by Oasis Correspondent Allie Lazar
You can’t say you really experienced the true Argentina until you take part in a bountiful beefy fest of epic mooing proportion. In a country where each person eats an average 52 kilos of meat per year, and where there are more grazing cows than the entire country’s population, it’s no wonder the whole cow is honored during an asado or a meal at a parrilla, two favorite local pastimes.
These social eating-centered gatherings make the cow the star of the show, where unadulterated hunks of meat are smothered in coarse salt crystals and thrown over hot coals, seared, and cooked to excellence. We spoke with some of the city’s most well known parrillas (steakhouses) and carnicerías (butchers) to get an inside look on the meaty secrets to what make Argentine beef the tops.
Offal-up with some sexy innards, because what strikes that erotic tingle quite like a big plate of organ meat? Long before the fashionable fooding-hipster trend, Argentines have been gorging on these organ meat delicacies as first course appetizers since the years of yore. One of the most standard starters cooked on the parrilla, the chinchulín or chitterling (small intestine), undergoes a quite specific cooking method in order to get the desirable crispy crust with a mushy middle. Grill masters first boil the cleaned chitterling in milk and water for the tenderness factor before throwing it onto the grill until crispy. Mollejas are also fussy cuts. Who’d ever think the veal’s neck thyroid gland could taste so good? When cooked properly, these crispy, buttery sweetbreads melt in the mouth — but forget even trying it when amateur cooks are involved. Luís Acuña, from Buenos Aires’ famed Belgrano barrio parrilla, El Pobre Luis says mollejas are one of his most ordered items. Like chinchulines, this labor of love has to be soaked for a few hours to ensure proper cleanliness, then parboiled and finally marinated. Once it’s tossed onto the parrilla, it’s drenched in lemon juice and served extra crispy.
Even though not technically considered an achura, chorizos are served at the beginning of the meal, most often becoming the star of the show. Charred on the outside and bursting with juicy meat goodness after each bite, an Argentine barbecue would be butt naked without this shlong-shaped sausage. Eat it plain with chimichurri, or shove it between two pieces of bread for the ultimate BA street food, the choripán (chorizo sandwich). On Sundays at the outdoor San Telmo barbecue hut El Rey del Chori, chorizos are grilled by the hundreds and served hot to the sausage aficionado masses. And you can’t forget about the morcilla (pronounced more-see-sha). Oh, how this Spanish word sounds so much prettier than its English translation, blood sausage (big emphasis on the blood). While congealed blood may not be the dreams of all food lovers, local hangout Parrilla Peña makes quite a winning black pudding on the grill, with its creamy texture and gritty flavor. Eat it plain or smother it on bread for a morcipán sandwich, it’s an acquired taste that most locals have already long obtained.
The Main Event
With over a dozen different types of meat cuts available from almost every part of the cow, plus some parts you didn’t even know existed, knowing the best slabs to choose is no easy task. Luckily, the neighborhood butchers at renowned carnicería Piaf filled us in on a little secret, explaining that no matter which cut we choose, as long as it’s cooked properly, it will turn out spectacular. “Argentine beef is the best in the world, it’s all about quality;” grass-fed, fresh, handled by skilled butchers and then cooked by pro grill masters. So when dining out, prime cuts are the way to go, Don Julio’s ojo de bife (rib eye) is best when still mooing on the plate, just make sure to order it jugoso (rare). Bife de lomo, the tenderly beef tenderloin, is so buttery and ultra silky, it appears to have been hand massaged by “El General” of La Brigada, right before it is cut with a spoon and served to diners.
For cooking an asado at home, vacío (flank steak) and tira de asado (ribs), almost permanently make a grilling appearance where they are liberally rubbed with salt, and thrown on the parrilla bone-side down, fat up, before cooking for about an hour and devoured with loads of chimichurri, salsa criolla and a lot of good (or bad) Malbec wine. Extra important tip: remember always to clap it up for the asador.Argentina, Buenos Aires