01 Apr The asado
The asado is an institution here, Argentina at play ‘en familia’, the focal point on a warm weekend, a feast of food, drink and company, when the hombres flex their culinary muscles and set to work feeding family and friends. My tiny dictionary, the one that makes it to the suitcase, translates asado as ‘roast’ – a nice little cultural connection to that most English of Sunday traditions.
We were guests at an asado on Sunday, a day of lazy, sweltering heat. Alice and Adriano (who starred in the La Marcha blogpost a few days ago) invited us to join them and their amigos on their terrace for some proper Argentinian hospitality. We arrived about 2pm when the fire was already going, having been started about midday in the parilla by our Señor Asador, Adriano. Forget the neat barbecues from B&Q or Homebase, we’re talking scale and substance here. This is one serious contraption, like a large barrel lying on its side, sliced across the centre with the lower part containing the coals and a huge rack for the meat laid across the top, a rack with the flavours of asados past burned into it. The other half of the barrel forms a lid which is used from time to time to braise and finesse the meat.
An asado is not so much a meal as an afternoon of eating, working your way through a steady succulent succession of different meats. There’s the chorizo, not at all like the orangy-red stuff that we call chorizo, but something more akin to sausage. This is served as choripan, a little piece of chorizo encased in bread, prepared individually and passed round. A kind of appetiser this, to be pepped up with some chimichurri sauce or, if you were one of the lucky ones at this asado, with the most amazing aubergines. As memorable as one’s first kiss, the aubergines of Adriano’s mother are taste treasures, roasted (I think) then marinated in oil, vinegar, herbs, spices and lots of chilli and garlic and matured for at least a month in a massive jar creating a sensational flavour; these are, quite simply, aubergines to die for.
After the choripan, things really hot up with huge cuts of prime quality Argentinian meat being worked on by Adriano, in some secret and time-honoured sequence, reaching a peak of roasted perfection before he brings them to the table with a flourish, cuts them into portions and offers them round. Costilla (rib of beef), followed by rump, and then some cerdo (pork) and finally the lomo – the beef fillet, the tender zone. La Señora (Alice) brings salads to accompany this, along with wonderful tarts filled with chard and corn, herbs, cheese and all sorts of other goodies to satisfy the token vegetarian (me) and provide a colourful array of wholesomeness, bridging the gaps between flesh and more flesh and allowing essential gastric recovery for the carnivores! Adriano whispers to me that the order of roasting the meat is important because by the time you reach the lomo everyone is feeling full so there’s more of the best stuff for the asador! For asador and consumer alike, the art is all in the pacing, the exercise of restraint or the capacity to keep on eating and eating when you’re already full!
No meal here would be complete without ice-cream. Argentinians love their ice-cream, the Italian ancestral influences working their magic; they excel at producing amazingly varied and exotic flavours. You buy it by the kilo here, as we did earlier in the day as our contribution to the meal. We bought two kilo pots, polystyrene containers specially manufactured to make the portage of ice-cream that much easier- even a few tiny cubes of dry ice put on top to extend travel time! So we climbed into 7 different flavours of the stuff to caress the baked apple that appeared from the oven too! What a feast!
This asado was a joy, a mellow haze of camaraderie and a total indulgence of the senses. And the sounds of conversations in three different languages, since we were amigos internacionales, mingled with laughter and the sizzling of meat on the fire. This, it seems to me, is the essence of the asado, the company, the ambiance, the time spent sharing the simple pleasures of eating and drinking, talking about the things you have in common, learning about the things you don’t. Thankyou Alice and Adriano.