This article draws its inspiration from the Argentine asados, known throughout the rest of Latin America as parrilladas, those spectacular barbecues featuring a host of grilled meaty entrees and a swarm of varied and delicious side dishes. During a family trip to Argentina over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays, we were lucky enough to enjoy the asado experience in two very different ways. The first was a Christmas celebration at the house of a dear friend and the second was at Estancia La Cina Cina. The estancia (ranch) is a real working farm that offers people a peek into the life of the gauchos, the legendary cowboys of Argentina. We swam, rode horseback, and watched the gauchos put on a show of horsemenship the likes of which I have never seen. But the thing I remember most (of course!) about the trip to Estancia La Cina Cina was the food. No sooner had we stepped off the bus than we were greeted by a woman in traditional garb with a basket full of warm empanaditas with picadillo filling.
The same gauchos who rode horses so beautifully did the cooking for the asado. A grill that stretched for what must have been thirty feet was covered and I mean covered, with morcilla, chorizo, and churrasco. All this meatiness was supplemented with greens, vegetable salads, and the simple and delicious potato-and-eff salad that one finds all over Argentina (a tip of the hat to the huge German-Argentinean population.) All of this was washed down with cleriquot and the national beer of Argentina, Quilmes.
Once the gauchos had put down their grilling tools, they picked up their instruments and serenaded us with romantic old tango songs and the traditional folk songs of Argentina. Now that’s my idea of a man – someone who cooks me dinner and sings to me while I eat! I’m glad we had all our activity earlier in the day, because after the feast, all we could manage was to lie back on lounge chairs under the shade of the trees and sip our glasses of cleriquot..
Hosting an authentic Argentinean asado (or your own version of one) doesn’t need to be a no-holes-barred blow out: tailor the number of dishes to the size of our crowd, your comfort level around a grill, and the time you have to prepare. A respectable asado can be built around grilled Argentinean chorizo, a platter of tangy adobo marinated chicken and a couple of side dishes. Or it can grow from there to include empanadas (as is often the case in Argentina), a lighter dish like grilled summer squash with a tart balsamic vinaigrette; or a tried-and-true favorites like buttered sweet corn on the cob, hot from the pot. And of course, even if the spirit of your barbecue is purely Argentinean, that doesn’t mean all the dishes have to be. Feel free to pick one or a few from your roster of favorite recipes.
Here are a few items that appear at almost every asado. The don’t really require recipes – just a little prep and of course, a trip to the gril.
Morcilla is blood sausage, with as many variations in style and flavor as there are butchers who make it. It is generally well seasoned with onions, garlic, and spices and may or may not contain other ingredients like rice (which is fairly common). Cooked morcilla is ready to eat as is, but the uncooked type needs to be cooked before eating. At an asado, of course, mocilla would be grilled – not over direct heat, which would cause the sausages to burst, but off to the side of the grill, where they can cook genly and thoroughly. Because blood sausages are so well seasoned, there is rarely anything in the way of sauce or salsa served with them.
Rib-eye Steak (known in Argentina as ojo de bife) and sirloin steak (chorizo de bife) are favorite cuts featured at asados. Like other meats at an asado, it is all about quality with these two steaks. So a simple rub with salt and pepper is all they get before hitting the grill. Both steaks should be cut thick so they emerge nice and juicy from the grill, and both can be served with chimichurri if you like.
Kidneys may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but they are an integral part of an Argentinean asado. Soak whole kidneys in well-salted aciduateled water (vinegar or lemon juice work well) in the refrigerator for several hours, changing the soaking liquid once or twice. After soaking, slice the kidney’s in half horizontally and pat them dry. Season them generously with salt and pepper and rub them with enough olive oil to make them glisten, then grill them over moderate heat until cooked through.