Open Flame BBQ – Argentine Style

view from our cabin

We recently attended my brother-in-law’s wedding; a four day affair full of family, friendship, frolics and feasting (I am still trying to recover, but, oh so worth it).   The newlyweds wanted it to be low key and of sufficient duration that everyone was able to relax and catch up with each other.  As is often the unfortunate consequence of our busy lives many of us had not see each other all together, since well the last wedding, and it dawned on us that we needed to remedy this problem soon as we had just run out of siblings to marry off.  That incredible weekend allowed me to explore a new (to me) part of California- Amador County wine country, and sample the goodness of Argentine cooking.  I learned:

  • dulce de leche, like bacon makes food just taste better
  • Argentines can make a mean version of a white sangria (clerico) that goes down entirely too easily
  • Argentines are incredible dancers, and they are serious about their yoga too
  • Argentines know their way around fire, and their BBQs can make you weak in the knees.
  • Chimichurri sauce is my new catcup – that stuff goes good with EVERYTHING!

Javier hard at work

The bride’s father wanted the last community meal to be a special send off for the bride and groom.  He was taking no chances and hired a professional, an asador or parrillero (the cook).  Javier Sandes fit the bill, and he has the equivalent of a taco truck selling slow grilled Argentine asado in Emeryville, California (just across the Bay from San Francisco).  Let me tell you, it was a great opportunity to watch a master practice his craft.  He’s much loved by the local community and has a Twitter following at @VamosPrimos.

Javier started off the evening with Argentine chorizo between two slices of wonderfully crusty Acme sweet bread.  At the same time he cooked up the chorizo he also grilled an assortment of green and red peppers, portobello mushrooms and the real treat pineapple which really complimented the chorizo.

For the main course he prepared chicken, tri-tip (beef) and bison.  As my four year old niece would say, “Oh la la“!  All the meats were served with a delicious chimichurri sauce that seemed to be “meat agnostic”, it didn’t matter what you put it on, it tasted delicious!

For the chicken he simply seasoned it with lemon juice and salt, and it came out amazingly tender.  I do not think he applied anything to the beef or bison except salt, and that’s traditional – no marinating and no rubs.  Its all about the meat.

More about that Argentine BBQ, the asado

While the focus here is Argentia, asado is also found in Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Southern Brazil.  Asado is a South American technique for cooking meat, usually beef (no surprise there) along with other meats on a parrilla (a cast iron grate over hot coals) or other grilling tools, or even an open fire.  Asado is the traditional dish of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and southern Brazil, and while I bet they are all delicious, each country has their own twist on asados – the focus here is on the Argentine version.

The first rule of asados are that they cannot be rushed.  I estimate Javier took about two hours to get the coals to the required temperature before he even thought about plonking that first piece of meat on the asado.  Patience is definitely the primary ingredient in all this cooking, and like that vinegar in the Filipino adobo, you don’t want to make it “angry” – do not poke, prod or turn this meat.

The meats need the time to build up a crust to retain all that delicious juice and flavors.  The sugars and the proteins in the meat need to work their magic with the heat and they can only do this undisturbed so that subsequent crunchy crust has all the flavor and texture that is a signature component to this barbecue.  Contrary, or perhaps a bit counterintuitive, this crust helps the meat retain its moisture.  It may look dry on the outside but trust me, its incredibly tasty and juicy on the inside, but only if the meat is left to its own devises.  I saw a timeline for an asado, and with cooking starting at 9:00, the first meal was not served until 2:00 pm.

Tools and techniques of the trade:

parrilla

parrilla:  cast iron grate over hot coals

chapa: a flat piece of cast iron set over a fire.  A good substitute would be a cast iron skillet set on a barbecue.  According to Francis Mallmann in his wonderful book, The Ways of Fire, chapa translates into a “piece of metal” but also refers to cooking done on a flat cast iron surface.

infiernillo: “small inferno” or “little hell” two fires with a cooking area between them.  This technique is commonly used when cooking for larger groups of people.

horo de barro:  wood oven  These primitive ovens are a common on Argentine estancias, where they are primary used to bake bread, but they are well suited for roasting meat. Pork suckling and sometimes, lamb are served, as they are more unlikely to get dry. Though not technically a grill, it is a very traditional way of cooking that still requires the great skills of an asador.  Moreover, the smoky flavor the ovens impart add to their appeal.

rescoldo:  cooking food in hot embers and warm ashes.  Potatoes can often be cooked this way as with pumpkins, corn cobs (with their husks), bell peppers, even eggs and shell fish.  Note that the eggs referenced were ostrich.  The thought with this cooking technique is that like other resources a fire should not be wasted and the embers still have value and should be used.

asador: a very dramatic method for cooking whole animals such as pigs, lambs or goats.  The animal is butterflied and fastened with wires or hooks to an iron cross.

