There's a lot of love for the green chimichurri out there — not least of all at El Che Steakhouse & Bar, the ever-bustling, live-fire Argentinian restaurant in Chicago's West Loop. Che's kitchen churns out at least 30 quarts per week of this herby, vinegary condiment — spooned alongside its expertly grilled steaks and swirled into ranch dressing and aioli.
But today I want to heap some affection on its lesser-known red version. Executive chef/owner John Manion created this brick-red, umami-rich condiment as a love letter of sorts to the dried herb-, oil-rich chimichurris and salsas criollos gracing the tables of churrascarias and parrilladas from Sao Paulo, Brazil to Mendoza, Argentina.
"Calling this chimichurri is generous at best," Manion says with a laugh. Sure, it sports a similar oil and vinegar base, flavored with piquant raw garlic, dried oregano and a little parsley. But its profile leans sweeter, smokier and more savory — thanks to a couple forms of pepper, sharp white onion and a certain '90s throwback ingredient that may surprise some.
"I would challenge someone to identify it when they taste it," Manion adds wryly.
Traditional chimichurri has been a part of Manion's life since he was eight years old at his first churrascaria in Sao Paulo, dragging a bite of grilled steak through this herby sauce. (His dad worked for Ford Motor Co., and the family relocated to Brazil for about five years.)
When Manion opened his first restaurant, Nuevo Latino-inspired Mas, in Chicago in 1999, he menued a very Y2K dish called churrasco atún — aka, grilled yellowfin tuna with green chimichurri and yucca fries. A bright-green melange of parsley, garlic, white vinegar, oregano and red pepper flakes, few sazones liven up meaty fish, charred beef or game birds quite like chimichurri. The sauce followed him to his second restaurant, Brazilian-inspired La Sirena Clandestina, where it accompanied a grilled hanger steak entree.
When he opened El Che in 2016, Manion knew green chimichurri would be a natural accompaniment to bone-in ribeyes and parrilladas piled high with charred morcilla sausage, sweetbreads and thin-cut short ribs; perhaps he'd sneak it into a few marinades and dressings. But a series of trips to Argentina before debuting the steakhouse inspired a new take on this go-to condiment.
"It started with the more oily kind of dried herb- and spice-forward chimichurris that I had at parrilladas down there, and then it took a big-time left turn," Manion says. Che's chefs dragged it through Spain via blitzed piquillo peppers and smoked paprika, but it still "just felt like red pepper sauce." They kicked around the umami of parmesan, soy and fish sauce before settling on that vintage delight: sun-dried tomatoes.
To be fair, Manion's not even a fan of sun-dried tomatoes. "I lived through the '80s and '90s," he deadpans — but nothing beats them for a funky-sweet, deep umami bomb.
"You see them in Argentina; there's Italians there," he says. "I'm not totally sure why it works — like a really funky tomato paste maybe — but sun-dried tomatoes made sense and tied everything together."
Slathered on grilled quail with hot honey and spooned up alongside the green on the mixed grilled meat platter, red chimichurri is giving sun-dried tomatoes their star turn once more.
Then again, like acid-washed jeans and crop tops, it was only a matter of time before they came back in style — even if we're still ashamed to call them out.
by John Manion, chef/owner of El Che Steakhouse & Bar
1⁄4 small yellow onion
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1⁄2 cup chopped roasted red pepper
1⁄2 cup sun-dried tomatoes
1 1⁄2 Tbsp Spanish pimentón
1 Tbsp dried oregano
2 Tbsp chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
1 tsp crushed red chile flakes
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1⁄2 tsp fish sauce
3⁄4 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
Grate the onion with a microplane or grater.
Place garlic, onion, red pepper, sun-dried tomatoes, pimentón, oregano, parsley and red chili flakes in a food processor, blending until coarsely combined, about 30 seconds. Pour it into a bowl, then stir in the vinegar and fish sauce.
Stir in the olive oil and let it sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature before serving.
You won't find fish sauce in the restaurant version of this condiment to minimize the presence of allergens on El Che's menu. But assuming you don't have a problem with shellfish, don't skip its salty umami punch here.
from this author
Salon Food writes about stuff we think you'll like. While our editorial team independently selected these products, Salon has affiliate partnerships, so making a purchase through our links may earn us a commission.