Whenever I am in a new group of people and end up creating a pub quiz (which happens more often than you might think) one of the questions I always ask is: What is the capital city of Uruguay. Why? Well, I think that Montevideo is one of the most fun capital cities to say out loud and so I like to take any opportunity to say it… like with ‘bungalow’, which is one of my favourite words in the English language.
I figured that since my lost forays into the cuisine of the Americas were both Central American countries, it was time to either head east to the Caribbean or go South. Obviously I chose to go south, but not to Suriname (which my husband will be looking forward to). No, I got bewitched by the national dish of Uruguay and knew that I just had to make it.
One thing I really love about the chivito is the origin story. The idea that it came from a Uruguayan chef improvising a sandwich for an Argentine patron who asked for a kid goat meat sandwich (with ‘chivito’ meaning kid goat) and instead got steak just warms my heart. I mean, this is a dish invented to try and make something good for a citizen of a neighbouring country, which went on to become a national dish. It just encapsulates the idea of cuisine being something that we import and share between nations – even if the story sounds somewhat apocryphal.
The thing is, chivito is not just a steak sandwich. No, it is the ultimate steak sandwich that puts a typical club sandwich to shame. It is the physical embodiment of one of those towering sandwiches from old Scooby Doo cartoons, that invariably had a tooth-picked olive on top. When making this sandwich I went around a number of different websites to find the common ingredients to include in this piece of epicness.
Inside my chivito was (going from the bottom up) a layer of mayonnaise and ketchup mixed together, lettuce, bacon, thin beef steak, ham, tomato, mozzarella, fried egg, roasted red pepper, green olives and fried onions. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that this may be one of the best sandwiches I ever had and that Uruguayans are geniuses. This, along with the South Korean army stew, may be one of the tastiest main meals that I have made so far.
Since I thought just making a sandwich would be a bit lazy (stupid me, this sandwich had a lot of moving parts!) I figured that I should come up with some sort of dessert – which appears to be the Uruguayan answer to pavlova. Albeit a pavlova that shares it’s name with a very odd looking bird.
To make this dessert (which came from a recipe from The Spruce Eats) you start with two layers of sponge cake that have been soaked in a homemade peach syrup. Between this you add whipped cream, crushed meringue, peach slices and a layer of dulce de leche. Then you cover the whole cake in whipped cream with peaches decorating the top and crushed meringue coating the circumference.
Now, I do not have a revolving cake stand, a palette knife or one of those cake spreaders. This makes decorating the cake a bit difficult around the sides, but I’m still happy with how it turned out. I was doubly happy with how good it tasted too. Sure, some of the peaches weren’t perfectly ripe (which made them a bitch to peel), but it was a sweet and moist cake that reminded me why ‘peaches and cream’ is a thing. Honestly, I prefer this to pavlova.
In this world cooking voyage, Uruguay may have found itself as one of those highlight nations that future entries are going to be compared to. The sandwich was amazing and yet the cake never felt overshadowed by what came before it. I wonder how the next country, which will be European… but that’s all I know now, will fare against what came before.