There is an old Argentine proverb which says: Todo bicho que camina va a paral al asado – Every beast that walks ends up roasting on the iron cross.

caldero:  Think caldron, a large iron pot.  A Dutch oven would be an acceptable substitute.

Cast iron is king for this cooking because if its superior ability to evenly distribute heat.  The other key component for an Argentine barbecue is fuel.  Here wood is king.

The Meat

The chicken

You may have picked up on the fact that an Argentine asado does not involve one meat – its an entire assortment.  You can expect to find some combination of the following on your plate:

chorizo – typically served early as an appetizer, followed by black pudding, chitterlings, and sweetbreads.

Other typical meats, and tasty tidbits you might find include various cuts of beef vacío (flank steak), pork, ribs (asado de tira), chitterlings (chinchulines), sweetbread (mollejas), black pudding (morcillas), other offal (achuras), and a selection of sausages and chicken, baby goat (chivito), and lamb.

In The Ways of Fire book, Frances Mallmann talks of the importance of selecting the right type of meat.  He says you can use about any cut, but his preference is rib eye and make sure its well aged and grass fed (mais bien sur) and nicely marbled.  He likes that cut for its tenderness and taste.

Along side the grilled meats you can expect to find include:

  • Provoleta, a grilled cheese dish
  • Bread
  • Lettuce, tomato, onion salad
  • Verdurajo (grilled vegetables)

The meat is expected to be served immediately, topped with a chimchurri sauce of vinegar, olive oil, dried herbs and spices.
Salsa criolla (sauce of tomato and onion in vinegar) might also be found but more commonly used on the offal, and not the steaks.

Chimichurri Sauce

This recipe is from The Seven Fires cookbook by Frances Mallmann  The traditional chimichurri sauce uses dried herbs as the gauchos (cowboys) would not have ready access to the fresh herbs.

Makes about 2 cups

For the Salmuera

Ingredients

1 c water
1 T coarse salt
1 head of garlic, separated into clove and peeled
1 c packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 fresh oregano leaves
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
¼ c red wine vinegar
½ c extra virgin olive oil

Directions

To make the salmuera, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add the salt and stir until it dissolves.  Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Mince the garlic very fine, and pour in a medium bowl.  Whisk the parsley and oregano and add to the garlic, along with the red pepper flakes.  Whisk in the red wine vinegar and then the olive oil.  Whisk in the salmuera.  Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and keep in the refrigerator.  Chimichurri is best prepared at least one day in advance, so that the flavors have a chance to blend.  The chimichurri can be kept refrigerated for up to 2 to 3 weeks.

Clerico – Argentine White Sangria

I have no proportions for this recipe, but it’s very simple.  I know you will be disappointed, but I think frequent sampling on the part of the cook is required to get this one just right.

kicking back

The woman making this drink used an un-oaked Chardonnay, but she said its not mandatory that this variety be used.  She sweetened it with sugar, but honey, agave syrup or anything other sweetener might be added.  Unlike the Spanish style sangria, no spirits (brandy, triple sec) were added, nor were any spices.  But I couldn’t help but think some fresh herbs such as mint might be nice (but that would be veering from the  traditional).   She said the secret was to use the freshest fruits.  In our case, the fruit included strawberries, blueberries, and peaches.  She mentioned she has also added kiwi and banana, but she did not think pineapple would be a good addition.  This is a great recipe to put together a few hours ahead of time as the flavors from the fruits and wine all have to mix. It also leads to much merriment in the kitchen.  This, my friends, is the perfect drink for summer picnics.

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35 comments for “Open Flame BBQ – Argentine Style

  1. June 12, 2010 at 11:48 PM

    White sangria sounds really great for a BBQ party…is there any other suitable Argentina white wine can be used instead of Chardonnay to make this fruity wine drink?

  2. June 13, 2010 at 1:03 AM

    White sangria sounds really great for a BBQ party…is there any other suitable Argentina white wine can be used instead of Chardonnay to make this fruity wine drink?
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

  3. June 13, 2010 at 5:35 AM

    This sounds like heaven on earth. I do love chimichurri and the white sangria promises. But the premise of starting with good meat and not rushing it is a thing of beauty and respect.

  4. June 13, 2010 at 10:03 AM

    Argentinians truly have mastered the art of grilling meat, not to mention raising cattle. It would have never occurred to me to heat up cast iron for two hours prior to grilling. I’m terribly curious about the results, which must must must be sensational!

