Exploring the wilds of Patagonia is for adventurous spirits – and the cuisine is all part of the excitement. In Patagonia food is largely based around meat dishes. The defining regional dish is cordero al palo, otherwise known as asado al palo. This name refers how Patagonians traditionally cook the lamb. To prepare cordero al palo, the chef will stretch an entire lamb across an iron cross and cook it over an open fire. The result is the juiciest, most delicious meat you’ve ever tasted. Here, we share the history of Patagonia’s signature dish and explain how it’s served.
The roots of Patagonia’s traditional dish
Although sheep farming has an important relationship to the culture of Patagonia, this history only dates back about 150 years. When European colonists first arrived in Patagonia, the unpredictable weather and rugged landscape offered little incentive for settlement. For the next three and a half centuries, the land was largely ignored by the Spanish conquistadors. Later – around the mid 19th century – settlers realized the vast, verdant grassland for grazing sheep. Ever since sheep have been ubiquitous across the region and become an important part of Patagonia food.
How to serve ‘lamb to the post’
In Chilean Patagonia, traditional roast lamb is called cordero al palo, whereas in Argentinian Patagonia you’re more likely to hear asado al palo. Either way, the phrase roughly translates to ‘lamb to the post’, which describes how the meat is cooked. It sounds gory, but the results are delicious; the entire lamb is cut vertically down the torso and splayed across an iron cross or rack. The meat is roasted vertically over an open fire. This method allows the lamb to cook evenly while the fat drips off to continuously baste the meat.
In Patagonia food is a ritual; the whole process takes about five hours. Along with the dripping juices, the meat is kept moist with regular brushes of water, salt, and a clove and garlic mixture called salmuera. Once cooked, the lamb is served with pebre, a sauce similar to chimichurri. This spicy condiment is made from onions, tomatoes, herbs, garlic, olive oil, chilies, and red wine. Most Patagonian chefs will have their own interpretation of pebre, so watch out for subtle differences in flavors. The result is a tender, perfectly seasoned, and subtle roast meat. Perfectly complemented by a rich red Malbec, cordero al palo is absolutely delicious.
More Patagonia food to explore
Cordero al palo is just one of the mouth-watering dishes you can sample in Patagonia. From succulent king crab to juicy scallops, there’s also plenty to offer those that aren’t huge carnivores. For a complete guide to the seafood you can try in the Argentine portion of the region, check out this article. Equally, if wine is your thing, exploring Chilean wine country is the trip of a lifetime. For tips on where to try the best Chilean reds, take a look at our complete guide. As the Patagonians would say, ¡buen provecho!.