A REAL ARGENTINIAN BARBECUE
Argentinian barbecue –simply called ‘asado’— is one of the country’s most deep-rooted cultural traditions. Far from being just a specific way of cooking meat, ‘asados’ are a synonym of gathering, sharing, family and friendship. Although you can taste the famous meat of this South American country at a steakhouse, the authentic Argentinian thing is the act of grilling for those you love and enjoying the social ritual that surrounds the cookout.
Sundays are the most popular day to hold ‘asados’. It’s a day of relaxation and a break from the week’s hustle and bustle, where time seems to run at a slower pace. That’s the crucial thing, because ‘asados’ are—mainly—a matter of setting aside time to enjoy three key elements: cooking, eating and after the meal is finished, having a lively conversation around the table (known as ‘sobremesa’).
Being invited to an ‘asado’ at someone’s home is a symbol of hospitality and a warm welcome. It implies that you are considered part of the family. There’s a sense of intimacy and brotherhood that’s created when sharing this meal. Argentinians tend to be very proud of this, so they don’t hesitate to invite foreigners to discover this unique experience.
Are you planning a visit to Argentina and hope to be invited to an ‘asado’? Here’s all you should know (and expect) at a real Argentinian barbecue:
ALWAYS AND EVERYWHERE. There are no space boundaries for this Sunday-classic: a balcony or a terrace in a huge city like Buenos Aires, the backyard of a house, a farm in the countryside…any place where you can light a fire can work just fine. There’s no need to have a special reason for the meal, either: whether it’s a celebration or an ordinary day, it’s always a good time for delicious grilled meat and good company.
‘Asados’ are generally cooked on an iron grill barbecue known as ‘parrilla’. Moreover, in the countryside it is common to cook meat on vertical cross-shaped stakes, nailed to the ground.
THE ‘ASADOR’. The ‘asador’ is the person in charge of cooking, a ‘grill master’ with an inherited knowledge of the techniques and secrets that make a great ‘asado’. While some people tend to consider it an utterly masculine terrain, the truth is both women and men can equally master the art of fire and embers.
Once the meat is served on your plate, and often before you dig in and start eating, someone at the table will ask for an applause to the ‘asador’ and everybody will clap to show gratitude to the cook.
FIRST, THE RITUAL OF FIRE. Dominating the art of fire is the most essential skill of an ‘asador’. For the orthodox, fire should always be made with wood, preferably native quebracho, which enhances the flavor of the meat. Charcoal is a second valid option, commonly used in the cities. Usually, the ‘asador’ may use a combination of both.
Once the fire is started on one side of the barbecue and starts producing embers, these are carefully placed underneath the meat. Golden rule: the fire must never (ever) touch the meat directly, otherwise it will burn it; the meat must be cooked slowly on the hot coals.
The ‘asador’ must keep the fire burning during all the cooking process. It usually takes one hour to set the fire and roughly between one and a half to two hours to cook the meat.
TIME TO DRINK SOMETHING. Once the fire is lit, it’s time to uncork the first bottle of wine. ‘Asados’ pair excellently well with red wine, often Malbec (Argentina’s flagship grape variety), Cabernet Sauvignon or a blend. The finest bottle is generally reserved to enjoy when the food is served. Other popular ‘asado’ beverages include aperitifs like Fernet (an Italian bitter spirit mixed with Coca-Cola) or beer.
‘PICADITA’. This is how Argentineans call the appetizers that are shared before the ‘asado’. A simple version generally consists of cheese, salami, snacks and olives. If you’re lucky, you may be presented with empanadas, too.
OFFALS, THE STARTERS. When all the guests are sitting at the table, the ‘asador’ starts passing with the first bits of meat: a variety of offals (known as ‘achuras’). Argentine sausage (affectionately called ‘chori’) is a must on every ‘asado’ and it’s the first thing served on the table. This juicy combination of pork with beef is usually eaten in a sandwich ( called a ‘choripán’) with a typical garlic-based seasoning called ‘chimichurri’. It’s impossible not to love it. ‘Morcilla’ (a soft blood sausage), on the other hand, has some detractors. It may not look very attractive but it totally deserves an opportunity. Other popular offals are ‘chinchulines’ (a crunchy piece of small intestine, preferably with a lot of lemon juice on the top!), ‘mollejas’ (sweetbreads) and ‘riñón’ (kidney).
HERE IT COMES, THE STAR OF THE DAY: THE MEAT. Typically, an ‘asado’ includes different types of meat cuts. The most common are ‘asado de tira’ (an original Argentinian cut consisting of short ribs, crispy on the outside and tender in the inside), ‘bife de chorizo’ (a thick high-quality cut, equivalent to sirloin), ‘vacío’ (flank steak, it can be served on a sandwich and also on a stuffed version called ‘matambre relleno’), ‘entraña’ (skirt steak) and ‘ojo de bife (rib eye), among others.
Argentina boasts one of the highest rates of meat consumption in the world. For a single ‘asado’, the recommended amount of meat per person is 17.5 ounces (500g).
ASKING FOR THE PERFECT COOKED MEAT. Argentine barbecue stands out for being juicy and tasty. If you like a medium cooked steak, you should ask for ‘a punto’. For a pink color in the inside (medium-rare), you should ask for ‘jugoso’ and if you like it well done, just say ‘bien cocido’.
TRADITIONAL SAUCES. ‘Chimichurri’ is the most popular seasoning for an Argentinian barbecue. It’s a mix of garlic, dried oregano, parsley, hot pepper, vinegar and olive oil. The homemade version is usually prepared a day before the ‘asado’ and kept inside a glass jar on the fridge. However, you can also find it in Argentinian supermarkets.
Another popular sauce is ‘salsa criolla’, which is made from tomato, onion, red pepper, parsley, vinegar and oil.
SIDE DISHES. These are usually simple: a lettuce, tomato and onion salad (‘ensalada mixta’) or some grilled vegetables, like onion, red pepper, zucchini or pumpkin, depending on the season. Another popular item that’s usually included at the beginning of an ‘asado’ is ‘provoleta’, a round piece of grilled Provolone cheese seasoned with oregano, dried pepper and olive oil, served slightly cooked on the outside with a crispy crust.
Much can be said about Argentinian barbecues, but there’s nothing like taking part in the experience by yourself. ‘Asados’ are much more than just food, so be ready to hear jokes, over a variety of conversation topics–from football to politics–and bond with others in an intimate celebration of life while indulging in an exceptional meal.