Behind the Line

Matambre Rolls Up Argentina's Beef Obsession and Italian Influences

Matambre is a dish that looks you right in the eye, though not in the way the deep fried heads that accompany Japanese sweet shrimp might.

Instead at Che Tito’s in Kendall, a pair of hard boiled egg slivers wrapped up in slowly poached beef peer at you. They sit inside rolled skirt and flap steak with thin layers of spinach and fragrant roasted red pepper. A heap of chilled chunky potato salad rides alongside the $9.99 plate.

The name is a portmanteau that means “to kill hunger” but is also used in southern Latin America to identify the thin, fatty cut culled taken from the cow’s underside near the flank.

Yet at Argentine delis throughout Miami it’s a dish that encapsulates that country’s European influences and bovine obsession. Other varieties can be packed with green or black olives, shredded carrot, sautéed onion or any bouquet of herbs.

“Don't forget we're Italian too,” says Che Tito’s Claudia Varando who notes matambre is a common find in homes across the country. “Whenever someone comes by you want to make sure you have something like eggplant or red peppers in vinaigrette or cold sliced tongue.”

The matambre here is made by 56-year-old Nicolas Fuertes, who learned it growing up in Argentina’s Jujuy province on its remote Bolivian border. While some roast the roulade he prefers to boil it. “That way it stays moist,” he says.

Fuertes' version is preferable to the one found at Don Domingo #1 ($8.99) near Coral Way on 107th Avenue. It’s procured from a supplier, a waitress explains, and though it comes with a few slices of pungent provolone it doesn’t have the deposits of red pepper.

A better option comes from Eduardo Ochoa who oversees Kendall’s Argentine butcher shop Johnny Jones Meats. Every day he turns out chorizo, morcilla and sausage links alongside a matambre made from veal that yields a tender bite.

“It’s a thin cut of meat that comes from around the loin,” Ochoa says. “We stuff it, roll it, and boil it.”

Should you take the plunge don’t be afraid to ask for it heated up. It will elicit some confused, even angry stares. But something special happens once that fatty, savory case that encapsulates everything begins to melt and ooze. 

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson