Asado by an Argentine gaucho.
Eating some typical food, enjoying at the same time the company of locals, is the best way to start understanding them.
or example, during a stay in Buenos Aires, it would be great to be invited to one of the informal dinners among friends and parents, organized almost every week by the so-called “porteni” in their houses. It would be without doubt the right occasion to appreciate the bright and joyful spirit of this people and a great opportunity to taste a delicious preparation very famous worldwide: the asado. Thanks to this speciality and to the wonderful company, it’s really possible to start understanding Argentina.
The gauchos eat asado.
he literal translation of the word “asado” is “roasted”. Centuries ago, the Spanish colonizers spread their passion for this method of cooking to the peoples of South America. A passion that took root almost immediately, also thanks to the great quality of the beef cattle that still today graze on the vast Pampa plains.
So, it’s probably not by chance that the so-called “gauchos”, drovers and undisputed masters of these plains, were the first great Argentine “asadores”, specialists in cooking asado.
They were Creole people (“criolla”), born from the union of the European settlers and the local natives: very poor, but also very proud and independent. They survived thanks to their legendary skill as horsemen, gathering wild cattle and selling it in the cities.
The lack of money forced them to eat a lot of meat, the only resource they had in abundance: this is probably why they became so good at cooking it. The technique they used is known as “a la cruz” and consists in attaching the animal to a cross-shaped support, stuck in the ground in an oblique position, inclined toward the fire but not too near it. This way its meat is cooked very slowly and stays tender, juicy and tasteful: the result is simply delicious, a must for all those who like this kind of preparations.
Argentines and asado.
he skill in making asado is something many Argentines are very proud of.
In this country, during the weekend, it’s a common habit to eat with friends and family. Time is spent chatting, listening to music, drinking red wine (“vino tinto”) and eating tasty appetizers … until the main course is ready.
Just one person, the so-called “asador”, is appointed the fundamental task of cooking the meat: a task of huge responsibility and, for this reason, performed with great care and expertise. In time, an asador develops a sort of “sensitivity” that really makes the difference.
Argentines appreciate a meat cooked slowly, that stays moist and tender on the inside. The “parrilla”, the classic grill, is normally preferred to the cross-shaped support used by the gauchos.
It’s tradition that, when the meal is over, if the guests have enjoyed the food, they say all together:
“Un aplauso para el asador!” (“an applause for the asador!”).
The meat for an asado.
n asado can be prepared using the gaucho’s method (“a la cruz”), attaching a beef or a lamb to a cross and exposing it to the fire, or using a “parrilla”, the classic grill.
A “parrillada”(*1) usually includes beef, pork (“cerdo”), chicken (“pollo”) and lamb (“cordero”).
Beef is the true heart of an Argentine asado.
The favourite cuts are:
The “vacio” (part of the flank);
The “matambre” (the abdominal muscles);
The “costillas” (the ribs);
The “lomo” (the filet);
The “achuras” (beef offals).
The so-called “bife de chorizo”, the classic steak made with the loin cut, can be served as well.
Pork is also a very important part of the asado, with delicacies like:
The “chorizos”: the classic sausages.
The “costillas”: the ribs.
The “morcillas”: sausages filled with blood.
Some “exotic” types of asado may include the meat of animals like wild horse (“potro”) and goat (“cabra”).
*1: Both a “choriceata”, prepared just with pork sausages, and a “polleada” prepared just with chicken, cannot be considered a proper “asado”.
The cooking methods.
“A la cruz”
This cooking method takes its name from the traditional cross-shaped support used by the gauchos. The “asado con cuero” is prepared without skinning the animal: this way its meat keeps great part of the liquids and remains juicy. Taking away the skin, the cooking is much faster, but the final result is not as good.
The method known as “al palo” (on a spit), is used expecially in the Chilean Patagonia to cook lamb (“cordero al palo”) and pig.
A steel or wooden spit (“palo”) runs through the entire animal and is placed near the embers in horizontal or oblique position.
“A la parrilla”
This method takes its name from the so-called “parrilla”, a metal grill. Since it does not take a lot of space, it’s frequently used in private houses: many Argentines have built special structures to accomodate their parrillas. Some of them have pulleys to raise and lower the grill over the embers.
Not just asado!
he asado, undisputed protagonist of many meals in Argentina, is often accompanied by other delicacies.
When the asador is still busy cooking the meat, a wooden chopping board full of cheese, salami, olives and pickles is usually served to whet the appetite.
