My Irishman first introduced me to Francis Mallman, the Argentine grill master, via YouTube.
I think it was something about cooking the perfect steak.
He talked a good talk, so we were both pretty keen to order a copy of his book, ‘Seven Fires – Grilling the Argentine Way’.
Given the reputation of the Argentinian people as hard core carnivores, I assumed we would pick up some tips for cooking meat on the BBQ.
To my (pleasant) surprise I’ve actually learned a heap about cooking vegetables and sauces from Mr Mallmann.
Over the weekend, we had a bit of a ‘Francis Mallmann’ extravaganza which uncovered some more brilliant grilled masterpieces. So I just had to share the highlights with you today – flattened chicken with a parsley sauce and a killer burnt fennel and zucchini salad.
The good news is you don’t need to have a BBQ to create any of these. An old frying pan in the kitchen will work just as well.
7 lessons from the Argentine grill master himself.
1. The power of the taste of burnt.
Mallmann talks about his love of dissonance in food where two flavours fight with each other, rather than seeking out harmony which he finds boring.
He uses the example of burning or charring to illustrate the point. The right amount of burning can be delicious, although if you take it too far it will destroy the dish.
2. You must respect the first contact between food and the cooking surface
‘Don’t touch’ is the ‘first commandment’ of grilling. It’s all about maximising the formation of a delicious ‘crust’ on the surface of your food. Resist the urge to flip your ingredients on the grill more than once.
3. The ‘chapa’ is best for quick cooking
I used to think that the grill was the best way to BBQ food. But I’ve now become a big fan of the ‘chapa’. Which is just a cast iron plate set over your BBQ fire.
The beauty of the chapa is that it quickly produces a crust without drying out your food so everything stays succulent. It also makes sure you don’t have to worry about the flame.
4. ‘Rescoldo’ is a great way to cook veg
Basically ‘rescoldo’ is the method of cooking ingredients in hot embers or ashes. It’s brilliant for vegetables such as potatoes, pumpkins, peppers (capsicum), beets, onions, sweet potato and eggplant (aubergine).
5. Flame should never directly touch your food
Contact with direct flame leads to burning, or ‘overcarbonization’ which gives burnt bitter flavours and is not great from a health perspective either.
6. Cast iron is the best cooking material
I agree whole heartedly with Mallmann on this. Cast iron is versatile, transfers heat uniformly and retains heat for a long time.
7. The secret to a perfect steak
Use well aged, grass fed boneless rib eye (scotch fillet). Cook on a lower heat for longer periods to get a well seared crust and maximum juiciness. And make sure you let your steaks come up to room temperature before cooking.
flattened chicken with parsley sauce
Inspired by Mallmann’s ‘she may win chicken’ or Chimehuin.
If you’re cooking this inside you’ll need to crank up your exhaust fan and open a few windows as it does give off a bit of smoke. Of course, outside on the BBQ you won’t even notice it.
I’ve kept my chicken super simple, seasoning it with just salt & pepper. Sometimes it’s nice to use a few sprigs of herbs: rosemary, sage or thyme.
The parsley sauce may not sound exciting, but it surprises with its freshness. A worthy accompaniment to this chicken or pretty much anything charred or grilled.
1 small chicken (1.4kg / 3lb)
1/2 bunch parsley
1-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Remove the chicken from the fridge at least 1/2 hour before you’re ready to cook.
2. Heat a heavy fry pan (skillet) or BBQ plate on a medium high heat.
3. Wash chicken and dry with paper towel. Place chicken breast side down on a chopping board and using a sharp knife cut down one side of the backbone. Repeat with the other side, discarding the backbone.
4. Turn chicken breast side up and lay flat like a book. Press on the breast to help it sit flat. Season generously with salt & pepper.
5. Slice chicken into the hot pan or BBQ, breast side up and cook for 15 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, finely chop parsley leaves and stems and combine with the garlic and oil. Season generously.
7. Turn chicken breast side down and cook for another 10-15 minutes. It’s done when you can wiggle the legs easily. If you’re not sure, remove from the pan and chop the chicken in half lengthwise (between the two breasts) and check that there isn’t any pinkness on the bone.
8. Rest chicken for 5-10 minutes then serve with the sauce.
vegetarian – try burnt halloumi or feta or ricotta salata instead of the chicken. Depending on the size of your chosen cheese, it should only take 4-5 minutes on each side, if that.
vegan – this sauce would be brilliant with grilled or pan fried eggplant slices.
hot – If you’re in the mood for a little heat, scatter over some dried chilli flakes or powder when you season the chicken.
herby – scatter a few sprigs of thyme, rosemary or sage over the chicken breast before you start cooking.
video version of the recipe
burnt fennel & zucchini salad
serves 2 as a side
Inspired by Francis Mallmann.
I would never have thought to combine fennel and zucchini in a salad. For me, they’re winter and summer vegetables, respectively. But they work together like great old friends.
Of course, if you can’t get your hands on one or the other you could turn it into an all fennel or all zucchini affair.
I’ve used mint here but Francis uses basil which is just as lovely. Flat leaf parsley would be another great alternative.
1 small bulb fennel
1 large zucchini (courgette)
handful fresh mint leaves
shaved parmesan, optional
1. Preheat a frying pan or BBQ hotplate on a medium high heat.
2. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, slice fennel and zucchini into strips about 1/2cm (1/4in) thick. Drizzle with a little olive oil and season.
3. Cook the veg in batches until charred but not completely cinders. About 4 minutes.
4. Turn and cook for another 2 minutes or until the veg are tender. Repeat with remaining veg.
5. Place cooked veg on a serving platter. Scatter over the zest of half the lemon then a good squeeze of lemon.
6. Scatter over the mint leaves and parmesan shavings, if using.
7. Finish with a light drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a little salt & pepper.
vegan – just skip the parmsean or replace it with sliced almonds
basil – replace the mint leaves with fresh basil
all zucchini – use 2 large or 3 medium zucchini and skip the fennel
all fennel – use 2 fennel bulbs and skip the zucchini. A teaspoon of fennel seeds scattered over may be a nice addition.
raw salad – if it’s too hot to cook (or you can’t be bothered). Serve a raw salad. Slice the veg as finely as possible on a mandoline and be a little more generous with the lemon juice and olive oil.
video version of the recipe
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