THE 7 GOLDEN RULES
An Asado simply isn’t just a barbecue and as such the "Asador" is not simply the cook. Such is the reverence for beef eating in Argentina that it has taken on a somewhat high status significance. And with this divine status have come the rites and dogmas associated to anything that is worshipped. So if you’re looking to become a master Asador and host an authentic "Asado Argentino" , here are the 7 golden rules you need to live by.
RULE 1: Use a ‘Proper’ Parrilla
Invite friends to an Asado and greet them with one of those UFO or egg shaped barbecues and they probably will stare at you as if you really were from another planet. The proper brick-built Parrilla is one of the most important elements for a good Asado. A large grill with something to catch the grease from the meat and a lever to adjust the height are fundamental. If it has a separate space to make a fire and its own light to illuminate the meat, you are off to a great start.
RULE 2: Hot Coals, No Flames
Whether you choose coal or firewood to fuel your Asado one all-important rule is: start early. You need the fire to burn for a while so that you get red hot coals. No proper Asador would put meat on the grill if there are still flames under it as it effectively burns the outside of the meat without cooking the inside. Keep the fire burning on the side of the grill throughout the Asado, while shovelling hot embers under the meat from time to time to regulate the temperature.
RULE 3: Know Your Meat
If you’ve never bought meat in Argentina and you step into a butcher’s shop you’ll probably be in panic at not recognising any of the cuts. Fear not. There are a few well-known cuts that mean you can’t go wrong. Bife de chorizo (sirloin) is many people’s favourite as it comes with no bones and is one of the tastiest parts of the cow. Other classics at asado time include the vacío (flank), tira de asado (ribs), lomo (fillet) or cuadríl (rump), while you can impress your local friends by picking out the more exotic entraña (skirt).
RULE 4: Achuras and Chorizos
After choosing your beef cuts, don’t think your meat-buying is over just quite yet. Achuras, other cuts of meat of which you probably wouldn’t want to know the exact provenance (read no further), are essential to keep your guests waiting while the main pieces grill. Two examples of popular achuras are mollejas (sweetbreads), one of the cow’s glands usually served with lemon, or chinchulin, part of the cow’s intestines. The most common appetiser to keep guests waiting is chorizo, a pork/beef sausage that easily becomes choripán by putting it in a sandwich.
RULE 5: Gauge Quantities
Now the question is, how much meat should you buy? Another culture gap here: quantities of meat that Europeans wouldn’t dream of are consumed in a single meal. Argentines generally count, at least, 300g of meat per person, sometimes double that. When your arm nearly falls off as the butcher passes you the bag of meat, you question the sanity of buying the equivalent of half a cow. But you don’t want to commit the faux pas of running out of meat; you’ll probably be surprised at how little – if any – beef is left at the end of the day.
RULE 6: Condiments
Purists will say that if the meat is good, then it barely needs any condiments at all, just some salt. Not just any salt though. To make things easy, they say fine salt is too fine and coarse salt is too coarse. So what you need is sal parillera, an intermediate size that is supposed to be perfect for meat. There are two schools of thought regarding when you have to salt your meat: one says adding it to the raw meat is the way to salt more homogenously, while the other says it takes out too much of the juice.
RULE 7: Chimichurri
Although as said previously Argentine meat really doesn’t need condiments, one typical sauce, chimichurri, will always be available at an asado. The ultimate chimichurri recipe is probably a debate as old as the gaucho, but it generally contains parsley, garlic, oregano, red pepper, and olive oil. Although chimichurri is widely available in supermarkets, many will say that only the homemade ones are really worth dousing your meat with.
‘Un aplauso para el asador’
If you’ve ever taken a plane in or to Argentina, then you’ll know that the locals are especially prone to spontaneous applause. Although the thought of congratulating a pilot for successfully landing the plane you’re in may seem a bit odd, there’s no doubting the worthiness of the aplauso para el asador. If the asador has gone through all the previously stated hoops and you add to it that he’s been standing in front of the equivalent of a sauna the whole time, he well deserves the traditional round of applause at the end of the meal.