Southern perspectives in the dead of winter
Kristy Wenz is a writer, entrepreneur, wine lover, experimental home cook and avid traveler. She blogs regularly at Eat Play Love, where she and her family explore cuisines and cultures around the globe.
February is our shortest month of the year. It marks the third month of meteorological winter in the Northern Hemisphere, the Chinese and Korean New Years, Valentine’s Day, Shrove Tuesday and, for those of us in the U.S., Super Bowl Sunday. Early February also marks the halfway point between the winter and spring equinox. It’s the month when the groundhog rears its head and foretells winter’s fate. Will he see his shadow suggesting another six weeks of wintery weather? Or will the clouds prevent a shadow and possibly indicate an early spring?
Weatherlore of Old
The first written reference to Groundhog’s Day in the U.S. dates back to 1841, but the practice has its origins in ancient European lore. Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, also has ties to both Christian and Celtic celebrations held on the same date. In the Celtic tradition, candles were lit and blessed in the hopes of warding off darkness and welcoming spring. In Christianity, the day is referred to as Candlemas, the day to celebrate the Virgin Mary’s purification, but as this English poem suggests, it has ties to the weather too:
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.
Is it all folklore? Perhaps. But for those of us in the grips of frigid temperatures, gray skies, snow, ice and long nights, it offers a bit of hope, a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Regardless of the groundhog’s predictions, spring officially remains six weeks away – for us, anyway. As for our neighbors on the southern continent, well, they’re just hitting the peak of the summer season. The sun is high, the days are long and the barbecues are at the ready. How about a trip to a Southern Hemisphere wine region? Even if it’s not in the cards this year, we can bring a little sunshine and southern flavors to our plates. And I don’t know about you, but after reading this month’s wine features from Australia and Argentina, I’m craving some red meat!
Where’s the beef?
Australia and Argentina are in the top four meat-eating countries in the world, with beef often taking center stage. For Argentines, beef is a part of daily life, consumed here more than almost anywhere else in the world (the only exception being Hong Kong). As for Australia, while it’s the second-largest exporter of beef worldwide, it too is in the top 10 of beef-consuming countries. Whether roasted, barbecued, fried, stuffed or breaded, beef is a culinary treasure. And if there’s one thing us wine lovers know about beef, it pairs beautifully with luscious red wines. Fortunately, these too are prevalent in both Australia and Argentina.
So let’s bring some southern (hemisphere) flare to our plates this month with a recipe that blends both Australian and Argentine cultures – a macadamia crusted beef tenderloin with chimichurri sauce. Again, this is a simple recipe, fast to prepare with minimal ingredients. That said, it presents lavishly to guests. Here we’re not only using beef, but two culturally significant accompaniments – the macadamia nut and chimichurri sauce. The macadamia nut is native to Australia with its origin dating back 60,000 years. (Yes, sixty-thousand.) The versatile nut is revered for its subtle, buttery flavor and soft crunch, which makes a decadent crust for our tenderloin. As for the chimichurri sauce, it is distinctly Argentine and synonymous with meats. Although its origins are unclear, it is believed to have been widely used by gauchos to accompany grilled meats. It also likely was first made with dried herbs, but today is widely known as a fresh herb sauce. No matter its beginnings, it brings a fresh and bright element to this month’s dish.
As mentioned, this month’s recipe is simple with few ingredients. The key to success is sourcing quality ingredients, particularly the beef. You’ll want to visit your local butcher and ask for a center cut beef tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat. Avoid the pre-packaged cuts as the plastic wrap traps in excess moisture. We used a two-pound cut to serve eight. To begin, bring the tenderloin out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for about 20 minutes. Next it’s time to season and sear the beef. After a good coating of salt and pepper, sear the meat in olive oil over a high flame for about two to three minutes per side to improve the texture and flavor of the beef.
Once all sides have been browned, set the beef aside to cool and prepare the topping. The cooled beef is rolled in a mixture of olive oil, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, and then topped with crushed macadamia nuts and herbs before baking. A general guide for the beef is to cook it about 15-20 minutes per pound for a medium-rare finish, or to an internal temperature around 145 F. When the beef is removed from the oven it will continue to cook by another five to 10 degrees while resting, and make sure to let it rest to lock in those juices. In this case, we brought our beef out at 150 F and let it rest for 10 minutes for a finish perfect to our liking.
While the beef rests, prepare your chimichurri sauce by combining the ingredients in a food processor. Pulse the mixture until the parsley and garlic are broken down into the liquids. Make sure to taste test in order to season to your preferences. Serve the chimichurri alongside or directly on a slice of the roast for an acidic and bright finish to the juicy, buttery roast beef with its nutty and crunchy crust. Then, of course, wash it down with a hearty Argentine malbec or Australian cabernet sauvignon. You’ll hardly remember it’s still winter outside.
The macadamia crusted beef tenderloin with chimichurri sauce is an elegant roast meal suitable for a celebration, holiday or dinner party, but it’s also simple enough to prepare on a random weeknight in February, perfect for curing a case of the winter blues. Let the tangy chimichurri take your mind away to the wide open ranges of Argentina with the Andes as a stunning backdrop, or perhaps the macadamia nuts will transport you to a beach along Australia’s southern shores as the waves tickle your toes. Either way, raise a glass to our southern neighbors for their beautiful flavors and dishes, and to our spring, which is surely on its way.
For the Tenderloin
2 lb. center cut beef tenderloin
1/4 c plus 1 T olive oil, divided
1 T Worcestershire sauce
2 T Dijon mustard
1 t garlic powder
1/2 c crushed macadamia nuts
1 T dried rosemary
1/2 T dried thyme
For the Chimichurri Sauce
1 c fresh Italian parsley
3 cloves garlic
1/2 c olive oil
1/4 c red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
For the beef tenderloin:
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
In a large sauté pan, heat a tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Season the beef with salt and pepper and sear the beef in the oil on all sides.
Remove the beef and set it aside to cool.
In a shallow dish, whisk together the ¼ cup of olive oil, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard and garlic powder. Next, in a small mixing bowl combine the macadamia nuts with the thyme and rosemary.
When the meat is cool to the touch, roll it in the olive oil mixture so that it is evenly coated. Next cover the beef with the macadamia nuts and herbs, pressing the nuts firmly into the beef to form a crust.
Place the beef in an oven safe dish and press any remaining nuts around the beef. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature between 140 to 150F degrees (for medium rare). Remove from the oven and let rest 10-15 minutes before slicing. Serve with chimichurri sauce.
For the chimichurri sauce:
While the beef is roasting or resting, combine all the ingredients for the chimichurri sauce in a food processor and pulse until combined.
Red pepper flakes and oregano can also be added.
Add additional seasonings to taste.