At its most basic, this dish is a plate of scrambled eggs with ham, onions, and fried potatoes mixed together. Commonly served in cafes and bodegas all over Argentina, the presentation varies widely. But that is merely a reference point.
There are many different stories about the culinary origins of this dish. It truly is a ‘scrambled story‘, pun intended……
One version claims that its creator was Arturo Gramajo (1838–1914), a colonel who served in the Argentine military and was later appointed minister of war in 1877.
Legend has it that Colonel Gramajo who was aide to General Julio A. Roca and accompanied him for years during the late 1870s in the campaign to conquer the “desert”, or the Pampas. The colonel, a roly poly sort, was a bit of a gourmand, a bit of a dandy, and, apparently, a fairly accomplished cook.
There are three versions of his part of the legend. The first, and seemingly most common, is that prior to heading out into the battlefield, Colonel Gramajo had been accustomed to starting his days with a couple of fried eggs, a slab of ham, and some potatoes fried with onions – or at least that’s more or less what it amounted to. Sounds like a typical North American diner breakfast. Preparing all of the items in a tent, in inclement weather, became a bit of a chore, but being unwilling to give up his beloved morning platter, he simply fried up the onions and potatoes in a skillet, threw in some chopped up ham, and scrambled in a couple of eggs. Not as pretty, but the lack of technique certainly got the job done.
Version two of the story is quite similar, but asserts that the person who was accustomed to said breakfast was General Roca, who was a food lover, became bored with standard military fare and so it was for his breakfast that this field ration was created by the Colonel.
And, in version three, also involving Artemio, has it that this all happened post-war in 1880, when he was billeted or ensconced at his “club”, El Club del Progreso where the Rio Bamba a public restaurant was housed in the club. One day, a bit hungover, he wondered into a completely empty kitchen at the Rio Bamba, only to find that the cook had left some potatoes, ham, onion and eggs in the pantry. Perhaps he was feeling that the detailed work of cooking the components ingredients separately was just too much to take on with a hang over. With these simple ingredients he decided to combine them all in his own special way; Mixing ham, shredded potatoes browned in a pan with very little oil and a pinch of butter and adding eggs to the preparation. Delighted with himself, Gramajo took his creation straight to the top by serving it to his boss, the twice-president-of-the-nation General Roca. The result, a egg tousled dish, which was christened scrambled Gramajo, by the owners of Rio Bamba.
And, voila! the King of Argentinian minutas was born.
Now we move on to version four, which not only takes us to a different country, France but bringing in a different Gramajo, Arturo, a socialite, and some what of a playboy. This Gramajo was born Arturo Gramajo Cardenas (1860-1934) and was an Argentine lawyer who served as a diplomat in France and Great Britain and took over as mayor of the City of Buenos Aires during the last stage of the presidency of Victorino de la Plaza, from February 1915 to November 1916.Mayors of Buenos Aires have been hand-picked by the President, pending Senate approval, much like U.S.Supreme Court justices for most of Argentine history. Only in 1996 did porteños obtain the right to elect their top position.
Gramajo is credited with the idea of Pasaje de la Piedad, the passage of the Mercy , an architectural housing that created small u-shaped streets for carriages, just to satisfy the whims of his wife.The land on which the buildings and the passage rose were inheritance of his wife, Maria Adela Atucha Saraza (1833?-1885?), and she insisted on the project, which was under construction for a two decades between 1888 and 1900. And their spectacular mansion was also built in the area. Gramajo also had the role of President of the Commission that gathered funds for the erection of the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, facing his property. The street, Pasaje de la Piedad is right off of the present day street Bartolome Mitre between Parana and Montevideo, and is addressed at 1525-1573 on that street. But I digress.
