I have been lucky enough to just return from 2 weeks travelling in Argentina, and experience their near religion for cooking meat. OK, so they had just recently won the World Cup, and Messi and Maradona murals and posters adorned the walls everywhere – but the aroma of an Asado was always with us, and there was much to learn and experience:
- It’s everywhere – from smart restaurants in cool Buenos Aires, such as world renowned Don Julio, to street food vendors near Boca Juniors football stadium; from high rise apartment block rooftops, to cool rural wineries; from gauchos high in the Andes, to the men on the building site, everyone is at it, cooking lunch or dinner over fire, day after day!
- The Parilla (prounounced paree-zha in Argentina, not paree-ya) is the main kind of grill used in restaurants and houses, V-grills and drop trays much like our own, often with huge smoke extraction canopies, and set into big firebrick lined alcoves. The Asado is the social and family occasion around cooking and eating.
- The meat – it’s a tough place to be vegetarian! There are huge chunks of meat everywhere, even the supermarket meat counter beat’s the finest butchers counter in the UK. Big steaks yes, but slower cooking cuts too, such as matambre, the thin flank meat from between the skin and ribs. Huge pieces for families to cut up and share, buying steak by the 3Kg piece was amazing! Consumers knowledge of what cut it was, and how to cook it was amazing – very few cuts were labelled in butchers, they just know! Waiters in restaurants are fully briefed about what’s best today.
- The Chori, short for chorizo, is the mainstay “starter” for an Asado – prime meat cuts, lightly spiced, in a large and thick sausage, usually served with chimichurri sauce in or on bread as a Choripan. Cooked slowly, and then halved longways and cooked again, the perfect lunch snack or social starter
- The wood – in a sparsely populated country with large open spaces of Patagonia and the Pampas, there is a huge amount and variety of hardwood locally. Big nets of assorted sizes, grades and types are sold everywhere, and are an essential for a good and well managed fire.
- The wine – It’s got to be Malbec. The vineyards around Mendoza, on the Eastern slopes of the Andes, produce vast amounts of some of the World’s best red wines, perfect for hot days and steak. Many the locals keep are lighter, and simpler, but come to life after a few minutes uncorked, and drunk with the grilled meat.
- There no rush – cook slowly, eat slowly, share food, graze and come back for more, keep going, laugh and sing songs, its only 2AM! Nothing happens quicky or early, especially on hot summer evenings
- Its not easy – we did several basic asado cooks, with open fire pits, and fire baskets or braseros. There is a lot of skill involved in keeping ember temperatures up, managing fuel, and moving meat around, and it was hard work. I missed the ease of our Somerset Grill, but then again if you cook every day for generations like that, you learn I guess!