Some exquisite “empanadas” can also be offered as an appetizer. They are a true temptation and the risk to eat too many of them is very high.
Different types of salad can be served as a side dish. The simplest one is the so-called “ensalada”, its ingredients are just tomato and lettuce. The most traditional is the “ensalada de papas”, made with potatoes (“papas”), onion (“cebolla”) and mayonnaise (“mayonesa”).
It’s also important to remember the exquisite “provoleta”: it’s basically a round slice of provolone cheese, a couple of centimeters high, cooked on the grill.
he best dressing for an asado has a nice and silly name: “chimichurri”.
This sauce is prepared with the following ingredients:
Olive oil (“aceite de oliva”);
Black pepper (“pimienta negra”);
Lemon juice (optional):
Its taste is very aromatic: just perfect for roasted meat. The strongest flavor is that of garlic: delicious but clearly inappropriate for a delicate palate.
Gauchos: the soul of a nation.
he people known as “gauchos”, initially treated with suspicion, in time became heroic figures, acquiring an immortal place in the imagination of every Argentinean.
In order to fully understand the reasons for such a surprising evolution, it’s necessary to approach their myth: the first step is to study their origins, deepening the knowledge of the so-called “gauderios”, their closest relatives.
The “gauderios” were an ethnically mixed group of people.
During the Seventeenth Century, they lived in a region known as the “Banda Oriental”.
Located east of the Uruguay River and north of the Rio de la Plata, at that time this area was right between the domains of Spain and Portugal: for this reason it was almost completely ignored by both countries and got the nickname of “nobody’s land”.
The Gauderios prospered in this place, thanks to their good relations with the indigenous population, cattle trading and smuggling: an illegal business made much easier by the lack of controls at the border.
The first “gauchos”.
The word “gaucho” started to be used at the beginning of the Eighteenth Century for a part of the Creole population characterized by an attitude highly indipendent and unwilling to submit to the rules. They were under many aspects the heirs of the gauderios and, as such, they had a very bad reputation, being considered at best a bunch of vagabonds and adventurers, if not bandits and thieves. So it is not surprising that the first record in which appears their name is an official document sent to the authorities in Buenos Aires refering to them as a band of criminals.
The mysterious masters of the Pampas.
An aura of mystery surrounded the first gauchos: that’s the reason why, at least initially, they inspired fear. In truth, many of them were just common people, trying to escape from poverty and from all the rules imposed in the cities.
They embraced the freedom and the opportunities offered by the immense plains of the Pampa: wild and desolate places, where no “respectable” citizen was supposed to go. Places where just a few skillful and tenacious horsemen could survive, driving and trading cattle.
The gaucho and his horse.
There are no doubts that horses were essential to live in such a difficult environment: they were without doubts the most precious property of the gauchos. Their skill in riding them became legendary: thanks to the close relationship with these animals, they became the undisputed masters of the Pampas.
Gauchos fight for freedom.
Some historical events helped to mitigate the distrust of the people against these former “brigands”, transforming it in genuine admiration.
This radical change started at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century, during the Argentine War of Independence. Between 1810 and 1824, they fought with the patriots (“patriotas”) against the royalists (“realistas”), supporters of the colonizing nations.
They had no uniform and could be distinguished from the other soldiers for the so-called “poncho”: a sort of blanket, part of their typical clothing.
They fought as irregular troops: it was in fact immediately clear the great value of their riding skill for the war effort. They were just perfect to perform guerrilla actions and reconnaissance missions, where their great knowledge of the territory proved to be a huge advantage against the enemy. The military campaign fought by the gaucho troops of the General Martin Miguel de Guemes, the so-called “infernales”, to repel the royalist army from the Province of Salta, took the name of “gaucho war”.
José Hernández improves the glory of the gauchos.
The glory of the gauchos was further increased by literature. In 1872 the famous writer José Hernández published “El Gaucho Martín Fierro”: the protagonist of this epic poem defends the ideals of freedom, equality and purity, fighting the tyranny and the corruption of the European colonizers. Thanks to his courage he becomes a true national hero.
This poem has a huge importance since it is considered the highest example of “gaucho literature”.
The gaucho spirit, part of the Argentine soul.
The Argentine people recognizes in the poem by Hernández his true spirit. A “gaucho” spirit: free, benevolent, romantic and adventurous. A spirit founded on equality and hospitality.
