Friday, October 9, 2009

Asado Lunch

Last weekend, Chad and I ventured to Lujan an hour outside of Buenos Aires to stay at an estancia, which is like a ranch. Many estancias advertise themselves as relaxing, bed and breakfast sorts of getaways, except the focus is on lunch. They typically serve asado, a series of different cuts of meat that have been slowly cooked on a grill or over an open fire. They also usually serve bread, sides, and a dessert, so you have one giant, delicious meal. I'll walk you through ours.

We began with classic South American carne empanadas. Chad and I have eaten a fair number of empanadas in Buenos Aires, so we've become trained in the ways of discerning the best. These empanadas had very good crusts, flaky, with a slightly crisp outer layer, and enough substance to hold the empanada together after being bitten into. The meat filling was pretty good, but it was mostly ground beef and lacked the spicy sauce and potato chunks that many other high quality carne empanadas have. So, satisfactory, but we didn't devote all our stomach space to empanadas.

Our first meat course was chorizo and morcillas. Chorizo is a spicy sausage, although South American chorizo is not as spicy as Spain's. This chorizo was quite tasty and had a lovely grilled crunch to the exterior. Morcillas are blood sausages, which both sound and look gross to me. It's made by cooking blood with some sort of filler, such as ground up pieces of pork and breadcrumbs. Most other countries have a version of morcilla. In Germany it's blutwurst; in the UK it's blood pudding; in Asia it's blood tofu or red tofu. I didn't even try it, but Chad assured me it was gross.

They also brought out salad at the same time. Well, they brought a bowl of lettuce and tomatoes, a bowl of spinach, a bowl of shredded carrots, a bowl of purple cabbage, a bowl of sliced radishes, a bowl of arugala and onions, and a little tray with olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt, and half a lemon. I hadn't even realized how much I'd been craving a good salad. I had four helpings of salad, polishing off the bowls of lettuce, spinach, and carrots. This is a picture of Chad's salad, and you can't even see have the radishes on his plate. The oil/red wine vinegar/lemon combo was excellent - a great way to cut the fatty taste of the meat.

Then they brought what they simply called "asado." I'm not entirely sure which cut of meat this is, but it was de-double 'e'-licious. With the bone in and fatty juices all marinating inside and the crisp layer of charcoaled goodness outside, we definitely ate our fill. I will say it wasn't the most tender cut I've ever had, but, man, it was dripping flavor. Plus, I wouldn't be surprised if they had just plucked the cow right out of their own pasture two days beforehand. I could almost taste the cow's willing sacrifice. (Weird, I don't care.)

For the final course of meat, they brought us what tasted quite similar to the previous course, but there was no bone. Chad and I agreed that this meat didn't have quite the same "bang" as the previous, maybe because of the lack of bone, but it was still tasty. We knew that we would have to preserve the last of our stomach space for desert, though, so we ate of this course sparingly.

Rich custard, a fluffy layer of meringue, drizzles of chocolate, and a bowl of warm dulce de leche with which to smother it all - Dulce de leche is like a heavenly version caramel. Carmel is already wonderful, but imagine caramel dead, purified, and resurrected in heaven. That's dulce de leche. Or if you want to go Platonic, dulce de leche is like the Form and caramel its shadowy image. I realize that doesn't totally work because I'm on earth, so I couldn't have actually participated in heavenly things or Forms, but roll with the metaphor. If you've had "dulce de leche" from a can or plastic container or in a latte, that's not the real deal. The real deal comes from Milena, the genius cook at the estancia.

See? The dulce de leche actually was so good that Chad passed onto the next world. His last words were, "This dulce de leche is so good it's killing me. I'm dead." I brought him back, though, don't worry.

And, that, my friends, is a 2 1/2 hour asado lunch at an estancia in Argentina.

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