Dearest of lucky horseshoes up my ass…
I’d like to thank you for pulling through again so I could be part of this unbelievably delicious Asado (BBQ) that appeared at my river-side camp after a weekend of red wine and fishing!
The Spot of All Spots
In an effort to camp my way across the Americas, I had found a river-side campsite just outside of the town Junin in the northern part of Patagonia Argentina. Tucked just off a side-road, that was just off another side road, right on a crystal-clear river lay a little patch of grass near some lush, shady trees.
Previous to this spot, I’d spent about three weeks riding through the windy desserts or dry eye-burning sand north of here, and was almost in shock to see trees, grass, and all things green again. The site had enough shrubs to help block the infamous Patagonia winds. Then off to one side, someone had utilized a bank and a rock face to construct a large cooking area. For camping, cooking, and fishing, the camp spot would have been the marketing dream of camping and hunting store photos the world over.
After two nights here I packed up and went into the closets town some 20-30kms away. In town, I used the tourists' offices ultra-slow internet, picked up some more wine, tried to book myself into a sold-out guesthouse, and checked out a local campground. The campground wasn’t on par with the previous two nights location, so I turned around and drove back to this site.
Back at the riverside camp spot I managed to drink the bottle of wine during an afternoon of fishing and came up with the great idea to add in a few tiny river crabs I caught that had been trying to steal bites of my trout. A tiny dinner of micro-crabs and trout and I fell asleep in a red wine slumber.
Did somebody order delivery?
The next day I was packing up just before noon, and a heard a car coming down the little road towards my camp. Someone in a dusty old silver pick-up truck pulled in, noticed me, then reversed out. Stopping just a moment to yell to the car behind them, “Too bad someone is already there, will go up further.” To my delight and surprise, they had shouted back in plain English. Well kind of plain, it did have that American twang to it!
Two vehicles passed, waved, and slowly clogged along on the bumpy little road. The third vehicle, however, pulls right down into the site and asked me in fast Argentinian Spanish with elaborate hand signals to make their point more clear. “You are leaving, or you are setting up?”. He asked again more slowly so I could understand him and I explained I was leaving and they could have the spot. I would be gone in 20-minutes or so. The driver then switched from Spanish to English and asked me if I spoke English. I said yes, a lot better than Spanish! He laughed and continued talking with a more Mid-West American accent that was peppered with slight Spanish undertones. If I'd closed my eyes, I'd never have guessed he was Argentinian.
The Mid-West accent guy kept chatting and explained he and his family in this car, along with the two other groups of friends that drove by, were coming to have an Asado at this beautiful spot and would I mind if they set up while I was packing. No problems by me, so the other two groups were signaled to come back. First, in rolled this funny little van with an older American couple and next was the small silver truck that had first appeared with another, older American couple. It seems that America appetites and Argentinian hospitality had both stumbled into my river-side spot for an afternoon get together.
The Argentinian, Juan, as I came to find out, and his wife had lived in New York state for a number of years and could speak English as good as any North America. I could see why. Juan actually didn’t stop taking for the rest of the day! Lucky me, as I was about to sit back and get an education on the infamous Argentinian Asado.
6am, The Asado Starts
Everyone rolled in and set up camp with tables, chairs, snacks, and drinks. Turns out they had all become friends via fly fishing over the years, and this was a little get together that Juan was putting on to show his appreciation for his friends. The couple in the silver truck, David and Joanne, introduced themselves and Joanne suggested I stick around for lunch. I actually think my heart skipped a beat when I was asked to be part of the Asado. I proceeded to pack up and positioned myself right next to Juan for the next 90-minutes.
I don’t actually tell Juan I have any cooking experience whatsoever. I don’t want him to think I might know anything and therefore leave out any details he might assume I already know. Juan talks to me like it’s the first time I’d seen a fire or meat. He then proceeds to explain the whole process with his mouth, while making it all happen with his hands. Later I find out he doubles as a teacher for one of his jobs, this would explain the clarity and precision of how he is explaining the Asado to me.
Standing in front of the cooking area that had been carved out of the rocky bank, Juan explains he was up at 6am to marinate the meat in fresh lemon juice and salt. Nothing else. He says that if you marinate it the night before the salt will dry out the meat. If you marinate the meat to close to lunch, well, it won't have time to soak up the flavors. For the ten or so people attending the lunch, Juan had over 20lbs of meat! Roughly 2lbs per person, for men, women, and children. By Argentinian standards this was probably average, by the Canadian Doctors Associations standards I’m sure our names were probably supposed to be pre-registered for an artery-clearing the following week!
