November 2007, page 118
The best parrillas
This was an editing disaster – The introduction and several paragraphs that left it with no continuity were left off of the article, and then several of the reviews from the previous column were repeated here – somebody was clearly doing some sort of cut and paste on the page and no one checked the results. I’ve just reproduced it as written.
Here in Buenos Aires, when it’s time to celebrate a grand occasion, it’s time for an asado, what we might call a backyard barbecue or a cookout… It’s not that anyone really needs an excuse for an asado, simply being Saturday or Sunday is quite sufficient. But make it a special day and it’s time to pull out all the stops – which basically means, tons of meat, smoking hot, right off the parrilla. I thought this column would be a good chance to introduce you all to some of the basics.
You probably don’t need an introduction to asado etiquette – it’s pretty much the same as any grilling session on any patio anywhere in the world. It’s a guy thing. Everyone stands around, drinking beer or cheap wine, giving advice to the guy who’s doing the grilling, while he ignores all suggestions and does it his way, like it or not. Sound familiar?
But what is different here is what’s coming off the grill, or parrilla. First off, there’s a whole lot of innards. I know, I know – but here in Argentina, the innards, or achuras, are an absolutely integral part of the day, and you probably should know what you’re getting yourself into. First, a couple of glands, because you’re going to see them everywhere – mollejas and riñones – sweetbreads and kidneys. The former, here, come in two varieties – “de cuello”, or from the neck, which means the thymus gland, and “de corazon”, or from the heart, which really isn’t from there, but further below – the pancreas. Creamy and soft on the inside, lightly crispy on the outside, these are a special treat for those willing to sample. Riñones, the kidneys, and if they’re prepared right they have a just slightly chewy texture beneath their grilled exterior, and a rich, pungent flavor.
The other biggie, and it’ll be offered up to you as a test of your willingness to participate, are chinchulines. These are the grilled small intestine – the best coming from a very young animal that has only been fed on milk, with the milk having curdled inside from heat and enzymes. Yeah, I can hear you saying “ewww”. Go ahead and try one anyone, I’m amazed how many people become converts once they try one.
Follow up the innards with the sausages – there are usually three offered up – chorizos, morcillas, and salchichas parrilladas – the first, a slightly spicy pork sausage, different from the Spanish or Portuguese chorizos that you may have encountered elsewhere, and every butcher shop here has its own recipe. Morcillas – black pudding, black sausage, boudin noir – blood sausage – you didn’t want to think about it, but that’s what it is, and it’s oh so good. The last, usually a thin, coiled sausage, a touch on the smoky side.
Then on to heaping platters of meat – and while every family has their own choices, some of the most common are the tira de asado, which are cross-cut ribs, entraña, which is a skirt steak, bife de lomo which is more or less a sirloin, bife de chorizo, similar to a t-bone or porterhouse, without the bone, cuadril and which is rump steak.
Now, here’s the thing – if you’re really lucky, and you have friends here with a parrilla, you’ll probably get invited, to celebrate one thing or another. But even if not, you can, of course, sample these all at a good restaurant style parrilla – and to get the whole experience, order yourself… or more likely selves, since it’s a whole lot of food, a parrillada, or mixed grill. One of my favorite spots to recommend for the grand experience is El Yugo, Ayacucho 1629, 4806-2009, in the heart of Recoleta, where they serve it up on a tabletop grill to keep things hot and smoking, offer some of the best french fries in the city, especially the thin papas pais, and a salad bar on the side, just in case you need something green.
In October 2006, I started writing for this Spanish language magazine, covering their English language section for travellers. I wrote for them for about two years. The copy editor, apparently not fluent in English, used to put each paragraph in its own text box on a two column page, in what often seemed to be random order, making the thread of the column difficult to follow. I’ve restored the paragraphs to their original order.