The Art of the Asado
The Asado is one of the things that I love and miss the most about life in Argentina. If I had to pick one word to describe Asado it would be the Argentine equivalent to a "BBQ". But in Argentina it is a way of life. It is engrained in the culture and because of how culturally important it is accessible in different forms to most everyone. It is about getting together with friends, family and spending hours enjoying each other's company, cooking, eating, and drinking. It is about 'switching off' and appreciating the present.
The beauty of the Asado is the simplicity of it, and yet, it takes years to master. When I first moved to Argentina, I went to many Asados and watched as each person had his own techniques. I started to practice through trial and error and it wasn't until about two years later my friend finally told me after lunch “Adam, bien hecho.” I had finally been accepted and felt like I finally understood what it was all about.
The passion and unique experience of the Asado was something that I wanted to share so much that when I had my wine tour company in Mendoza, we created the 'Asado Master Class' which was my favorite experience we offered. It gave me such pleasure to show tourists the essence of Argentine culture and many of them would go home to then build their own backyard Parrillas (Argentine grill).
Though not everyone can build a 'Parilla' (Grill) in their backyard or use the exact firewood or charcoal they have in Argentina, everyone can learn to make their own version of the Asado by taking the time, having good company and enjoying the moment.
Adam's Top 10 Asador (Asado Maker) Tips:
1. Don't Marinate the Meat! Only use coarse grain rock salt (Parrilla salt) to cover the meat; this keeps the juices and flavors of the different cuts rather than the flavor of the marinade.
2. Low Heat/Long Cook - Ideally you should be able to put your hand above the coals for 8 seconds before putting the meat on the grill. Then feed coals over time to keep consistent temperature to cook for 2-3 hours.
3. Bones / Fat Down on Grill First - This is about timing; make sure the sear goes first on the fat and cooks into the meat.
4. Cheaper Cuts Prevail - This goes with the earlier point: you need to have some fat to cook into the meat over time and prime cuts should be used for high-end restaurants rather than the long cooks at the Asado.
5. Have an Assistant / Buddy - This is the best job to have and one I love doing in Argentina. The assistant's job is to keep Asador's glass full of his favorite beverage since he needs to 100% keep eyes on the grill. The best part of this job is when the Asador needs to cut a sliver of meat to taste; the assistant gets the first bite!
6. NO Meat Thermometer - This goes along with most any fancy gadget that would be absolutely unacceptable at any Argentine Asado. You can feel, look and cut into the meat only towards the end but that should only be a last resort.
7. This is your Asado - You made the fire, you grill the meat and if one of your friends tries to touch anything without asking you kindly as them to 'STEP BACK!' The only possible exception would be your assistant who as your support is allowed to offer input.
8. Fernet Branca and Coke! – AKA the Fernando, this is one of Argentina's cultural drinks just like 'Mate' and is almost always consumed at Asados. This beverage is mixed with Coca Cola, served over ice, and is not taken as a shot. This liqueur has a menthol-like character, best mixed.
9. Yes to Veggies! - Contrary to popular belief, Asados are not just a meat fest. Most guests will be in charge of bringing a different salad to accompany the grilled meat, and it is very common to have grilled corn, peppers, pumpkin, cheese, and eggplant share the grill (although beef and pork are always the star).
10. Nap Time - You worked hard, now take a break! After your feast, most people might have some ice cream and just take a nap on the closest couch, lawn space, or chair. This is okay. Don't feel bad to take a snooze while your guests can stay and chat as they please.