Buenos Aires – The population of Argentina is just short of 40 million people, 75% of whom are over the age of 15. That means there are probably almost 30 million different recipes for the best matambre, or hunger killer. Like empanadas and chimichurri, everyone has an aunt, grandmother, mother, sister, uncle, grandfather, father, brother, or themselves, who, of course, makes the supreme version. Or they have a favorite store or butcher shop that clearly is top of the heap. There’s not even agreement about something as basic as what meat it should be made from, and beef, veal, pork, chicken, and for all I know, guinea pig and ostrich (cuy and ñandu), are all common in restaurants and stores throughout the country. One of these days I’ll probably cull through some recipes and try making my own. For now I”m content to buy and try from my local vendors.
At it’s simplest, this national dish is a rolled and poached meat dish, similar to the French ballottine, minus the aspic coating, and usually stuffed with vegetables and hard boiled eggs rather than vegetables and forcemeat. Common vegetables used are carrots, peppers, onions, and greens of various sorts, usually spinach and parsley. Truthfully though, you could probably make a case for a wider variety of stuffings, and I’ve seen quite some variety here. At the store, you can generally buy matambre either cooked or raw, the latter allowing you to poach it in your own choice of liquids and spices, which many folk prefer. The matambre is commonly served warmed, often accompanied by an ensalada rusa, as either appetizer or entree; but, it can also be served as a cold hors d’oeuvre, or even piping hot, especially if served as a main course.
For me, I took this lovely matambre de pollo from my local chicken store, already cooked, and sliced it up into nice ¼” slices. I picked up a few pan pebetes which are essentially elongated hamburger buns, and what I thought was a block of cheddar cheese. I can’t decide if it was a good thing or bad, but what I thought was a nice solid quarter pound block of cheddar turned out to be a stack of separate slices – sort of like Kraft singles without the individual plastic wraps. In fact, it tasted a whole lot more like what we grew up with as typical American Cheese than it did like a good cheddar – though technically, American Cheese starts out from a traditional cheddar recipe, it’s just got a whole lot of additives. But, back to my sandwich, toasted bread, slices of matambre, topped with slices of cheddar, melt the whole thing in a hot oven, and add a bit of good dijon style mustard. That’s a good lunch!