In Argentina, asado is a not simply a barbeque, it’s a ritual. Family and friends will gather to enjoy Argentina’s finest cuisine – churrasco, or steak. Grass-fed, tender and juicy, there are few cuts that can rival the beef reared in the vast plains of Las Pampas Argentina. Patrolled by the nation’s folk heroes, the gaucho, Argentina’s beef production isn’t only a tasty dish, it’s a central part of national identity.
In Buenos Aires, asado is everywhere. Restaurants often have a smoldering parrilla in the window, which is the charcoal grill over which the meat is grilled. Furthermore, many apartment buildings will have an in-built parrilla on the roof terrace. Parrilla is quite the spectacle – often the size of a bonfire, a traditional Argentine barbeque will sizzle and spit.
If one thing’s for sure, no one does steak like they do in Argentina. Here, discover some of what goes in to the perfect churrasco, including the best cuts, side dishes and the wine to match.
Virtuoso: The father of all Argentine beef
Before describing what makes the perfect asado, first, some history. Allegedly, the first cows arrived with Christopher Columbus on his second expedition to South America. Las Pampas Argentina was the perfect environment for cattle ranching. With its cool, pleasant climate and plentiful pasture, the plains were ideal for raising cattle.
However, the breed which made Argentine steak famous wasn’t introduced until the 19th century. When Don Carlos Guerrero arrived on Argentinian shores in 1879, he brought with him his prize Aberdeen Angus cows Cinderella, Aunt Lee and Virtuoso, the bull. Now, like a bovine Adam and Eve, approximately half of Argentina’s 60 million cows are descendants of Virtuoso and the girls.
The cut and the cooking: Preparing the best of Las Pampas, Argentina
There are numerous ways to prepare churrasco. Of the 13 ribs of the cow’s body, the first three are best for braising and stewing, as the density of nerves makes the meat chewier. From the third rib down to the eleventh is where you find the ribeye. Moving down to the flanks are the sirloin and rump. Beneath the sirloin is the filet, which is the tenderest meat.
In European cooking, the filet is generally considered the prize cut as it has the least fat. However, for meat lovers like the Argentinians, fat is key – therefore, ribeye is king. When studying a rib-eye cut you’ll notice the marbling, which are the veins of fat running through the meat. When grilling, this melting fat is what adds extra flavor. Preparing a ribeye steak requires skilled knife work – traditionally, Argentinian chefs will perform a spiral cut. The chef will make small, precise incisions to unravel the meat from the bone to create a thick but consistent strip of meat known as the tira de ancho.
When it comes to grilling, the charcoal fire is important to achieving an authentic flavor. The ribeye should cook slowly on a cooler part of the fire to achieve a tender texture. If the meat has come straight out of the fridge, let it cook a little more on the first side as it’ll take slightly longer to come up to temperature. When turning the steak, be assertive – the heat and fat mean the meat can get sticky. Somewhat unexpectedly, Argentinians prefer their steak well done, so leave the ribeye on the grill until it’s black and crispy.
Churrasco trimmings: Sides, sauces and wines
The perfect starter to an Argentinian meal is the empanada. Essentially a mini Cornish pasty, the empanada was imported from Spain and perfected in Argentina. Originally two discs of pastry, the modern empanada was born when poor Argentinians couldn’t stretch to two discs. Now, tasty fillings include cheese, ham, chopped olives, basil, tomato, and verdura, which is Swiss chard.
Before serving the steak, be sure to slather it in chimichurri sauce. It sounds ambitious, but chimichurri is actually very simple to prepare. Consisting of finely chopped red pepper, red wine vinegar, parsley, oil and plenty of chili and garlic, chimichurri gives churrasco its signature kick.
When selecting wine, stick with the classics. One of Argentina’s best wines is a full-bodied Malbec, which compliments a slab of steak perfectly. For those who prefer white, go for a Torrontes. With peach and apricot notes, each aromatic sip will transport you to Las Pampas Argentina.