Argentina is famous for its meat, but that’s not the only ingredient that makes our barbecues, or asados, so special.
Teamwork is essential. Preparing an asado is both the work of one person and of many. While the cook, or asador, starts the fire, everyone else opens the drinks. While the asador cuts the fat from the meat, we cut the cheese and salami. And while the asador works the grill, the rest of us offer encouragement and support – and if it rains, we’ll hold the umbrella because we don’t cancel an asado for anything!
In Buenos Aires, we don’t need a reason to organise an asado – there’s no need to wait for a birthday or national holiday, though of course those are extra motives to throw some meat on the parrilla. We don’t necessarily need many people either. If we can round up ten or more, great, but if there are only three of us, it will be just as good: it will mean fewer choripanes (sausage sandwiches) and fewer kilos of meat, but the essence remains the same: the joy of getting together.
Think of an asado as an excuse to get together with the people you most love, whether it’s friends, family or colleagues. And while barbecues exist around the world, there is something special about the Argentine asado.
As the Chilean writer Juan Pablo Meneses once wrote, « Though more and more books are published on how to prepare meat well, no text seems to beat the intuition that every Argentine carries inside. »
Some might use the word « intuition. » Others would say « affection ».
With an Argentine asado, you can’t get away with a few hamburgers and hot dogs like you might elsewhere. Sure, there are sausages to start with, but they’re always followed by real cuts of meat like tira de asado, colita de cuadril, entraña and vacio. Of course, if there’s anyone in the group who doesn’t eat meat, then there’ll also be a huge colourful salad and plenty of veg on the grill too.
The culinary art extends to the condiments. Two of the most popular are salsa criolla, made from bell peppers, onion and tomato, and chimichurri, made from parsley, oregano, garlic and onion (a word of advice: don’t point out that chimichurri may well be a British invention. One theory is that the word comes from a contraction of the demand « gimme curry, » uttered by British troops during their attempted invasions of Buenos Aires in the early 19th cenutury.
But there are more ingredients. An asado without anecdotes is like a football match without goals. It’s enjoyable enough, but it doesn’t meet expectations. Locals have an incredible ability to generate a side-splitting story from the most everyday of occurences. All it needs is for one person at the table not to have heard about what happened when María turned up at her boyfriend’s place to justify an elaborate, and, yes, probably greatly exaggerated, retelling of the story. Because an asado is more than just a meal, it’s a moment in which the key ingredients are friendship and camaraderie.
Steps for a perfect asado:
Buy the meat and charcoal: the asador, usually with one or more companions, is in charge of getting the meat and charcoal. He might also make the salad.
Starting the fire: this takes time and cannot be rushed. The asador will be flattered if he’s supported by a guitar and words of encouragement.
Snacks and wine: once the meat is on the grill, it’s time to cut the cheese, salami and ham, and to open the first bottle of wine. If it’s an improvised asado, peanuts and packets of potato chips will do just fine.
Sausages and blood sausage: the first things off the grill are the sausages (chorizo) and blood sausage (morcilla), usually served in bread (pan) as choripan and morcipan to satisfy hungry stomachs waiting for the main course – though there are those who’ll claim these entrées are actually the highlights of the asado.
The meat: depending on who’s in charge, the meat may be beef, pork or chicken. The cuts come off the grill in batches and the asador will always eat from the board from which the others skewer their cuts.
Applause: without fail, there should always be a round of applause for the asador!