Tips for Hosting the Mighty Asado
It’s the start of the weekend in Argentina and that means one thing from a food perspective: it’s time to start preparing the asado. It’s code for an hours-long bacchanal, headlined by myriad grilled meats and aided by the likes of empanadas, salads, fresh vegetables and countless bottles of wine.
Along with soccer and staying out late, the asado, which comes from the Spanish word asador (cooking a whole animal; also the person who does the roasting), is a major part of life in Argentina.
Typically on Sundays, families and friends gather in parks, backyards and pretty much anyplace they can build a fire and grill to partake in the divine blend of gluttony and human interaction that is the asado.
Certainly, asado is no dietetic exercise, but there’s no denying the satisfaction that comes from indulging in perfectly grilled grass-fed steaks, succulent ribs or maybe even a spit-roasted whole baby lamb or goat. These come accompanied by side dishes and local wines ranging from white varieties like Sauvignon Blanc and Torrontés to reds that include Pinot Noir, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.
The Home Asado
In asado-addicted countries like Argentina, many homes, public parks and wineries are equipped with clay ovens (hornos de barra) for baking empanadas, casseroles and vegetables. Open fire pits, called fogóns, are also ubiquitous.
In the United States, we don’t have the same ingrained outdoor cooking mentality, nor the fire pits and readily available hardwoods that fuel the asado. But that doesn’t mean you can’t replicate the Argentinean asado by using your kitchen and a makeshift fire pit or large grill.
An asado usually includes various sausages, chicken parts and several cuts of beef, ranging from skirt steak (entraña) to ribs and some prime cuts, highlighted by the rib-eye (ojo de bife).
Generally, asado participants start nibbling slowly before hitting the best cuts with gusto. The cooking is spread over several hours to allow everyone to imbibe, chat and relax.
For guidance on how to do your own authentic asado, find a copy of Seven Fires (Artisan Books; 2009), by world-renowned Argentine chef Francis Mallmann, who owns restaurants in Buenos Aires and Mendoza, Argentina, as well as in Garzón, Uruguay (near Punta del Este).
On the following pages are adapted Mallmann recipes for the perfect rib-eye steak, chimichurri, which Argentines use to dress their meats, sausages, potatoes and empanadas, and a rustic vegetable dish.
To begin, crack open a chilled bottle or two of crisp Torrontés, Argentina’s best-known aromatic white. The country’s most fragrant, balanced versions of Torrontés hail from the northerly Salta region, particularly around the town of Cafayate. Two very good examples of Torrontés are Durigutti’s 2013 (88 points; $13) and Colomé’s 2013 Calchaquí Valley bottling (88 points; $15).
For the sausage, chicken and vegetable dishes, try an Argentine Pinot Noir for its lighter frame and zesty fruit flavors. Bodega Chacra’s 2011 Barda (90 points; $30) from Patagonia and Don Rodolfo’s 2012 Viña Cornejo Costas, a Best Buy from Mendoza at 87 points and $10, are both good choices.
Lastly, honor the gauchos, chefs and asadors of Argentina by drinking Malbec with the meat. El Enemigo’s 2011 (93 points; $26) is a bold Malbec with enough structure to handle that ojo de bife. Up the ladder in price is a pair of 2011 single-vineyard Malbecs from Alta Vista; both the Serenade and Temis earned 92 points ($50 each) and are vivid examples of what makes Argentina’s Malbecs special.
The Perfect Steak (Preferably Grass-Fed, Aged Rib-Eye)
About an hour before you plan to serve the meat, start a wood fire off to the side of the grill. A hardwood like oak, maple, hickory or birch works best, while a wide grate that allows for coals to drop down is ideal. Charcoal briquettes are a viable option, though not as authentic or flavor-imparting as natural hardwood coals.
As your coals are heating up, allow the steak to warm to room temperature, then liberally salt the exterior to taste. When you have a nice 2-inch-thick bed of coals, place the grill roughly 4 inches above the coals, and when a layer of white ash covers the coals, you are ready to cook.
But first, check the temperature of your fire by placing your hands at the level that the meat will cook. If the coals are ready to go, you should only be able to hold your hands there for about 2–3 seconds.
Before placing down the steak (ideal thickness about 2 inches), grease the grill with a paper towel moistened with olive oil. Next, place the meat on the grill and listen for a nice sizzle.
Do not touch or move the steak for 5 minutes, at which point you should gently lift an edge with tongs to check for sear marks. Then rotate the meat 90 degrees to create a crosshatch pattern and to prevent burning.
Four minutes later, turn the steak over and cook for another 7 minutes, or until medium-rare. As before, check after 5 minutes and rotate to prevent burning. Transfer to a platter and let rest for 3 minutes. Slice or serve whole, with chimichurri.
1 cup water
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
¼ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Start by making a salmuera. Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan, then add the salt and stir until dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool. Meanwhile, mince garlic as finely as possible and place in a medium bowl. Mince parsley and oregano leaves and add to the garlic along with red pepper flakes. Whisk in the red wine vinegar and then the olive oil. Whisk in the salmuera before transferring to a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
Refrigerate. (The best chimichurri is prepared at least a day in advance so that the flavors can blend; chimichurri can last up to 3 weeks if properly sealed and refrigerated.) Makes about 2 cups.
Burnt Carrots with Goat Cheese, Parsley, Arugula and Crispy Garlic Chips
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
8 medium carrots, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
2 bunches arugula, trimmed, washed and dried
6 ounces goat cheese, sliced into ½-inch thick rounds
For garlic chips:
8 large garlic cloves
1½–2 cups extra virgin olive oil
To make garlic chips: Use a small slicer or mandoline to cut the garlic into very thin pieces. Heat the oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until very hot. Meanwhile, line a plate with paper towels.
To test the oil temperature, add a slice of garlic. If it sizzles, add the remaining garlic slices and cook for about 30 seconds, until crisp and lightly golden brown. Use a flat, slotted skimmer or spatula to keep the slices from sticking together as they cook. Transfer chips to paper towels to drain. You can do this all at once if your pan is large enough, or in batches.
To make the vinaigrette and carrots: Pour red wine vinegar into a small bowl and whisk in 5 tablespoons of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and fresh black pepper. Set aside.
Cut the carrots crosswise in half, then cut into thick, rough sticks. Toss them in a bowl with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.
Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat and, working in batches if necessary, add the carrots in a single layer and cook, without turning, until they are charred on the bottom and almost burnt, 3–5 minutes. Turn with a spatula and cook on the other side for 2–3 minutes, adjusting the heat as necessary, until the carrots are crunchy on the outside but tender within. Transfer carrots to a tray.
Meanwhile, on a large platter, combine the parsley and arugula, and toss lightly with half the vinaigrette. Place the carrots on top. Reheat the skillet to high heat and coat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Immediately add the goat cheese slices. As soon as the cheese rounds blacken on the bottom, remove with a thin spatula and invert onto carrots. Toss the garlic chips over the carrots and greens, then drizzle with any remaining vinaigrette. Serves 8.