables, too. In Argentina the dining style is more European, with smaller portions, and the pace is slow and easy. The feel and flavors of Argentina, as well as other Latin cuisines, are a specialty at Pura Vida Tapas & Bar in the Poncey-Highlands neighborhood. Puerto Rican born chef Hector Santiago’s menu celebrates the cuisines of South and Central America. He grills hangar steak “parilla” style on a charcoal grill and serves with an Argentine inspired house made chimichurri sauce.

Steak Places Can Be Healthy

Believe it or not, steak restaurants in the U.S. can be among the easiest places to find a healthy meal. You get to pick the size of your steak so portion control is built into the menu options. There are usually delicious salads to choose from and most side dishes are served a la carte so you can order steamed broccoli without the cheese sauce. Just don’t count that huge stack of onion rings as a vegetable serving.

While heavily marbled steaks have been prized in the past, there’s a move at modern steak houses to serve leaner cuts of beef such as tenderloin and sirloin and to prepare them with health conscious steak lovers in mind. Executive chef Ian Winslade of Murphy’s Restaurant has added a grilled strip steak to the menu served with a tangy sesame mustard sauce and sliced Portobello mushrooms. Owner Tom Murphy notes that since many customers eat at the Virginia Highlands restaurant multiple times a week - for lunch and dinner - there’s an emphasis on taste and health. Strip steaks are among the 29 cuts of beef considered “lean” which by the official USDA definition which is: less than 10g total fat and less than 95mg cholesterol per 3.5 oz. serving. Another nutrition note: lean beef provides needed nutrients such as iron, zinc, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, riboflavin and of course protein. Even The Capital Grille in Buckhead, known for big steaks, big martinis and big red wines is lightening up for summer. Lunch guests can mix-and-match three choices from nine small plate offerings including mini-beef tenderloin sandwiches.

Choose Steak Accessories Wisely

Hearts of palm and tomato salad at parilla in BA.

Saddle Up:

Sliced tomatoes-add a sprinkle of salt and grind or two from the pepper mill

Coleslaw- ask for your cabbage lightly tossed with the slaw dressing.

Baked potato-whether white or sweet, a half is usually the right size portion since steak places buy huge spuds.

Steamed Vegetables- a squeeze of fresh lemon is all you need.

Sautéed Spinach and mushrooms – ask the kitchen to go light on the butter or oil

Steak sauce- no fat, 15 calories per tablespoon.

Chimichurri sauce- olive oil based, 50 calories per tablespoon.

"Steer" Clear:

Mashed potatoes- some recipes are so high in fat they’re more like potato ice cream!

Potato au gratin – any food followed by “au gratin” means it’s loaded with cheese.

Creamed Spinach- rich tasting for a reason; heavy cream and butter often involved.

Onion rings-deep fat fried and the size of CD case. Share an order per table.

Béarnaise / Hollandaise- cream and butter based, 70 calories per tablespoon.

Selection of wines at Buenos Aires Airport is Excellente! 

Argentina here I come! I'll be back in October 2011! 


Alison @ Ingredients, Inc. said...

great post! I love a great steak place and so do my kids. I am a huge Chimichurri fan as well

Carla said...

Really the food there is absolutely great. And wines too. They are mostly made in the provinces of Mendoza and Salta. They have the perfect combination for an exquisit meal. I travelled to Argentina a few years ago and wanted to go back just because of the food. I tried to reproduce the exact same steak and potatoes but had no luck. I got a Buenos Aires temporary rent that had a "parrilla" in the top floor and there I was able to cook it. When I got home, somehow I could not do it. I guess it has to do with the quality of the meat that they have there and we do not have here!