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Culturs Celebrations: A Brief Manual of an Argentine’s Secrets to Making Asado

Smoker BBQ or "chulengo" as they call it in argentina
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Asado is the technique and the social event of having or attending a barbecue in various South American countries, especially Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay where it is also a traditional event.

There’s no more quintessential Argentine tradition than the asado. Combining social connections with culinary craftsmanship, the asado is far more than just a simple barbecue. It’s a custom dating back to a time when wild cattle roamed the plains of La Pampa, in central Argentina.

Asador

For those who share our weakness for the ritual ceremony of the Asado/Barbecue, in an atmosphere of friendly camaraderie, there are no secrets. Each Argentine “parrillero” (Grill Master) can have their preference, but everyone will respect the way the meat is roasted, paying special attention to the way the fire is lit and the embers spread out, the cooking time and the way the meat is placed.

One of the fundamental secrets is the slow cooking, with few and wisely placed embers to ensure obtaining the best roast, where the flavor and the essential juices of Argentine meat are maximized. Only by doing this and by repeating it again and again in your own home, with your family and friends, will you master the art of roasting meat for the pleasure of those who are gathered together with you.

In an Asado, people talk about what they eat and what they drink, and to talk, you have to know.

This brief overview aims to be your guide and help you to focus on the key points of this traditional Argentine family practice: the art of roasting the best meat in the world.

STEP 1: KNOW LOCAL CATTLE BREEDS

Aberdeen Angus:

This breed of Scottish origin is one of the most widespread in Argentina thanks to its aptitude for fattening and easy adaptation to Argentine pampas. It has been bred in the country since 1879. These animals are excellent breeders and the young bulls fatten easily with grass. This meat has the flavor and tenderness that characterizes Argentine livestock.

Hereford:

Originally from England, it was brought to Argentina in 1861. One of its greatest virtues is that of providing baby beef, which is highly valued in international cuisine.

Shorthorn:

This was the first improved breed of Argentine cattle. The first bulls were imported in 1826 from England and the breed soon acquired international recognition and became the most exported steer. The main buyers of the meat were English and in the search for the best quality- price relation they preferred cuts with more meat and less bone and fat. On the other hand, the local population found the boniest and fattest part, the ribs, the most attractive.

STEP 2: LIGHTING THE FIRE AND MAKING EMBERS

The best fuels for cooking an Asado are those of vegetable origin: coal or firewood. Using one or the other will produce different results: it is generally accepted among Argentine Parrilleros (a wooden board arranged with a variety of grilled meats: sirloin steaks, chorizo, Morcilla Blood sausage, and beef short ribs.) that the tastiest Asados are made with wood.

Asado oven

If you use coal, which is a faster way of producing embers, distribute it on top of your traditional boy/girl scout wood/ newspaper structure before lighting the fire. Once the coals have turned whitish, they are ready to be used for roasting the meat. Distribute the coal embers evenly under the grill and now you are ready to put the meat on the grill.

If you prefer to use wood, making embers will last much longer, up to 1 and a half hours; which is a great moment to sit around and drink wine with your friends. If you use a hard wood (Quebracho, Espinillo), the resulting embers will last much longer whereas if you use soft wood the embers will die out faster.

Once you have red hot embers, this is the moment to spread them out thinly but evenly under the grill. Make sure you have a secondary side fire to continue producing embers which you will use to replace those embers that have lost their heat, because the worst thing that can happen is to run out of embers in the middle of the barbecue.

STEP 3: ROASTING TECHNIQUE

Asado

When you can place your open hand, palm down, above the grill for no more than 4-5 seconds, this is the moment to place the thin cuts, steaks and offal (organ meats) on it, making sure that the so called “white side” of the meat (the side where the fat or bones are) is facing down in contact with the grill. If the cuts of meat are thick, spread your embers out more, bringing the fire to a hand tolerance of 7-8 seconds and keep it at that level for the duration of the roasting process. When a few pink drops of blood appear on the upper surface of the meat, it is time to turn the cuts over and leave them for another 15-30 minutes until the side in contact with the grill turns a golden color. You are now ready to eat.