The story has it that as a wealthy playboy who loved good living, Gramajo was staying at the Hotel Ritz in Paris when he got a little peckish. However, it was late and the kitchen was closed and he insisted on preparing his own breakfast, he looked over what was lying around, basically throwing together a scramble of whatever looked good sitting on the counter and created the revuelto Gramajo: scrambled eggs mixed with ham and fried matchstick potatoes. While it’s not impossible that a 20-something Arturo would have been cavorting about in Paris in the early 1880s he wasn’t yet a particularly well known figure in Argentine society, at the time. The dish became popular after his return to Buenos Aires. Given that the revuelto was all the rage in the late 1880s and early 1890s, and has continued to be a staple of local cuisine since, it just seems unlikely that something a young dandy threw together one morning in a Paris hotel after a night of carousing would become a dining hit back home within moments. Of course, even that story is up for debate. Some claim that Coronel Artemio Gramajo who served with General Roca decided to break the monotony of army fare and created the dish that bears his name. In the best of all possible worlds, it could have happened, but to me it makes more sense that the influence of military leaders like Roca and Artemio Gramajo would have had that impact on Argentine cuisine upon their return from the military campaign.
And then there is Francis Mallmann, author of Seven Fires, who tells an origin tale that is close to his heart. He claims that the dish was was created by Arturito Gramajo, another Gramajo and husband of the famous tango singer Elisita Gramajo. Mallmann’s grandmother, or Tata, told him that she was once courted by Gramajo all the way back in 1919.
But the time lines do not add up here……………..hmmmm.
Romantic stories aside, which ever story you believe will in, will most likely be the one each foodie can relate to for him or herself. And in casting myself in the “Doubting Thomas” role here, one would have to question where would General Roca and Colonel Gramajo get the eggs, potatoes and ham in the desert in the middle of war in the 1870s which would have been be so expensive to transport to the battlefield in that era. So there is a possibility that the the creator of the Scramble was Arturito Gramajo, another wealthy dandy of the 1930s and possibly the son of Arturo Gramajo, whose life came to abrupt end. Arturito died from eating a poisonous mushroom that he had gathered in his field and had cooked for his friends. And since then, suspicions about his wife … sole heir to an immense fortune were never obviated or ruled out.
And with most oral histories and in particular, culinary histories, there is a kernel of truth, but like a game of telephone, the myths are created and in all likelihood, we will probably never know, “the real story”.
As for the preparation, in the early 20th Century a Scrambled Gramajo was typically made with thinly sliced potatoes, ham (according to taste, raw or cooked),and onion. Many restaurants chefs and home cooks alike, have made more elaborate versions of this simple dish choosing to add other ingredients to the base preparation, such as chicken, turkey, green peas, bell peppers, garlic, olives, bacon, mushrooms, hearts of palm, avocado, seafood, or parsley. Sometimes, a little heavy cream is add to the eggs to ensure a velvety texture and creaminess to the dish.
But the only true recipe contains scrambled eggs, ham, julienne potatoes sprinkling of salt and pepper and nothing else. According to purists, if you add peas or anything else, you are already talking of the transformation of scrambled eggs that are not the real authentic Gramajo.
Whether it was a colonel, a mayor or playboy who created the Revuelto Gramajo, it’s one of the heartiest plates on traditional Argentine menus.
4 red potatoes, about 6 ounces each, scrubbed
1 medium onion, finely c hopped
Vegetable oil, for frying
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
4 thin slices air-dried ham , coarsely chopped, (jamón ibéricos, serrano or proscuitto)
4 large eggs
1 Tablespoon heavy cream
Ground black pepper to taste
Sliced scallions, for garnish
Peel the potatoes. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, cut the potatoes into a fine julienne. Put the potatoes soak in cold water to eliminate starch, for 1 hour. Remove the potatoes from the water and pat dry with paper towels.
Heat the vegetable oil in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet or Dutch oven to 360°F. Add the potatoes, in batches if necessary, and cook for about 2 minutes, until golden. Remove with a slotted skimmer and drain on paper towels.
Heat 1 tablespoon of the butter in the same cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the ham and crisp for about 15 seconds. Remove to paper towels to drain.
In the same skillet, heat 1 tablespoons of butter and add the onions. Saute until translucent and remove for the skillet side aside on a clean plate.
Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon butter in the same skillet over medium heat. In a medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the cream and pour them in. Add the potatoes, onions and ham and scramble—if necessary, lower the heat so that eggs do not brown. Use a wide spatula to to gently fold the ingredients into the eggs. Transfer to a serving dish. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and garnish with scallions and serve immediately.