At one-Michelin-star Andō, Argentinian chef Agustin Balbi serves ever changing menus that encapsulate his “third culture” upbringing in Argentina and the years he spent in Japan and other places. Remarkably, the restaurant’s food stands out because it’s often inspired by specific memories, places and people.
We recently caught up with Balbi, who shared with us some tips to recreate a home-cooked Argentinian feast.
A lot of your dishes at Andō are inspired by your family and heritage. Can you tell us about a typical summer lunch in Argentina?
Summer for me was going to my aunt’s house. They have fields where cattle just have fun and run around. Every year, during school break, I’d spend time there and live close to nature and experience the proper countryside life to learn to respect life and food.
In Argentina, many of us come from a Spanish and Italian background, so lunches are all about pasta, fresh products, and, of course, the Argentinian Asado. We used to have huge barbecues all together in the outdoor area of the house. Image 40 people eating all together every single part of an animal.
If you were to cook a lunch inspired by your childhood at home, what would it be?
Asado, mate (a caffeine-rich infused drink) and Fernet-Branca with Coke, which is quintessentially Argentinian. In fact, the Italian Liqueur is consumed more in our country than in Italy, and we mix it with Coca-Cola. Asado is a cultural thing, we do it to celebrate friendship, family and life.
There’s also lots of dishes at Andō that are inspired by these traditions and specific memories. Like “Holidays with Nacho.” Nacho is my cousin, and the dish sort of tells the story of our time spent together playing in the countryside. We also cook beef on charcoal, which reminds me of the smell of asado, a very strong memory for me that we are trying to recreate for diners.
Can you share some tips and recipes with us to recreate an Argentina-inspired lunch?
The best way to experience it would be a plane ticket to Argentina (laughs). The thing is, the meat is just different there because it’s all about how the cattle are fed and raised — especially in the Pampas. However, you can grill good quality meat and eat it with Chimichurri, which is one of our most popular sauces and gives flavour to any protein. It’s a simple sauce but they tend to add too many ingredients sometimes and make it like pesto. I’ll share the authentic recipe with you as well as another traditional sauce. Other than that, just make a lot of fresh food to share with friends.
Agustin Balbi’s Chimichurri
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
- 3-4 cloves garlic, finely chopped or minced
- 2 small red chillies, or 1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (about 1 tablespoon finely chopped chilli)
- 3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 level teaspoon coarse salt
- Pepper, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon)
Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Allow to sit for 5-10 minutes to release all of the flavours into the oil before using. Ideally, let it sit for more than two hours, if time allows.
“Chimichurri can be prepared earlier than needed and refrigerated for 24 hours if needed, and it’s used to baste meats (chicken or steaks) while grilling or barbecuing. In Argentina, we don’t use it as a marinade. However, you can use it as a marinade if you wish. Also, add a couple of tablespoons over your steak to serve.”
Agustin Balbi’s Salsa Criolla
- 1 small red bell pepper finely chopped (Balbi uses both red and green)
- ½ small white onion finely chopped
- 1 small tomato chopped
- 1 clove garlic minced
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
Add the bell pepper, onion, tomato and garlic to a large bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the oil and vinegar. Pour it into the first bowl and toss to coat everything. Add the crushed red pepper, oregano and salt and pepper to your preference. Give it a good stir and serve.