Barbecue Feasting Argentinian Style
Turn up for a traditional barbecue in Argentina and you’ll be attending an asado – lucky you!
This is where they serve up food in very hot platters on large grills, over an open flame, and for all to share. An asado becomes an occasion; an event, even, which can go on for whole afternoons and evenings, involving dancing and singing as well as conversation. It is also the name of the country’s national dish and is based on the traditions of the cattle herders, once so prevalent in central Argentina.
Martin Puebla, an Argentine native and chef on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, said, “Asado is the Argentine culture. Every Argentine in any place in the world eats asado.”
At an asado (which also refers to the style of grilling involved) the food is never marinated or rubbed beforehand and just added when the cook feels like it. Instead, during an asado the food is perfectly timed so that the placement of it on the grill is well thought out prior to cooking and the whole meal is served consecutively (usually in three courses). During cooking the griller may spray the meat with brine while to ensure it remains moist.
Typically an Argentinian asado will consist of tira de asado (or long strips of ribs), chorizo (sausage), vacio (flank), morcilla (blood sausage), pork, poultry and other beef cuts. An entire asado usually takes around two hours to cook.
The meat, seasoned only with coarse salt, is roasted very slowly over a coal or wood-fired grill (known as a parrilla) and supervised by the asador (griller). Unlike in America where smoke is positively encouraged in order to add flavour to the meat, in Argentina smoke is viewed in the opposite light – it is seen as ruining the flavour of what is about to be served up and to be discouraged at all costs.
The meat at an asado tends to be larger and contain more fat than American meats. Organ meats (the ultimate prize) tend to be the last dish served. The griller slices this up and offers it around individual guests. There’s never a problem about cooking times as rare meat is well, rare. Most natives of Argentina prefer their meat very well done or well done – Steak Tartare just doesn’t exist there!
Often vegetables are served up with the meat – capsicum and potatoes being favourites – but undeniably the star of the show is the meat itself, especially the beef.
Another favourite on this platter is the spiced and herbed Provolone cheese. The heat turns this delicious cheese into a creamy fondue for bread sticks to be dipped.
Any accompaniments which are served up tend to be simple and are designed not to take away from the meat. Although guests at an asado are usually given drinks and nibbles such as olives, cured ham and cheese prior to the big event (the grilling of the meat).
In Portugal, an asado dish involves roasted fish (usually salmon or cod) instead of meat as the main dish, although Portuguese sausage and chopped bacon is served up alongside together with chopped onions.