  5. June 13, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    What a great idea for a wedding feast! I love that it’s like built-in entertainment, too. Wow, two hours just to get the coals just right. Just shows how cooking meat over a blazing fire is such an art and such a science. I bet that’s one wedding where nobody dissed the food! 😉

  6. June 13, 2010 at 8:27 PM

    I love the low key wedding thing! What a fantastic idea. My good friends’ husband is Argentine and I’ve had the pleasure of being part of many Sunday backyard Argentine BBQ’s in SF! Such a thorough review of the tricks and tools of the trade. Must have been an amazing time!

  7. June 13, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    I love open flame BBQs. That so neat for a down home style party. A great way to celebrate a wedding.

  8. June 13, 2010 at 9:28 PM

    I’m not familiar with Argentine cuisine, but I’m so ready to try it after reading this post! I guess I will start from making chimichurri sauce. Thanks for the recipe!

  9. June 13, 2010 at 11:51 PM

    great send off for the bride and groom, great food and family..the white sangria sound lovely and chimichurri is one of my favs, i love all the different kinds of meat used for the asado..great post, glad you had fun

    sweetlife

  10. June 14, 2010 at 12:56 AM

    I remember the exact day I feel in love with chimichurri sauce – and what a cool name for a sauce. The first time I had on thinly sliced steak tartare with a fried egg. Not sure if that “argentinian” but I love these cultures that have the all-day bbq, and would love to have asado + chimichurri and bonus to have an Argentinian cooking and calling the shots!

  11. June 14, 2010 at 7:01 AM

    Oh I was so hoping you would post a recipe for Chimichurri. I picked up a jar months ago and loved it but for some reason, Wegmans no longer carries it. Thank you so much!!!

    As for that festive occasion and that awesome meal, my oh my oh my! Incredible cooking and of course your commentary is greatly appreciated. I feel like I was one of the guests:)

    I did a post United Nations Day which featured Argentina and happened upon a GREAT blog about the food. It’s called, From Argentina with Love and the fabulous host is Rebecca. It hasn’t been updated in a while but I’m sure you will find bunches of interesting tidbits.

    Thanks for sharing…

  12. June 14, 2010 at 1:43 PM

    I hate to copy you twice in one week. But I am going to make your white Sangria! Look for Adobo at SippitySup later today. GREG

  13. June 14, 2010 at 3:00 PM

    The Argentinians do love their meat, no question about that! And I keep meaning to make some chimichurri for myself (to, you know, put on everything :) ) – you have reminded me that I need to go and do just that.

  14. admin
    June 14, 2010 at 3:05 PM

    Angie – I asked that same question about wine and she just said part of the beauty was using whatever was on hand.

    Claudia – Totally agree!

    Christine – I don’t think they had the cast iron heated for 2 hours, it was more a case of getting the fire to the desired point before they even started cooking.

    Carolyn – Agree with you on the cooking process, and this is not the thing for impatient types. No one dissed the food, in fact we are still raving about it!

    Lisa – It was a blast, and lucky you to have ready exposure to the asados.

    Jenn – You got it!

    Kitchen M – You’ll thank me for this recipe.

    Sweetife – Thanks!

    Gastro – Not a bad way to spend a weekend, I’m telling you!

    Louise – This is a great recipe, but I wanted to note its tradition in terms of the ingredients except that this one uses fresh herbs. The true recipe uses dried, as those cowboys did not have access to fresh herbs while on the plains.

    Sippity – Copy away, can’t wait to read your post!

    Spud – Hmm, I’m sensing a chimichurri spud combo here=)

  15. June 14, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    What a treat this must of been – once again I’m envious of your experience! I had chimichurri for the first time last year and really loved it. The Sangria sounds special too.

  16. June 14, 2010 at 7:47 PM

    This sounds like a fantastic feast! The chimichurri sauce is terrific and the white sangria sure sounds like a must try!

  17. June 15, 2010 at 12:43 PM

    My cousin came back from Argentina with tales of amazing grilled meats; i am just mad that I did not know about this handsome Argentinian man when I was in Emeryville on an Argentinian tango workshop! I would have at least eaten well!
    Thanks for the very important and interesting titbits about this method and technique. We’ll be put to good use!

  18. June 15, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    I was recently charmed by Mallmann at a presentation of his I attended. The food was amazing. His book is amazing. And, I agree that chimichurri goes with everything! The white sangria sounds delicious too. Sounds like a very fun wedding!

  19. June 15, 2010 at 3:41 PM

    Excellent description and article about the asado, perfect like made by an Argentinean or Uruguayan people.
    I haven’t lately time to write nothing, of a similar article for you.
    Slow reading of it to cook and enjoy it more :)

    Have a great week!

    Gera

  20. June 15, 2010 at 4:50 PM

    Wow! I love chimichurri and white sangria (any sangria). Thanks for a terrific description of the wedding reception menu – I hope you’ve recovered.