Over the next 90-minutes, the Argentinian Asado class takes shape, and I slide in the occasional question about meat cuts and heat control, all while Juan keeps up the steady pace of fire construction and cooking. First, we build a fire on one side of the pit from local hardwoods. On the other side of the pit, Juan positions a grill that sits 8” or so off the ground. As the fire burns on, Juan walks me through the meats. A selection of beef ribs, pork ribs, brisket, loins, sweetbreads (organ part around the cow's neck in this case), blood sausage, pork sausage stuffed with cheese, and various other cuts. He wants to put them all on at once. Putting all the meat on at once will; A- give some cuts a chance to rest as they won't all cook at the same time, and B- prove how fucking good Juan is at bringing all the meats to completion at once!
The fire burns until the first set of coals have been created. Then Juan slides these coals under the grate-style grill to heat it up, all while the next round of wood gets burning. Once the first coals have smothered down, and the grill has heated up, Juan slides the net round of coals under the grate, all while starting the process over again with the fire. Next, Juan lays out the various meat cuts across the grate, above the second round of coals. Being as there is no flame under the grate, there are no flares from the meat, and instead, you get more smoke as the moisture of the meant and marinate drips onto the red coals just below. Basically, Juan has taken an excellent way to cook the meat without flame and made it better by adding in the flavor of smoke.
In a mix of sweat, smoke and various sears, Juan explains how he sought out the butcher for these cuts based on where the butcher gets his animals, and how much he trusts the guys' expertise in general. No self-respecting Argentinian is impressing his friends at an Asado with cuts of industrial meat from a grocery store. Or an undertrained butcher for that matter.
Throughout the Asdao class everyone at the party slips in for a little chat about the meat but doesn’t offer up any advice or criticism. The guests explain that if it were all Argentinian men at the Asado, each one being an expert in his own right. The men would be hovering about like I am, but instead, they would be offering up their personal opinions about how the cooking should be done. They would also go out of their way to point out every damn detail that might have been overlooked or done incorrectly based on their personal scale of doing the cooking.
The Friends and Family
I meet Juan's wife, a lovely lady with shimmering dark hair, dark eyes, and dark Argentinian features. Juan's kids, the younger one about 10, who forces out a few English pleasantries to me but clearly feels more comfortable with his native Spanish. Juan older son, about 15, who feels more confident in his English and asks me some questions about who I am and my motorcycle journey. The older son pops in and out regularly during the Asado class to watch what his dad is up to and take a few mental notes. The son even spends some time right in the smoke above the fire pit explaining its better for him to understand if he gets right into the smoky action.
The one American couple drops by on occasion, the husband asking a few cooking questions then disappearing. I get the impression cooking isn’t his primary interest. His wife, who offers us some snacks while we work. Then David, from the silver truck who keeps an eye on the Asador and me to make sure we look confident/competent in what’s going on. Joanne his wife, who seems very interested in my trip but doesn’t want to come across like she’s interfering with the cooking class. She asked me several times to come and join them at the table but realized I was actually interested in the cooking. Then finally Juan's cousin, a young lady whom I thought was in her 20’s. Turns out she’s a touch younger than me and has 4-kids! She was down visiting for the weekend and seemed to enjoy the Asado class too.
An Argentinian Knows Meats Like No Other
As the 90-minutes ticked by, and Juans hands, body and mouth continued to flow efficiently and effectively back and forth from the task at hand to the instructions being given to me. He would indeed pull off the timing of things perfectly. The sausage was first to be pulled to the side only to sit and soak in some more smoke for 15 final minutes. The sweetbreads would come off once the outside was crispy and Juan would cut them in half to get the last seer right through the middle. He said he wanted a crisp exterior and a juicy interior, but that the interior was too thick, so he let it cook as long as possible before finally cutting and quickly searing in the final few minutes.
Pork ribs were laid to rest above beef ribs, loins turned one final time, and blood sausage pressed with a finger to check for their doneness. Finally the last of the meats were treated with a splash of the remaining marinade. Then, like a man who’d done this many times before, meats were removed, cut and hand-delivered table-side with a smile to the delight of the audience.
You can’t always find your friends, sometimes they need to find you
We ate, we drank, and someone even made a sort of salad to pretend there were vegetables at the meal. Afterward, Joanne invited me over to their place to use the wifi, take a shower and decide where I was going to go from there. That invitation turned into a bottle of wine, which turned into a night in their guest room. The other guest room had another guest. That night turned into dinner the next night, which turned into a visit from the Mormons (another story), which turned into a dinner party upon my departure from town several days later.
Don't let their hair color fool you. I was easily out-partied by my newly found hosts, whom were in their years of retiring from work, but clearly not in their years of retiring from fun.