I had anticipated eating a lot of meat in Argentina. But, apparently my idea of what is considered ‘a lot’ differs from the norm in a country where Asado could easily be its alias. Carne was the center of just about every meal of my visit, except for the couple of breakfasts when I opted for yogurt and a piece toast instead.
Beef empanadas were just not meant to be eaten before 9 am. Were they? I could be wrong. Very wrong.
It was absolutely no surprise that on the first night in Argentina, of our South America wine tour, we were scheduled for an evening asado, a traditional barbecue. Bueyes had graciously invited us to their winery to indulge in tasty vintages as well as a bunch of delectable meats. Who would turn down that offer?
We arrived at Bueyes at 9:30pm, typical Argentinian dinnertime. They must not follow the American “don’t eat after eight pm” rule. As a restaurant owner, neither do I.
We were greeted by a table full of cheeses, salumi, olives, empanadas and the wineries 2010 Cabernet along with their Malbec Extra Brut Rose.
I ain’t gonna complain about the way this evening was starting out.
While we were all drinking delicious wine and critiquing the empanada crust, the asado was being cooked out back. You will not find charcoal anywhere near this barbecue, the traditional asado is made by burning logs of wood until they break into small enough burning pieces to be scooted underneath the array of meats.
We watched as the grill man expertly flipped our dinner, slow cooking the meat and paying attention to the temperatures of the wood. It is a job of patience, sometimes taking up to two hours.
The Argentine meats in Mendoza are commonly cooked well done, not the typical medium rare that you can find in the United States. They add just a bit of salt, and sometimes top it with chimichurri sauce.
That’s it. No A-1. No fancy butter. No local blue cheese. And it didn’t need any of that.
The typical Asado meats were represented on the grill; morcillas (blood sausage), chorizos, costilla (ribs), vacio (flank steak) and entrana (skirt steak).
There was 7 kilos, almost 15 pounds, of meat on this grill PLUS the chorizo & blood sausage. For 12 people.
Let me do the math for you. That is 1.25 pounds of meat per person. The average restaurant burger is a half pound and the typical size of a filet mignon dinner is 6 ounces. That equates to each of us eating one burger and two filet dinners. Holy crap.
The twelve of us sat down to dinner, with more bottles of the Bueyes wine and the owner/winemaker, Jesus. And even though he spoke no English he told stories, translated by our American wine importer host, about his family and how the winery came to be.
Even though it was second hand, I was brought to tears by a story he told about how proud his mom was when he sold his first pallet of wine to America with Copa Fina Imports. So proud, the entire town knew by the time he got home from work that evening.
We sat at the dinner table until wee hours of the morning with seemingly endless courses of meat, conversation and bottles of vino.
Though, in my world as a chef, the beef would be considered overcooked, it was amongst the most tender and flavorful that I have ever had. Must be made with that Agrentine love.
The blood sausage, made with pigs blood, differed from the European ones I had previously tasted due to its lack of rice. Both versions were equally as good.
Apparently a pound and a quarter of meat per person just wasn’t enough because the girlfriend of Jesus finished the evening by bringing out a handmade Dulce De Leche Brownie with Vanilla Cream Cheese for dessert. It didn’t suck. As a matter of fact, we took the leftovers to our lodging and I snuck a piece for breakfast the next morning.
Because one Asado in Argentina could never possibly be enough, others followed:
The next Argentine asado was at the personal home of the Siete Fincas winery owner, Edgardo and his lovely wife Silvina.
All the same meat players were there, with the addition of sweetbreads, the thymus gland.
We sat around his dinner table sharing asado and trying to guess the secret ingredients to his Secreto wine. I will never tell.
On the last day in Argentina we had an asado lunch at Bodega Viamonte winery prior to hitting the airport. What was unique about this one was the stunning vineyard view, meatless empanadas and the dulce de leche dessert.
Though the appetizers included the traditional beef empanadas, there were also plain cheese ones and, after being overloaded with meat all week, we ate them all. Quickly.
The dulce de leche cake was almost too pretty to eat, but if there is one thing I have learned in Argentina it is to never pass up on anything that includes dulce de leche.