FOOD: Backyard Bluegrass Asado

FOOD: Backyard Bluegrass Asado

Chef Tom’s Food and Cooking Column appears on page 13 of the Ace Weekly print edition. Text and Photos by Chef Tom.


My first foray into cooking for large off-site events started with a tango. Taylor Made Horse Farm hosted a benefit production of Luis Bravo’s Tony-nominated “Forever Tango” that featured the iconic partner dance.  With proceeds benefiting the Race for Education and Operation Read, the evening featured a two-hour production at The Lexington Opera House that showcased  the sexy Argentine dance.

For a hefty price, guests could purchase tickets to premier seating and admission to a cocktail reception prior to the show. During the planning and prepping for 300-plus tango revelers, I immersed myself in Argentine cuisine.

The reception was insane. I was knee-deep in the weeds with no way out. The cast, crew, and producers arrived midway through the event to mingle with the guests. While I hoped they’d appreciate the authentic array of exotic fruits, bowls of lime-spiked ceviche, fried plantains, salsas, and stacks of beef empanadas overflowing from large wooden street carts, they seemed to be most smitten with a small bowl of chimichurri sauce nestled next to a huge slab of beef on a carving station. It must have stirred emotions.

No Argentine asado (barbecue) would be complete without chimichurri sauce. Although the piquant garlicky herb-infused olive oil and vinegar concoction is traditionally served with charred beef, offal, and sausages, it’s also great served alongside grilled fish, chicken, or pork. Variations abound, but the classic ingredients for chimichurri are fresh minced parsley, chopped fresh oregano, tons of minced garlic, dried red chile flakes, salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar. There are emulsified variations that create a smooth puree, but the character of the sauce is better  when it’s left in a loosey-goosey separated state.  Although it’s called a sauce, chimichurri is actually more like an herb-laden vinaigrette jacked up on steroids. Used both as a marinade and a condiment, it’s bright, biting, velvety, and fabulous.

Inspired by the warm weather and  abundance of herbs available at the farmers’ market, I fired up the grill for a backyard Bluegrass asado.

Chimichurri Sauce
I tossed 1 cup chopped parsley into a food processor along with 1/2 cup fresh oregano leaves, 5 minced garlic cloves, and 6 tablespoons of white wine vinegar.  After a few pulses, I scraped the vinegary herbs and garlic into a bowl before adding 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil, salt, cracked black pepper, and 4 thinly sliced Elmwood Stock Farm semi-dried red jalapeno peppers.

With the sauce on deck, I rubbed a gorgeous Stone Cross Farm pork tenderloin with salt, pepper, brown sugar, cayenne pepper, and smoked paprika.  After brushing the tenderloin with chimichurri sauce, I slapped it onto a hot grill and let it rip until the internal temperature reached 145 degrees. When the meat was cooked through, I slathered a large wooden cutting board with the chimichurri sauce, placed the sizzling meat on top of the sauce, and tented it to rest for 10 minutes.

I sliced the tenderloin into medallions before scattering grilled Cleary Hill Farm yellow squash and roasted baby purple sweet potatoes around the board.

I expected the chimichurri sauce to pack a bracing garlic hit, but the fruity olive oil and vinegar softened the bite. While flecks of chile added subtle heat, the vinegar and fresh herbs packed a vibrant grassy punch that cut through the richness of the spice-rubbed pork.

Rustic and simple, we reveled in our asado from the shared chimichurri-stained cutting board.

Urban gauchos.

It takes two to tango.

This article also appears on page 13 of the June 13, 2013 print edition of Ace. Click to subscribe to the Ace e-dition (delivered to your inbox every Thursday), and read more of Chef Tom’s Ace food columns.