Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Culture of Asado in Argentina

Written By: Cathy Brown
Twitter @LatinAmerExpats

Photos by Alejandro Billiris
Argentina has an irrefutable reputation for having some of the tastiest, most mouth-watering meat on the planet. What is it exactly that makes enjoying a steak here so much more intense and memorable of an experience than anywhere else on the globe? In addition to having so much vast space to be able to raise the animals in the healthiest of environment possible, with a lot of clean Andean water and fresh grasses to provide for the richest and most succulent cuts, it is the unique way that the meat is cooked that makes all of the difference in the world.

Forget slapping the meat over some chemical-laden charcoal, and completely erase the idea of cooking meat over a gas grill here. That would be almost sacrilegious. Here, a barbeque is pure ceremony, a relaxed time to enjoy the gathering of friends and the delicious food that Mother Nature offers. The best asados (the term used for a barbeque) take hours to prepare, and no one complains because they all know that it will be worth the wait.

Meat in Argentina is cooked either on a parilla (metal grate), or in the countryside is often speared and woven onto a large 4ft. metal stake that is then pushed vertically into the ground, with the meat about a foot of two from the earth. Meat is always cooked over wood coals. The wood is patiently allowed to burn down until natural coals and embers have formed, and these embers are then transferred to under the meat. The actual fire is kept going to the side of the meat to constantly create new embers. Under no circumstances would the meat be placed directly over the harsh flame, as this dries out the meat and causes it to cook too quickly. Many times the meat in question is from cow, but in the campo, or countryside, freshly slaughtered goat or lamb is often on the menu, and these can take upwards of 5 hours to cook if prepared well. Be thankful that there will probably be no shortage of red wine to make the time go a little faster. Think of the wait time as a great opportunity to practice your conversational Spanish. Argentines, in general, are notorious talkers, and will love to engage in discussion about anything from family, world politics, music and literature, and of course soccer.

Although the flavor of the meat can easily stand on its own, many times the meat is rubbed down with liberal quantities of sea salt, sometimes a little black pepper, and in the wine province of Mendoza, is often doused with Malbec.

Although Buenos Aires is the home of some amazing parillas (which is also the word used for a restaurant that specializes in asado), the best and most memorable asados are done in the countryside under the skilled and watchful eye of a gaucho (cowboy). One person takes responsibility for being the asador, or cook. No matter how good your intentions are, never mess with the coals or throw more wood on the fire, as this oversteps bounds and is incredibly disrespectful to the asador. Another faux pas is to throw garbage or papers into the fire. Even if it is a small gum wrapper and you know that it will disintegrate in under 2 seconds flat, it is considered very bad manners to mess with the purity of the coals.

A countryside asado is certainly not the time to be formal. Every gaucho will have an ultra-sharp knife and will continue to slice bits off the large cut of meat to offer out, and you are welcome to eat it with your hands, or to place it on a bit of fresh homemade bread. Napkins? Probably not. Use your pant leg or lick your fingers. Side salads or other veggies? Ha! An asado is the time to eat meat, not to get distracted by other things. One given that you can expect in Argentina is that any good asado will be accompanied by loads of great quality Malbec wine.

It is guaranteed that enjoying a traditional asado in Argentina can forever change the way that you experience barbeque. But be careful, as it sets the standard ridiculously high! It is certainly hard to go back to eating hot dogs slapped over a gas grill, cooked without much thought or attention. If you ever have the chance to experience asado done the right way, never pass up the opportunity, as it gives you a tasty look into one of the most important cultural traditions in Argentina.  
Photos by Alejandro Billiris

Photos by Alejandro Billiris
 Cathy Brown is a travel writer originally from Michigan but has been living in Argentina for the past few years. After a year in Patagonia, she moved to the Mendoza region and owns and operates Antü and Lucero, a personalized expedition agency that takes private groups into the Andes to have authentic and profound cultural experiences in some of the most incredibly pristine nature in the world. Photos by Alejandro Billiris, who guides and leads photographic safaris at Antü and Lucero,


1 comment:

Rogger Mcloud said...

Dude, you are totally wright. The asado is a culture in Argentina. I was in the Buenos Aires Real Estate business and the poeople wanted to buy houses with there own "parrillas". Is like the sanctuary for the asado.