The Vines of Mendoza

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Amanda Barnes is a British journalist who makes her own bread and butter by drinking wine around the country. Actually, she spends her bread and butter on wine.

The art of cooking on a fire, with Diego Irrera


As the master chef at Siete Fuegos restaurant, Diego Irrera knows a thing or two about fire. Having learned how to cook on an open flame as a small child, he has mastered the art of the Argentine asado and today is Francis Mallmann’s right hand man in Mendoza. His career with Mallmann began at his 1884 restaurant in Godoy Cruz. Diego starting working at 19 years old as a waiter, and progressed to the kitchen as a trainee chef at the age of 21. Since then he has gone on to be Head Chef at 1884 and now heads up the team at Siete Fuegos in the Uco Valley which specialises in cooking in several (more than 7!) fire-cooking methods.

His first memories of cooking, however, started at home:

“When I was a child I watched my parent cooking weekend lunches, and most especially watched them cook asados (Argentine BBQ). My father was the most applauded asador (BBQ master) in the family. When I was 7 years old when my mum taught me to make soup, and after that my ambitions and appetite for fire pushed me to cook meat chops on the BBQ that afternoon!”

I’ve asked Diego to give us some of his top tips for cooking on the open flame and he has shared his ultimate empanada recipe for readers to try at home, and Siete Fuegos’ famous chimichurri which can be used to adorn any steak or cut of meat.

Diego’s fire cooking tips

-   To cook on fire you need patience and romanticism. It is always recommendable to cook very slowly over longer periods so you get attentive and very good results!

-   The ideal wood is always what’s local. In Mendoza, our Algarrobo wood is very good. It is ideal for grilling and cooking in a clay oven as it has a great density and gives a good temperature and longevity to the embers.

-   For cooking on the ‘llama’ (which might be a spit roast lamb, or cooking on a hot plate over the fire) it is good to layer in different woods too. We also use wood from fruit trees, which are abundant in the Uco Valley and are cleared annually to improve yield. It is really important to use wood resources responsibly, so that it doesn’t affect the natural cycle of the trees or cause unnecessary clearing.

Diego’s Chimichurri recipe

➢     ½ garlic bulb, peeled and chopped

➢     ½ cup of fresh parsley, chopped

➢     ½ cup of fresh oregano leaves

➢     1 teaspoon of chilli flakes

➢     2 tablespoons of red wine vinager

➢     4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil

For the brine:

➢     Half a cup of water

➢     Half a tablespoon of coarse salt

To make the brine, boil the water in a saucepan. Add the salt and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat and let it cool.

Chop the garlic very finely and place it in a medium bowl. Chop the parsley and oregano finely and add them to the garlic, along with the chilli flakes. Beat in the red wine vinegar, then the olive oil and the brine. Transfer to Tupperware or a sealed jar and refrigerate.

Diego’s Tip: It’s best to prepare the chimichurri at least one day in advance, so that the flavours have time to mix. It can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two to three weeks.

 The ultimate empanadas mendocinas

 1 kg of beef tenderloin cut into thin strips

1 kg of white onion

1 scallion (salad onion, spring onion)

450grams of butter

2 eggs

100grams fresh oregano

Handful of green olives

2 teaspoons of chilli flakes

2 teaspoons of cumin

Fine salt, to taste

2 teaspoons of black pepper

Slice the white onions and fry them in a frying pan, covering them completely in the butter. Cook till translucent and browning on the edge.

Cut the steak into thin strips and then into small cubes, then submerge in a pot of boiling water to whiten the meat briefly.

Cut the green onion into thin slices and set them aside.

Cut the green olives into uneven pieces of medium to small size.

In a large pot, mix the onion, the whitened meat, the olives, the green onion, the fresh oregano and finally add the spices. It is important to mix the ingredients while they are hot to get the intensity of the spices.

Boil the eggs in water for 7 minutes and set aside.

When the mixture is cool, you can stuff your empanadas (see below).

Empanada dough recipe

1 kg of 0000 flour

30 grams of fine salt

450cc lukewarm water

90 grams pork fat (lard)

In a big bowl, mix the flour with the fine salt and the warm water. Finally add the melted lard.

Mix it well and knead.

Separate into 300 gram portions, wrap them in cling film and let them rest in a cool room.

Roll the dough out to 5mm in thickness and about 10cm wide.

Place a teaspoon of the empanada mix, with a small slice of the boiled egg, and seal the empanada.

Make little folds along the seam to finish the perfect empanada.

Cook in the clay oven!

Diego’s Tip: At a family BBQ, you should always start off a good empanada and a glass of wine!

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