This is the start of a culinary journey through New York, where we will explore the rich variety of gastronomic experiences that the city has to offer, especially in Latin cuisine. I will also share with you some recipes from my home country, Uruguay, adapted to a new style of cooking which can be delicious, healthy, and full of cultural significance. I am ready to cook and eat my way through this city, South American style. And I’d love for you to come along.
Learn what makes this Uruguayan culinary landmark so special!
Chivitos are an institution in Uruguay. Major food landmark. Chivitos are engraved in every Uruguayan’s DNA. If you don’t like chivitos, you are an outcast, a pariah. Some vegetarian alternatives have made their appearance in small bars that probably stay open for a month before being shunned by public opinion, but they just don’t work: there’s no meat in them. So, what exactly is a chivito? It’s a meat sandwich. A tender, juicy, thin, tasty piece of sirloin steak that melts in your mouth, sandwiched in crusty-yet-soft bread. And a chivito canadiense also displays ham, cheese, bacon, a fried or hard-boiled egg, tomato, lettuce, pickled bell pepper and mushrooms, olives, mayonnaise and, in some select chivito joints, fried onions and red bell peppers. Yes, meat loving friends: heaven exists and it’s called Uruguay.
I made a good friend in NY who’s from the Basque Country in Spain. She is the ultimate meat-loving chick. We have had long discussions that concern whether vegetables should even be a food group and regarding why Asian restaurants feel the need to add green items to the so-called chicken curry. It’s CHICKEN curry, for God’s sake! So she says. I just enjoy eating her greenies and letting her rant as she carefully picks every piece of broccoli, string beans and okra with her chopsticks as if they were radioactive.
So, she came over to dinner and we decided it was time to enlighten her with some Uruguayan culinary wisdom and a good movie (which she got to choose and chose wisely an animated movie called Howl’s Moving Castle, amazing!). Time to get those chivitos going!
How to do it?
- Find a suitable bread. We went for pitas, whole-wheat for me, since I’m trying not to eat white flour anymore. Why? Well, because whole grains have all the vitamins and the fiber and because a lot of bad chemicals go into the flour to make it white. Some white flours claim to be unbromated and unbleached, which makes me seriously question why bleach should have been in flour in the first place! So, end of story, no more white flour for me and I feel much better. No more bloating when I eat wheat products. Highly recommend it to everyone.
- Buy a tender piece of meat. This is of capital importance. Since you need thin slices and you can also tenderize it, you can buy a more expensive cut. Uruguay has the advantage that all cows are grass-fed. So, although we eat far too much of it, and that’s a problem, it is not as bad as if you stuffed yourself with corn-fed cows. They are much more fatty and also have the problem of e-coli growth in their digestive track. Yuck. When possible, go for grass-fed meat. I would choose an alternative for meat if I could not find grass-fed. Maybe chicken that’s not treated with hormones? Or portabella mushrooms? (This is my health-conscious self talking)
- Buy all the “trimmings”. Find good, organic ham and bacon, without nitrates or nitrites, if at all possible. I’m scaring you, I know. Weird things have been getting into our food, so beware! Buy cheese that will melt (like mozzarella or provolone), green olives, pickled veggies, 1 or 2 onions and 1 bell pepper, lettuce, tomato, 1 egg per chivito.
- Lightly toast the bread in the oven, spread with mayo (you can put flavors in the mayo, such as garlic and parsley, chopped hearts of palms and a bit of ketchup, capers, olives, etc.).
- On a frying pan or stove-top grill, start by sautéing julienned onions and red peppers. Reserve them. Without cleaning the pan, brown the bacon. Throw away the excess oil. Wrap a cheese slice with a slice of ham and put it on the grill so that the ham will cook slightly and the cheese will melt while you grill the meat. Since it’s so thin, it will take a few minutes per side. The idea is that the meat will pick up all the flavors from the pan, so be sure to salt it very lightly. On a separate pan, fry the eggs. Or use sliced hard-boiled eggs.
- To finish the chivito, start putting the lettuce on one side of the bread, then the tomato, slice of meat, ham and cheese, egg, fried onions and bell peppers, bacon, sliced olives, pickled veggies (optional). Top with other side of the bread, also spread with mayo. Eat right away and get dirty!
- Feel guilty and eat only veggies for a week.
After the chivitos, which my friend LOVED, all capitals, we decided that she is the perfect Uruguayan!