The chronological order of a typical Argentine Asado begins by eating a selection of variety meats/offal which are the first pieces to be placed on the grill and to be eaten while the rest of the cuts continue to slowly roast.

STEP 4: OPENING DISHES

An important part of the Argentine Asado is the roasting of variety meats also known as offal. The most important cuts are sweetbread (Molleja), kidney (Riñón), intestine (Chinchulín), sausage (Chorizo), blood sausage (Morcilla) and normally, they are eaten at the beginning of the Asado as an opening dish. These parts are very tasty, but make sure you don ́t eat too much right at the beginning, so you leave some space for the meat that will follow. The preparation of these cuts is the same as for the thin cuts of meat.

We should not forget the Provoleta, which every decent Argentine Asado must include. These are round, thick slices of provolone cheese with a lot of seasoning (oregano, paprika, etc.) which can be placed directly on the grill or on small, round, stainless steel pans. After 10 to 15 minutes the Provoleta will begin to melt; how long you leave it over the fire will depend on if you prefer it more or less melted. Argentines love this stuff!

STEP 5: THE SEASONING

Salt:

It is customary among Argentine Parrilleros to salt the meat on both sides using what is locally known as “sal gruesa” (coarse salt) before placing it on the grill for cooking. This brings out the flavor of the meat more intensely.

Sauces:

Argentine Criolla sauce:

Asado spices with garlic

Wonderful and simple accompaniment of incomparable freshness to balance the meats and achuras. Of Spanish origin (adobo). In a bowl dissolve the salt with vinegar. Add the finely chopped onion and let it soak for 10 minutes. Mix all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Store in a jar with olive oil at least 2 hours before eating.
• 1 tomatoes peritas.
• 1 medium onion.
• 1 cup olive or sunflower oil. • Salt and pepper.
• 1 cup white alcohol vinegar.

Chimichurri sauce:

Asado sauce with olive oil
Asado sauce with olive oil

Typical sauce, more spicy and stronger than the criolla sauce, to accompany a choripán. Firstly, chop the garlic and parsley well minced and place in a jar with lid. Add the oregano, ground chili, salt and pepper. Cover with olive oil and add the aceto or vinegar stream.
• 2 tbsp of fresh chopped parsley
• 1/2 tbsp of oregano
• 1 clove garlic
• 1/2 tbsp of paprika (if you like a little spicy, it can be ground chili)
• 1/2 cdita. of salt
• Ground black pepper
• Olive oil

STEP 6: THE WINES

Mendoza Argentina
Photo by Mauro Lima on Unsplash

Infallible, but without excess, the wine can not be absent in a roast, in moderate dose, in order to moisten the papillae, facilitate digestion, warm the hearts and stimulate conversation.

Generally they are fresh red wines, of high tannins, they have the attributes of complementing, assembling, melting, cushioning the sensations of the meat and its flavors. Consistent and textured, they are generally those of Cabernet Sauvignon strain, without detracting from the Malbec strain very well given in Argentina.

6 KEY POINTS TO REMEMBER:

1- The embers must be well done (live fire, red hot, no black carbon color, no flame, with white ash), before placing the meat on the grill. Avoid the contamination of grease and meat by toxic gases derived from coal still black. Making the embers takes 20 to 30 minutes, depending on the firewood.
2- Having previously available the necessary instruments (Knife, board, fork, clamps).
3- The thin cuts are roasted with moderate-high heat for a short time until they are browned, instead the thick cuts should be roasted with moderate heat for a longer time.
4- Buy coal in a 4 kg bag. The minimum use is 4 kg per roast and can be increased at a rate of 2 kg of coal per kg of meat.
5- Avoid the degrees of raw cooking and very cooked (past). Although it is a matter of taste, the juicy and pink intermediate grades allow to appreciate the tenderness and flavor of the juices of the meat.
6- The choice of wines is a matter of preference of tastes, but the suggested are Cabernet Sauvignon reds that are robust and with black fruits (blueberries and blackberries), or if you prefer something softer the Malbec reds, young and light with notes of
red fruits.

For more from the author, follow @Thesecretsofasado on Instagram.

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