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Is oregano or parsley the essential chimichurri ingredient?

antony hare The Globe and Mail

Chimichurri is the mother sauce of Argentina and Uruguay. A distant cousin of Spanish salsa verde, French persillade, German gruene sosse and Mexican tomatillo salsa verde, this fresh, green South American sauce is – at its most basic – a smoothly chopped mix of herbs, garlic, vinegar and oil that is spooned over grilled meats.

The burning question is this: Must chimichurri include oregano?

I recently reviewed Nightingale, David Hawksworth's new Vancouver restaurant, writing: "The 'chimichurri' on an otherwise lovingly tender, perfectly grilled hanger steak, wasn't even chimichurri. It had no oregano, the main ingredient in chimichurri. Bitter and pulpy with chopped parsley stems, it wouldn't even classify as a decent salsa verde."

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To be honest, I was primarily concerned with the kitchen's poor technique (everyone knows parsley has to be stemmed). But the friend with whom I was dining, Vancouver lawyer Jessica Taylor, is Uruguayan. And she was extremely hot and bothered by the missing oregano.

"Chimi isn't chimi to me without oregano," she insisted. "Oregano is what gives it a spicy little kick," she said, noting that Uruguayan cuisine doesn't have a huge repertoire. "We only have a few classic dishes. This is one of them. You have to get it right."

In the aftermath of the review, nobody seemed to care that I had panned the restaurant. It was the chimichurri debate that really fired up social media. This was going to "haunt" me, warned one Facebook friend, claiming that chimichurri "most definitely has parsley as the main ingredient," but also benefits from the (non-traditional) addition of cilantro.

For the final word on this matter, I defer to the great Argentine-Uruguayan chef Francis Mallmann (who happens to be a close friend of Taylor's).

"From gaucho campfires to society weddings, you can always find chimichurri in Argentina," he writes in his 2009 cookbook Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way. "The basics – olive oil, parsley and oregano – never vary but the rest is up to the ingenuity of the chef and local tradition."

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