HOW TO MAKE AN ASADO
ere follows a video showing how to prepare an “asado”. The animal (a lamb, in this case), is attached to a metallic support, the so-called “asador” (*1), inclined towards the embers. The video also shows how to cook meat and vegetables on a “parrilla”, the classic grill.
*1: The word “asador” can be used for both the support and the cook.
“ASAR A LA FIAMMA”
t’s a method to make an asado that consists in exposing the meat to the flame. The distance should be great enough to ensure a slow and uniform cooking.
THE ORIGINS OF THE NAME
here are no certain information about the origins of the word “asado”. Its similarity with “gauderio” is quite evident.
Some scholars think that the term may derive:
From the Chechua “huachu”: whose translation is “orphan”, “vagabond”.
From the Arab “chaucho”: whose translation is “leather whip”.
From the Moorish “hawsh”: whose translation is “wanderer”.
From the Latin “gaudeus”: whose translation is “joy”.
Whoever is right, it’s interesting to notice that every one of these hypotheses is plausible, since they all correspond to a trait of the “gauchos”.
MUSIC FOR THE ASADO
Some Argentine traditional songs are clearly the best choice to accompany the reading of an article about asado.
THE DONENESS OF MEAT
n Argentina, when ordering grilled meat, it’s necessary to specify its level of doneness, using one of these words:
“Ben cocida”: stands for “well done”.
“Al punto”: stands for “medium well” or “well”.
“Jugosa”: stands for “medium rare”.
“Vuelta vuelta”: stands for “rare”.
“Crura”: stands for “extra rare” or “blue”.
It’s important to remember that, in general, the Argentines don’t appreciate very much rare meat.
STARTING WITH AN “EMPANADA”
he “empanada” is a kind of food very common in many countries of South America. It’s quite possible that the Spanish colonizers brought its recipe in this part of the world. It consists in a small piece of stuffed pastry that can be baked or fried.
There are many different types of filling. Some of the most famous in Argentina are:
“Carne” (meat): made with ground beef, onion, eggs and spices.
“Jamon & queso” ( ham and cheese): made with mozzarella cheese and ham.
“Pollo” (chicken): made with chicken meat, pepperoni, onion and eggs.
“Verdura” (vegetables): made with spinaches and onion.
GAUCHOS WITHOUT FLATWARE …
n general, gauchos brought no flatware with them. They were used to eat asado by grabbing a big piece of meat with their teeth and sliding the knife (“facon”) upwards to cut a morsel of the desired size.
… AND WITHOUT SALT
It’s also important to remember that they didn’t use a lot of salt, since it was too much expensive for them.
A HUGE ASADO
ere follows a very interesting video showing the preparation of a huge asado: so great to achieve the World Guinness Record in 2011.
These numbers can give a good idea about its proportions:
13.713 kilos of meat.
Almost 30 tons of wood.
More than 500 assistants.
This meat fed 20.000 people attending the event at General Pico, in the Province of La Pampa, Argentina.
THE RIGHT BEVERAGE
hat to drink with an asado? Clearly, much depends on the types of meat used to make it. In general, a good choice is a red wine, medium warm, quite tannic, quite fresh and soft. For example, a Malbec.
The alcohol and the tannicity balance the succulence of the meat.
The acidity balances the fat of the sausages.
The softness balances the saltiness.
All the images used in this page, with the exception of those marked with the “webfoodculture” logo, are released in public domain:
©:1 (*) – Argentine gaucho, 1890 (Wikipedia Link)
©:2 (*) – Gaucho of the Argentine Republic, 1868 (Wikipedia Link)
©:3 (*) – Martín Miguel de Güemes, Eduardo Schiaffino, 1902 (Wikipedia Link)
©:4 (*) – “El Asado”, by Ignacio Manzoni, XIX Sec., National Museum of Fine Arts in Buenos Aires (Wikipedia Link)
©:5 (*) – Campesinos y gauchos chilenos, XIX Sec. (Wikipedia Link)
©:6 (*) – José Hernández (1834-1886), 1875 (Wikipedia Link)
©:7 (*) – The Gaucho, 1840, Sotheby’s, N.Y.: “Photographs” (Wikipedia Link)
©:8 (**) – Facon, 2008, J. Richino (Wikipedia Link)
©:9 (*) – A group of Argentine gauchos, 1890, Sotheby’s, N.Y.: “Photographs” (Wikipedia Link)
(*) The copyright of this image has expired.
(**) Image released in public domain by its author.