The key ingredients of an “asado” are time, friends, family and – of course – meat. Photo: Mark Jenkins

There’s something special about cooking with fire. With its discovery, humans learnt to chew, digest and discover nutrients in plants, vegetables and meat never available to us before. No wonder watching food cook over flames makes us feel so good.

So goes the thinking of Michael Pollen, “foodie intellectual” and professor of journalism at University of Berkeley. During the mini-March-heatwave my first thought was to get outside and have a BBQ. Meeting and spending time around the fire feels like an important occasion that generates wide-eyes, salivating taste buds and conversation. From an evolutionary perspective, perhaps it’s also where we learned to socialise, and enjoy company and life.

I met my wife Romi in Argentina – you may have read about us here – and, getting to know that country more and more, realise it has a pretty special affinity with cooking over fire and iron. Prior to becoming rich in the 19th and early 20th centuries trading off a farming and commodity boom, the land was a vast and sparsely populated wilderness into which immigrants arried, mostly from Spain, Italy and even Wales.

This trade created a city in Buenos Aires with an architecture to match that of Paris or Rome. The storied heritage of the gaucho (the Argentine cowboy), roaming the land, tending his livestock, and cooking over open flame still fires up the national identity today. Even the natives were fabled in fire: the first explorers called their land “Tierra del Fuego” or “Land of Fire”, because of the fires they saw lit along the coast as they sailed up in their ships.

Keeping warm: Romi and Mark

Keeping warm: Romi and Mark, surround by the products of their other business, Marminas slippers

So today, when Argentines get together for a fiesta, a family lunch or at the beach, they grill. The meal is called “asado” which translates as “roast”. It’s a pretty free concept, the key ingredients seeming to be time, friends, family and – of course – meat. In the open air in front of a huge parrilla (their special design of grill) the details of the cooking are debated with as much passion and with as many different opinions as football, the other national obsession. Imagine the grill as the altar (with football shirts the stain-glassed windows): that’s the level of devotion to asado and the grill in Argentina.

What they eat is a bit different to what you might expect. It’s rarely a fillet or a sirloin steak, what many typically associate with Argentine food. More often it’s tira de asado (short beef ribs), a spatchcock chicken and other foods ideal for sharing and that really benefit from the long and slow cooking technique.

And, because you’re in the back garden all afternoon, why not start with a choripan (the “Buenos Aires hotdog”)? Add to that a mix of immigrant-Mediterranean and indigenous flavours in salads and salsas, and you’ve got a food – and a feeling – that’s tough to resist.

We decided to start a little supper club in Camden where we now live, bringing the flavours and the feel of the asado ritual back home. Our friends were the catalyst: they all came for a family asado at my wife’s parents when we got hitched in Buenos Aires and told us we had to create this food, this whole atmosphere, back in the UK.

And we set out to follow their advice. We cook a little of this, a little of that, definitely some ribs, which people share round the table, so they enjoy the best bit: the mix of all the different flavours and the notion of giving and receiving as they eat. We try to perfect our art, learning about Argentine butchers, parrilleros (grill chefs), and of course around the family parrilla. Now we’re pretty proud of our ribs, simply cooked and enjoyed with cool and powerful salsas to bring out the deep flavour of the meat. We invite you to try.

[box]Chacho, the Buenos Aires Rib Club, runs for eight weeks every Friday from tomorrow, 21 March, and it’s located in Mark and Romi’s “little front room” in Camden. Tickets £25. More details here or email: [email protected] [/box]

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