I quickly learned that beef is king here. Parrilla restaurants are everywhere. I even came across a guy in the street grilling out on the sidewalk. Not even in a restaurant or anything–he was just making lunch. (See after the jump for the photo of this guy’s lunch—Bonus points to anyone who can name all the meats in the Street Asado.)
And it’s not just beef that is popular, anything that can be grilled is fair game. All kinds of animals–goat, lamb, cow, pig, poultry, fowl–, vegetables and fruits are all options for an Argentine in front of a parrilla.
I would like to introduce you to the Argentine way of grilling, the asado.
Everyone has seen the round Weber Grills used in the US. These are perfectly capable machines and can grill a good steak, but the Argentines have a method that I prefer. I always seem to have a problems grills in the US. I feel that I cannot regulate the heat as much as I would like and adding more coals to a lit grill is always an issue. The resourceful Argentines of course figured out a way around this by using a multistage process and an open cooking area.
Some terminology and a disclaimer first. The ‘parrilla’ is the physical grill and ‘asado’ is the method of grilling. Parrilla is also a general term used for restaurants whose meals center around the grill. As for the disclaimer, my experience with asados is pretty limited, so if anyone has better knowledge of the process or wants to correct me, please do. I’d welcome any comments or corrections (or even an invitation to your place so you can demonstrate the proper technique over an asado!).
As you can see from the photos, the parrilla is quite large. Even in the photo of the guy cooking on the street, he is taking more room than you would be using in the US. This is to accommodate the multistage method. The stages involve control of the heat for the fire and it moves the material from the initial burn to the spent ash/coals. This parrilla is actually modeled after the Uruguayan style. The difference between the two is that the Uruguayan version has a separate metal grill that you stoke to make the embers fall. The Argentines are not as picky, you make the fire directly on the bricks on the left side and push them to the cooking area when they are ready (alternatively, you can prepare the fire directly under the grill). The photo of the street asado is more traditionally Argentine of the two parrillas. The premise remains the same though.
- The first stage is to burn the wood. As I understand, many people try to use wood instead of charcoal. Charcoal is available and sometimes used, but wood is typically the choice heat source. All freshly burning material is in the first area.
- The second stage is a holding area for the hot coals/embers.
- The third stage is the cooking area. This is where the hot coals are spread under the food being cooked. On many parrillas the grill grate itself is suspended on a chain and can be raised and lowered to help regulate the proximity to the heat source.
- The fourth area is for the spent coals.
This process ensures you always have a fresh and constant supply of hot coals to use and gets them out of the way quickly and easily when they are used up. I find this way allows for more control over the level of heat for the cuts of meat. You can directly adjust the amount of coals on the fly. This also allows you to leave the meat in place and not move it around trying to find best area on the grill for it.
Typically, asados last several hours and many different cuts of meat are served. When my friend hosted one at his house, we ate:
From the Grill
- Picaña (a Brazilian cut that is very popular in Argentina now)
- Thin Flank (Vacio)
- Sweet Blood Sausage (Morzilla Dulce)
- Pork Ribs (Pechito de Cerdo)
- Baked Potatoes
- Grilled Corn
- two kinds of salad
- Ice cream from Freddo
Unfortunately, we planned this on short notice and could not get good mollejas (sweetbread). We had eaten some a few days before, but I was looking forward to grilling some myself. Maybe next time.