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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Asado: The Fire of Good Food & Friendship

I like my asado in the open. Meat splayed on metal crosses and grilled over a fire prepared on the ground for just such a purpose. In some restaurants and at some fancy lodges, tourists are treated to a sterile asado; food grilled behind glass over gas flames or in a modernistic wood grill. No earthy ambiance or traditional flair to pay respect to the creatures that will become the main course.

Asado can be used to describe the style of cooking or it can be used to describe the social event. Either way an asado should come from the heart with great care taken to ensure a quality meal and a good time. The cooking, meal and social gathering are hard to keep separate. An asado is basically a barbecue the rich cultures of Argentina, Chile, southern Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay have transformed into a grill feast to be shared with friends and family.

To start an asado the meat is paramount as is the cooking fire that is composed of hard woods sometimes rendered down to glowing charcoal. The meat is placed on an asador, a metal frame that holds the whole animal open for even exposure to the heat of the fire. Asador can also be used to describe the cook. The meat can be chicken, beef, lamb or goat with the choice usually being regional and often a combination of two or more types. Sausages, called chorizo are made from pork and cooked on a grill or parrillo while the main course is still being prepared. These chorizos are sometimes served along with morcillas, a type of grilled blood sausage.

But it's not all meat. The vegetable dishes that accompany an asado offer the perfect compliment to the pure earthiness of the grilled meats. Carrots, beets, potatoes and salads made from lettuce, tomato and onions along with a type of potato salad called Ensalada rusa are all part of the meal. Add in some local breads and a dessert of fresh fruit and the eating part of the asado is complete.

But of course, let's not forget the people. The friends and family that have come together to share in the preparation and dining on this great fest is what transforms an asado into an Asado with a capital A. The laughter, music and friendship are the true skewers of the gathering.

To learn more about the cooking part of an asado, Francis Mallman's classic Argentine cookbook, Seven Fires is invaluable. To enjoy an asado simply eat, drink and have fun.