  21. June 15, 2010 at 7:28 PM

    Hey, I have not had any Argentinian food in my life yet! :O

  22. June 16, 2010 at 11:02 AM

    What a great meal! I’d love to taste that food. That white sangria sounds wonderful and chimichurri too!

    A great article, thanks!

  23. June 16, 2010 at 12:39 PM

    What tasty & appetizing food this is!!

    I also love a good home made chimichurri sauce!! I will try your version!
    We have some Argentinian restaurants around Brussels. The one restaurant is defenetly not the other. There are only 2 very good restaurants here in Brussels. Thanks for all of the info!

  24. June 16, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    I love Argentina!!!!My sister lived in Argentina for a while and I felt in love with their food…chimichurri, chorizo, mate etc. Wonderful post!

  25. June 16, 2010 at 7:19 PM

    Does Javier accept overseas assignments. I am seriously craving some of this BBQ now after your amazing description!

  26. June 16, 2010 at 7:27 PM

    I love your description of dulce de leche and I completely agree! Having lived in southern Brazil we did get a touch of Argentinian cooking, but I would still love to travel to the source. We didn’t get the chance while there. It’s such a unique and process with plenty of patience needed.

    My husband was able to go to BA for a business trip and came back with a gift of a chimichurri dry mix which we love. I’m so glad you posted this recipe, though. I was looking into making my own for an upcoming party. Now I need to look no further!

  27. admin
    June 16, 2010 at 7:52 PM

    Reeni – It was a treat first to spend all that time with family but to also make new friends and of course feast on the food. It was heaven!

    5 Star – Can’t recommend both enough.

    Taste of Beirut – Is there an advanced class you can take? =)

    Lisa – I love his book, how lucky to see him in person. I remember seeing the original write up on him in I think BA and I was so intrigued. Now I at least have an idea of what he’s talking about.

    Gera – Phew, if it passed you than I must have done alright. I’ll take your post anytime I can get, it I know you have a lot going on now that is far more important.

    Lynn – Starting to recover, but oh, I’d drop everything to do it again in a heartbeat!

    Tigerfish – We’ve got to correct that stat!

    Rosa – Both were delicious!

    Sophie – My pleasure, and I’d be curious to try the Argentine restaurants you spoke of.

    Erica – Thanks!

    Wizzy – I’ll have to ask =)

    Lori – I need to make a trip to SA to sample the different barbecues first hand – for scientific reasons you understand. Are you game?

  28. June 17, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    Usually I decline to go to BBQ parties because they are just boring and not really edible…but wouldn’t I love to be invited to an Argentine one! I knew they were great dancers, but I didn’t know that they loved yoga, too!

  29. June 17, 2010 at 4:20 PM

    Sounds like a great BBQ party. Asador may sound like a dramatic way of grilling animals, but it makes the most scrumptious meat one can eat. I know it as we have a very similar method of grilling whole lamb.

  30. June 18, 2010 at 6:12 AM

    Hi LouAnn and Happy Picnic Day!!! I just wanted to pop in to “personally” invite you to play the Picnic Game. It was such fun last year, I’ve decided to do it again.

    Drop by if you get a chance and choose a letter, should you so decide.

    P.S. Thanks for the note about the herbs. Definitely a keeper!!!

  31. June 18, 2010 at 12:51 PM

    Oh! Yummie! Being raised in Brazil…I love BBQ and lots and lots of meat…the pictures are so tempting…and white sangria…have to try this one :-)

  32. June 19, 2010 at 3:07 PM

    One day I will go to S. America, and eat loads, while salsaing along the way. Or just head to Cali. BTW, I like your wordle tag cloud…Glad you had fun. I have some siblings you could come marry off? Interested? Then you could put Nigeria on your sidebar!

  33. June 23, 2010 at 5:54 PM

    Oh yeah, I can smell the meat cooking, don’t even mind if it blows my way, added fragrance!

    Love white sangria- my friend from Basque Spain taught me years ago- yummy!

  34. admin
    June 24, 2010 at 5:10 AM

    Sophia – Nothing boring about this asado. The yoga part is a bit tangental. One of our relatives was one of the first people to bring Astanga yoga to the Bay Area and she offered to teach yoga classes, they ended up being in the morning. The majority of attendees were the harding working relatives of the bride who, despite helping to cook and show off their dance skills the night before, had no problem taking in a yoga class in the morning. I was so impressed.

    Zerri – I agree, the description of the meat from the asador sounds amazing! Do they have anything similar in Turkey?

    Louise – Thanks for the invite, unfortunately, totally swamped at present, feel like I am doggy paddling and just trying to keep my nose above the water.

    Juliana – I bet you have some great comparisons and BBQS. That sangria was trouble!

    Kitchen B – Hehe, do your siblings know what you are offering up?

    Chef E – The aroma only added to the experience.

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