Now the star of the show is obviously the meat! This is what makes grown men salivate like a 2 year old at Halloween! Most asados, and realize the choice of cuts and kinds of meat is up to you, have Chorizo (pork sausage), Morcilla (blood sausage), beef and pork. Sure a chicken might get thrown in there, but for the most part beef and pork reign supreme.
What cut of meat to use? Well, good question, but keep in mind that in Argentina, the cow is butchered in a very different way. Many of the cuts we use are what you would consider the cap or cover of a cut like Shoulder or Blade. Below will be a short list of some of the more common cuts of meat we use for asados.
A good example of difference in butchering is in ribs. Where most people are accustomed to your butcher cutting the ribs between the actual rib themselves, in Argentina, the butcher cuts across the bones, very similar to the cut of short ribs.
Now, at this point I can get in to the smallest detail of how to salt your meat (we use a course salt, whose equivalent would be Kosher Salt in the U.S.),how to cook the meat and what gets cooked first, etc. But just know that, just like every asador has his way of building the fire, he has his own technique for salting and cooking. Small wars have been fought over who has the best asador skills.
Argentine Beef Cuts for Asados:
- Vacio – Flank. this is a delicious cut of meat . It is a thin cut which features a thin layer of fat on both sides. A good quality vacío is tender, flavorful and very juicy, contains no fat (other than the layer surrounding it. Argentines love this cut (it is a must have at an asado), especially how the outside gets crispy when cooked slowly over coals
- Entraña – Skirt. This cut is very much like Vacio. It is even thinner and features good marbling. It has a thin layer of white skin (silver skin) that most people outside of Argentina remove. For asados, we leave it on and when cooked, gets very crispy.
- Asado de Costillar – Beef Rib. A most for asados! Ribs hve a small layer of fat in bewtween the meat that adds just the right amount of flavor to ribs. Cooked low and slow, it many times is the last meat serve in order to gnaw at the bone for a whilethe beef Rib.
- Tapa de Asado – Rib Cap. This can be a tough cut, but Argentines do not mind a bit of a chew with their meat. Full of flavor. Usually well marbled, with some gristle. Cooked properly, it has a lot of flavor
- Asado/Asado de Tira – Short/Cross Cut Ribs). Refer to Beef Rib. Always cooked low and slow, in order to render out the fat and let the meat get tendereized with the smoke of the asado and the marbeling of the fat
Although beef is the star of the show, asado consists of many other supporting casts. Here are a few:
- Chorizo – pork sausage. This varies of percentage of pork to beef filling. An 80/20 chorizo would be 80% pork and 20% beef.
- Morcilla- Blood Sausage. Like chorizo, a must for all asados. Very closely related to Black Pudding in the UK. It is pigs blood, pieces of pork, seasonings and some knd og binder like rice or bread crumbs.
- Mollejas – Sweetbreads or Thymus Gland. Cooked right, they melt in your mouth! Some asadors will soak them overnight in milk. They say this takes away from the gamey flavor it may have, I simply marinade in salt and lemon juice for at least an hour before cooking. A good asador will keep the mollejas for a good two hours and a low temp to get the sweetness to develop. Served pipping hot on a piece of bread
- Chinchulin – Initial portion of small intestines. Not for everyone, but if you have a trusted butcher, can be very flavorfull. Like mollejas, some soak in milk overnight or just cook them real slow with lots of lemon. Also served pipping hot for the best flavor.
- Pork. At least one cut of pork is usually served. The most common cuts are ribs and matambre – A long thin cut that lies just under the skin and runs from the lower part of the ribs to belly–or flank area.
- Grilled veggies are many times included in the asado. Peppers, onions, zuchini and eggplants are the most common vegetables that are grilled. A bit of olive oil and salt is all you need to nring out the sweetness of the fresh veggies.
Salt is Favor country!
When it comes to asados, beef may be king, but salt is what makes it all tastes good! Unlike other forms of grilling or bbqing, the beef is not marinated overnight, nor rubbed with 15 different condiments. Their are some simple rules for enhancing the flavor of the meat:
- Salt the meat right before you put it on the grill. Every asador has his own salting technique. Some salt literally right before the meat hits the grill. Others salt 30 minutes before grilling. What they all have in common is that the use salt and only salt. What kind, well, in Argentina we have a course salt called, Sal Parrillera. Basically use Kosher salt. It has the same consistancy as the Argentine salt.
- You can not be shy with your salt. The idea is to salt the meat so that it looks lke a a light sprinkle of snow has hit your meat. Most would deem it over-salting, but it isn’t.
- Since the meat is not being marinaded in a liquid or dry rubbed for several hours, the only part of the meat that will taste salty is the inital bite. As you chew your meat, that initial sensation of saltyness will gave way to a balanced flavor of meat and salt. Trust me!
- Pork also gets salted, but we usually had a good squeeze of lemon to bring out the sweetness of the pork.
- Chorizo and Morcilla do NOT get salted. Simply grill them.
Chilling and Grilling
So you have not started the fire, cleaned the grill and salted the meat…now what. Simple, start grilling.
Depending on the order you plan to serve the food and the thickness of the meats, is how you know what to put on first. For the most part, the chorizo and morcilla go on first. Remember these serve as your appetizers. If grilling Mollejas (Sweetbreads), put those on early.
Next start your thickest cut of meat, usually ribs, since they take longer than the thinner cuts. Don’t forget the veggies for those meat-phobic people. Cook on cooking and drinking until all all is done.
For the most part, most asadors are also the ones that go around serving the guests. It is an honored tradition that will make most men humble to go around the table and extend a platter of meat to his friends and family.
BTW…if you wonder how to tell if the coal are just right to cook with, place your hand over the grill where your meat will go, if you can keep your hand on for at least 5 seconds or more, you are good to go. If it is too hot, your meat may burn and then you are out of luck!
By Chef Angelo Gonzalez
Having moved to Mendoza a few years ago after leaving his beloved New York, Angelo Gonzalez has been mastering the art of a good asado since. Trained in Caribbean cooking, Angelo likes to pull together the best of Argentine flavours with a Latin American twist in his own closed door restaurant in Mendoza – Al Pasillo.