Made during the horrid, self-reflective, and, frequently, gassy hours aboard a trans-Atlantic flight this past weekend, our New Year’s resolutions swore us to no less than three weeks of Spartan, monkish grazing on whole grains, green vegetables and lean protein in order to trim ourselves of burgeoning, lumpy mid-sections brought on by the combined Holiday calories of three Thanksgiving dinners, two Christmas roasts and a New Year’s trip to France.
However, we have since surprised, or dismayed, even ourselves with the deplorable level of willpower demonstrated in abandoning our resolutions after just three days. Only slightly less amazing is that three days of salads could drive us to such an extreme. Perhaps the only positive we can draw is that at least we’re starting 2010 with a gastronomic bang instead of whimpering abstemiousness.
The chivito is, informally, the national dish of Uruguay and legend has it that it came about when an Argentine tourist from the city of Cordoba, visited the establishment of restaurateur Antonio Carbonara in the beautiful beach resort of Punta del Este, and asked for a sandwich of roasted young goat meat (a specialty of her native province), known as chivito*. Having no goat, Senor Carbonara proceeded to prepare a steak sandwich for his Argentine guest, topping it with just about everything he had to hand in his kitchen. The resulting sandwich was such a great success that it became a permanent item on Carbonara’s menu, and its fame spread across the country like wildfire, becoming known in the process as the chivito.
As with nearly every “national” dish, there are a few variations on the theme, but the chivito is basically a sandwich made of a thin piece of beef, often skirt steak (churrasco) topped with melted mozzarella cheese, grilled or pan fried red pepper, bacon, ham, egg (either boiled or fried), lettuce, tomato, sliced onions, mayonnaise, sliced pickles and olives on a bread roll. The two principal variants on this theme are the Chivito Canadiense (Canadian chivito) which substitutes Canadian-style bacon for the crispier kind, and the chivito al plato, a deliciously messy platter of all the typical ingredients served without a bun on a plate and often with fries, or, maybe even more commonly, with ensalada rusa (Russian salad – potatoes, mayonnaise, carrots, peas, tuna, onion, parsley, and, occasionally, boiled egg and sliced beets). Note: Chivitos may also substitute chicken or veal escallopes for the steak.
On our final night in Montevideo last spring, instead of our usual giant steak dinner at one of that city’s wonderful parrillas, we tasted our first chivito at a small sidewalk cafe in the quiet neighborhood of Pocitos. Until that moment, we had been led to believe that the United States was the home of the world’s most ambitious and artery-busting sandwiches — indeed, it is home to most of them — but we now know that the Uruguayans, in their charmingly understated and apparently ego-less manner, have created something which can challenge for that title.
Whether you choose to make yourself a chivito now or later, as a reward for an extended period of fasting, is entirely up to you, but since last night’s regimenal aberration we have remade our vows to gastronomic penitence. How long we keep them this time is, as yet, unknown, but the mere sight of a chivito tends to focus your mind on, ahem, one’s weighty personal issues.
*The word chivito refers, specifically, to a young goat that has been weaned and fed on solid food. It, therefore, differs from the cabrito, or baby goat – an unweaned animal – by being some months older.
- 1/2 lb skirt, shell or shoulder steak
- 4oz mozzarella cheese, sliced
- 1/2 red pepper, sliced into wide pieces
- 2 eggs
- 2 bread rolls, Kaiser or Portuguese type work well (large floury baps for UK readers)
- 4 rashers smoked bacon
- 4 slices cooked ham
- 1/2 large tomato, sliced
- 1/2 large tomato, diced
- 1/4 yellow/Spanish onion, sliced into half-moons
- 1/4 yellow/Spanish onion, diced
- 2 or 3 large leaves iceberg lettuce
- 5oz mayonnaise
- 1/2 can tuna in oil
- 2 large floury potatoes, peeled and quartered
- 2 small or 1 large carrot, quartered
- 4oz frozen peas (petit pois)
- 2oz scallions/spring onions, finely chopped
- 2oz Italian/flat-leaf parsely, finely chopped
- 1 pickled cucumber, sliced into strips
- salt and black peppper
- Boil potatoes for the salad for 6-10 minutes (depending on size of pieces) until they’ll slide off a knife pushed into them.
- Remove from water and set aside to cool.
- In the same water, boil carrots (also for the salad) for 4 minutes or so, until tender but retaining a little crunch.
- Drain and set aside to cool.
- In a large frying or saute pan, cook bacon until crispy.
- Remove to a paper-toweled plate.
- Pour off some of the bacon grease, leaving just enough to coat the pan, and add steaks.(Make sure to season meat before cooking.)
- Cut open rolls / cut rolls in half horizontally.
- Turn after 1 minute and place mozzarella slices on cooked side.
- Cover pan for a further minute, to allow cheese to melt, before removing steaks to a plate.
- Add an extra splash of bacon fat, if necessary, before quickly frying the red pepper just enough to soften it. No more than 2 minutes in total.
- Remove peppers and, again, if necessary, add a touch of extra fat to the pan.
- Fry your eggs on one side just long enough to coagulate the white, leaving the yolk gloriously gooey.
- Now, following the pictorial above, begin to assemble sandwich with cheesy-steak at the bottom, then pile the other ingredients on in the following order: red peppers, ham, fried egg, bacon, tomato, pickles, sliced (half-moon) onions and lettuce.
- Dress with mayonnaise (or golf sauce) and olives before topping with bun.
- Returning to your now-cooled potatoes and carrots for the ensalada rusa. Dice potatoes into 1/2 inch chunks, and carrots into 1/8 inch pieces and place in a large bowl.
- Combine the diced onion, scallions, parsley, tuna, peas, diced tomato and 4oz of mayonnaise in this bowl.
- Stir well and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add a glug of olive oil if it feels too thick.
- Your ensalada rusa is ready.
- Now, slice your chivito carefully and enjoy it with the salad in all its messy glory with plenty of napkins and cold beer.