The ‘asado’ tradition of grilled meat is part of the Argentine national identity. It can be traced back to when gauchos, or cowboys, lived off the cattle they reared on the vast plains of the fertile Pampa lowlands. Introduced by the conquistadors, cows have long been a valuable source of income for the country and outnumber the human population. The asado began as a means to feed the entire working ranch and has evolved into a convivial social gathering.
Asado is cooking in its purest form with fire, grill and meat, yet traditions vary from chef to chef, who all have different opinions on the ideal fire temperature, the ratio of coal to wood, timing and more, allowing for regional variations.
We spoke with Buenos Aires Polo Club’s executive Chef Felipe Lopez about this meat-centric tradition, and he offers the following tips:
1. Cut-wise, I select bone-in because it imparts a rich flavour, specifically rib-eye steaks around two inches thick. Sourcing from a reliable supplier and a local butcher that you trust is always best.
2. Start your wood fire at least an hour before you begin grilling to make sure it is at optimum temperature. The choice of wood comes down to preference, but almond wood burns hot and imbues a distinct flavour to the beef. A proper parrilla is also essential, and brick-built is the recommended format.
3. For the base of your chimichurri rub, grab a bunch each of parsley and oregano. Char half the bunch, then roughly chop all together. Add 1 tsp chilli flakes and a grated clove of garlic, then mix with 3 tsp olive oil, 1 tsp white wine vinegar, 2 tsp sherry vinegar, and salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. To give it even more of a kick, roughly dice a fresh chilli (seeds removed) and add it to the mix, and garnish with a slice.
4. While you wait, liberally season your steaks with chimichurri, salt and pepper.
Arrange the wood pieces to one side, to easily manage heat levels.
5. Allow the flames to die down to embers to avoid scorching the meat, then hold your palm a few inches above the grill to find a section of medium heat. You should be able to hold your hand here for around two to three seconds before it becomes unbearable. Place your steaks in this sweet spot.
6. After a few minutes, turn the meat over, turning every few minutes until done
(around ten minutes for medium rare, although anything less done than medium is uncommon in Argentina). Use a meat thermometer to check that your steaks are ready, pulling them off the grill once they’ve reached 49 to 50 degrees Celsius. Let them rest for five minutes.
7. Using a very sharp knife, slice your steaks diagonally into one-inch thick pieces.
8. To serve, accompany with your favourite sides such as a simple avocado or tomato salad to balance the hearty meat. Dice your tomatoes or avocado, then throw in some hand-torn basil and season with salt and pepper.
Another beautifully simple side is grilled sweet potatoes. Season them with salt,
wrap them in foil and then throw the parcels on the grill. Remove after around 40
minutes, then add a pat of butter and spoon out.