Sauces are often the first element of a world cuisine that operators and consumers experiment with. Sauces are relatable and versatile, and they invite diners to expand horizons without embarking entirely into unfamiliar territory. Additionally, many global sauces and condiments enjoy a healthier halo than some of the more common versions on American menus.
Chimichurri is an excellent example of a sauce borrowed from Argentinean cuisine, now used in a wide variety of both authentic and innovative dishes. Similar to pesto, chimichurri is a bright, herb-based sauce that adds both visual appeal and a hit of flavor, often acting as counterpoint to richer flavors.
At its most traditional, chimichurri is made with parsley, garlic, olive oil, white vinegar and, often, chile pepper flakes (cilantro may replace parsley in some regions). Typically seen as a garnish for steak or other beef-based dishes, authentic versions include the common green chimichurri, while red versions add tomatoes, red bell peppers or hot peppers to the mix.
While authenticity is important, it’s innovation that keeps the foodservice industry moving forward and evolving, and that innovation impacts both the sauce itself and the way chimichurri is used.
The first opportunity for customization of chimichurri is via the proportion of traditional ingredients. More emphasis on the vinegar can turn chimichurri into a vinaigrette, as in LYFE Kitchen’s Vegetable Chimichurri salad. A chimichurri with a greater proportion of vinegar and oil can be used as a flavorful marinade, as with the Chimichurri Grilled Steak at Amazón Grill in Houston. Applebee’s features it on the salad menu, adding chimichurri-glazed chicken to its Fiesta Chicken Chopped Salad. At the Paramount in Boston, chimichurri is used to marinate steak for its Chimichurri Marinated Tenderloin Steak Salad.
By contrast, the oil and vinegar can take a back seat to the chopped herbs and other fresh vegetable ingredients to create a salsa similar to that served at El Torito, a Real Mex Restaurants concept, based in Cypress, Calif. The salsa here is a rough chop of vegetables including bell peppers, parsley and onions.
In fact, adding unique elements to chimichurri is an easy way for operators to create a signature option. At CinéBistro in Miami, the churrasco steak comes with a roasted tomato chimichurri. For a Mexican twist on this Argentinean classic, Chicago’s Xoco serves a Wood-Roasted Vegetable Mollete featuring a roasted Serrano chimichurri. Pushing the boundaries of innovation is El Rocoto, a Peruvian restaurant with two locations in California, which incorporates Asian influences into its mint and ginger chimichurri. Seattle’s Joule offers a green curry-cilantro chimichurri for more of an Indian spin.
Of course, the base to which chimichurri is added can also create unique yet comfortable sauce options. These options can be as familiar as the chimichurri mayonnaise at Longhorn Steakhouse or as high end as the chimichurri crème fraîche at Mott St. in Chicago. Fresh City, headquartered in Norwood, Mass., features chimichurri aïoli on its Cordoba Turkey Sandwich.
Chefs are also using chimichurri in its original application as a flavoring for steak or other beef entrées. Examples include Havana Central Restaurant & Bar in New York, where traditional chimichurri sauce accompanies a skirt steak churrasco, and Nickel Diner’s grilled flat iron chimichurri steak in Los Angeles.
The versatility of any sauce, including chimichurri, is inevitably going to lead to applications that leverage popular item types as well as unique iterations. Sandwiches, for example, are an excellent platform for signature or lesser known sauces that can lend intrigue to the familiar. Butcher & Bee in Charleston, S.C., offers a roast beef sandwich complete with chimichurri and onion jam.
Burritos, whether designed for breakfast, lunch or dinner, also work to bring less familiar sauces closer to a consumer’s comfort zone. Oregon-based Laughing Planet Café includes chimichurri sauce as a component for its unique burrito builds.
Of course, one of the most common platforms for innovation is the hamburger. It may be safe to say a trend is not a trend until it’s been incorporated into a hamburger, and chimichurri is no exception. These burgers can be found in all segments of the industry, from Ssam Burger’s Kinoko Burger with Korean BBQ Angus beef and chimichurri sauce to Chicago Diner’s Buddha’s Karma Burger with chimichurri sauce gracing a curried sweet potato-tofu burger.
As operators continue to look for ways to create new experiences with menu classics, sauces such as chimichurri can be invaluable. Take, for instance, the Chimichurri Fries featured at Los Angeles-based Napa Valley Grille, which uses the elements of chimichurri to season its fries, or the upscale Truffle Frites at Café Dufrain in Miami, where fries are accompanied by a chimichurri aïoli. Shari’s, headquartered in Beaverton, Ore., offers wings with chimichurri. Humperdinks, with multiple locations in Texas, uses chimichurri to create its Southwestern Flatbread.
Some chefs choose to push the boundaries of fusion even further. Alder in New York features a duck breast chimichurri dashi, seamlessly fusing South American and Asian cuisines. In Cerritos, Calif., Amor Y Tacos menus the Ahi Poke Taco with chimichurri, and The Noble Pig in McMinnville, Ore., goes global with the meatball by pairing it with chimichurri.
Chimichurri offers a timely vehicle for flavor innovation. It’s eclectic without being alienating, and its fresh-ingredient profile—along with its versatility—gives it an edge in today’s modern kitchen.