What to CookSauce

A Verdant, Versatile Sauce to Jazz Up Your Dinners (No, It's Not Pesto)

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Earlier this week, I found myself back home in my parents’ kitchen, sitting at the counter, nibbling on cheese and crackers, sipping wine, watching my mother throw together dinner. After setting two cast-iron skillets over high heat, she sprinkled a layer of kosher salt on each and laid filets of arctic char on them. As the pans smoked away, the fish began cooking, its skin turning black, crispy, and heavily seasoned, its flesh light pink.

Photos by Alexandra Stafford

In less than five minutes, it was done and transferred from the skillet to a platter loaded with fat spears of roasted asparagus. My mother then spooned chimichurri, an herb sauce from Argentina, over everything. That's all.

Dinner took about 15 minutes to materialize, and as I tucked in, it struck me how versatile and refreshing this simple sauce is. My mother makes chimichurri year round, serving it aside whole roasted beef tenderloin in the winter, grilled skewered chicken thighs in the summer, and, as I just learned, pan-seared arctic char whenever it’s available.

Chimichurri is fresh and sharp and can be made in countless ways—spicy or not, puréed or chunky, garlicky or mild—and while it’s typically served with beef, it pairs well with all sorts of meat and fish, not to mention vegetables, beans and legumes. Its biggest virtue, I’d argue, is that allows the cook to simplify other preparations. With this sauce on hand, there’s no reason to marinate or to season with anything more than olive oil, salt, and pepper—anything else would get lost once met with the chimichurri.

Photo by Alexandra Stafford

One tip: Make a double batch. Everything on your plate—any vegetables, grains or legumes, any nubs of bread, will beg for a drizzle of this bright, verdant sauce. Chimichurri makes everything better.

A few notes

Macerate the shallots: Allowing the shallots to soak in the fresh lemon and lime juice for at least 10 minutes will not only temper their bite, but also draw out their sweetness, which will make for a more balanced sauce. If pressed for time, however, you can stir together all of the sauce's ingredients and serve it immediately.

Stir, don’t whisk: As indicated above, there are many ways to make chimichurri, but I think it’s particularly good when the ingredients are chopped by hand (as opposed to puréed in a food processor) and stirred together, rather than emulsified. It’s visually appealing to see the individual elements of the sauce, and the chunky texture is nice, too.

Use a mix of herbs: Parsley and cilantro are traditional, but others, such as chives, tarragon, and fresh oregano, would be nice as well.

Don’t relegate the sauce to meat only: Vegetables, beans, and grains all welcome a drizzle of chimichurri. I’ve used this sauce to dress chickpeas and white beans. I've also stirred it into plain basmati rice.

Pan-Roasted Arctic Char with Chimichurri

Pan-Roasted Arctic Char with Chimichurri

Alexandra Stafford Alexandra Stafford
Serves 4
  • 1/4 cup finely minced shallots
  • pinch kosher salt
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon, lime or a combination of the two juices, plus more wedges for serving
  • 1/3 cup olive oil plus more for coating the fish
  • 1/2 cup finely minced cilantro, parsley or a combination of the two
  • 4 4- to 5-oz filets arctic char
  • freshly cracked pepper
  • bread, chickpeas or both for serving
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What are some tricks you've learned from eating at your parents' house? Let us know in the comments.

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Tags: Seafood