Nothing brings people together like good food. And no good food brings people together quite like an asado. The easiest american-english translation for asado is barbe que, but it’s SO much more. It’s a full-on, meat-tacular event derived from and often still held really close to gaucho culture.
A gaucho is essentially a South American cowboy, known for their horsemanship, somewhat rowdy ways, an ability to thrive in harsh environments, and for their love of asado and how it brings their community together. These folks would grill beef, lamb, pork, chicken—all the meaty meats (beef and lamb are the most traditional)—and have huge gatherings on their estancias (ranches) for friends and family. Traditionally, they’d cook over an open fire with whole carcasses (yes, we said carcasses) splayed open and fixed to an asadores, a cross-shaped metal spindle. This is still done today, but there are many less intense variations. As any Chilean will tell you, though, cooking over wood (specifically carbón de espino) gives the meat something extra, a unique smokey taste. As a second best, cook over charcoal.
Given the extreme meaty-ness of an asado, it’s clear Chileans love meat. In large part, that’s due to the ranching heritage. But, no matter what you throw on the grill, it’s about the hang. Invite your close friends. Have them invite a friend. Ask them all to bring something to the feast, with an emphasis on “local”. At a traditional asado, guests bring delectibles from their area that they grew or raised (and they take great care to use every part of the animal, to honor its life). Think about stuff from your garden, if you have one, or local things from a small area market. The food is the rallying point, but the real drive behind an asado is enriching friendships, having fun together, and making new friends, too.
We’ve been to traditional asados on estancias in South Patagonia, with a quartered lamb grilled over a fire, served alongside salads, wine, and a liqueur made with herbs and berries from nearby hills on the host’s property. We’ve been to balcony asados at apartments in Santiago, with piscolas and sausages, chicken legs, and steaks lining a grill (followed by karaoke!). There are so many ways to do it.
The key components for having your own asado are pretty simple, though. It’s you, the asador (grill master), your grillables, and your friends. Start simple in your backyard with choripan, (sausages) on a bun, a Chilean salad of tomatoes and onions (topped with cilantro, olive oil, and fresh lime juice), and some Chilean wine, like carmanere. Pick any event to celebrate. Perhaps it's a birthday or the changing seasons—or just because it’s Thursday.
*Photo by: Oscar Salgado on Unsplash
Here are two recipes to explore once you get started, the first is a traditional lamb, and the second, a recipe using the most-consumed meat in America, chicken.
Lamb Al Asador
We know. A whole lamb isn’t easy to come by. Here are some tips for that, and the recipe that follows uses lamb available at nearly any supermarket.
Combine all of the chimichurri ingredients in a bowl, adding the oil last to emulsify. Transfer to a glass jar and leave overnight in the fridge. To start the lamb, preheat the oven to 400°F, set the lamb in a roasting pan, and paint all over with the chimichurri. Place in the oven, reduce the heat to 350 and cook for about 1 hour 25 minutes for a medium-rare finish. Baste the lamb with the juices in a tray a few times during cooking. Turn the lamb halfway through cooking. Once cooked, remove from the tray and leave to rest covered with foil for 15–20 minutes. While the lamb is resting, roast the sweet potato wedges in salt and olive oil until tender on the inside and crispy on the outside. Serve with extra chimichurri on the side.
Marinate 1 pound of chicken thighs (skin on) in:
Place the thighs on metal skewers and place on a hot grill for 5 minutes per side or until the internal temperature reads 165 degrees.
“An asado is a very present-tense thing,” says one of our Selk-family in Chile. “If I’ve hunted an animal I share with my neighbors.” You can find more inspiration from one of our favorite Instagram feeds, The Chilean Butcher.
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