Today’s post is by guest blogger Erin McElroy. Erin is a writer and photographer focused on the transformative adventures that get us into nature only to discover the true nature within ourselves. She spent two years exploring the nature and culture of South America, while finding her purpose and passions. The Gourmet Girls on Fire thank Erin for her wonderful narrative. Now, if she’ll only share her recipe for chimichurri!
En Fuego by Erin McElroy
My friend Lucas, the gaucho that I have befriended, picks me up with his friend Fonzi, a Swiss horse whisperer of sorts, in tow. We are headed to the foothills of the Andes in Argentina, to meet a family that is preparing for a cattle drive. Fonzi had met them on an expedition crossing the Andes on horseback, and has been invited to participate.We make a stop to buy a damajuana, a large jug of wine, to take to the family. We make another stop to get some chocolate, because…why not? We make another stop to buy the fixings for an asado (The literal translation is roasted, but basically this is the Argentinean version of a BBQ). We stop to pick wild arugula. We stop to take pictures of the valley as we crest a hill overlooking wine country. We stop at a winery to say hi to a friend of Lucas and place an order for smoked trout, which we’ll pick up on our return.To some of us in the western world, this might be maddening. Why is a two hour road trip taking seven hours? And it would have driven me crazy some years ago too, but at this point I had been living in Argentina for at least six months and had learned that one of the many gifts of this culture is to appreciate the journey and seize each present moment. This is a revered past time, taken seriously, and perhaps most fully embodied in the art and experience of an asado.
As we get further into wine country, we find a pretty spot and decide it is time for the asado. They can and do happen anywhere. I’ll never forget hiking up to a hut with some boring freeze dried backpacking food only to encounter a group of guys who pulled a bag of raw meat out of their backpack to grill. “The first night of a camping trip is always asado,” I am told. We see a makeshift ring of stones where some others must have had the same idea and we pull over. One of the beauties of an asado is that it is essentially comprised of whole food, so the primary preparation needed is the fire and some salt. The asador (read: grill master) builds a fire with small pieces of wood called leña with the goal of creating a fire and coals that can gradually be transferred underneath the parilla (grill) for the next several hours.
Lucas pulls outs a mess of wire hangers that have been used for many a roadside asado and balances it across the stones. From noon to the alpenglow hour, we tend the fire, dig into grilled vegetables, eat round after round of meat, sip on some wine, tell stories, and relish the beautiful afternoon. I am grinning inside out, so grateful and happy for this simple yet charged ritual.
There are more informal asados as in the likes of the camping or roadside asado, and there are more elaborate ones accompanied by chimichurri, empanadas, salads, and potatoes. An asado basically involves all different cuts of meat, seasoned generously with salt alone, cooked over a fire, and eaten in rounds. It’s an experience more than a meal, but an experience that leaves you beyond satiated.
The meats cook at different lengths, and the asador is responsible for keeping a tiny amount of coals underneath, hot enough to smoke the meat, cool enough to hold your hand about 10 inches over them. He/she pulls them off at just the right time, usually starting with chorizo sausage, and then moving through ribs, flank, sirloin, etc. and often including organs as well. If they do the job well, happy eaters will be grabbing steak off of a cutting board as it’s passed around and the asador will earn “un applauso” at the end.
I love the alchemy of fire, not only in getting back to our native roots when cooking was more of an intentional, engaging practice, but also in the time, patience, and delicate dance that is called for when preparing food this way. The meal transcends the functional need to eat and invites in a connection with nature and the relationships nourished from a shared meal. There’s a sense of integrity, passion, and participation. Buen provecho!
*Note: Chimichurri is a great accompaniment to steak and is made of a combination of herbs (usually oregano and parsley), garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, sea salt, and crushed red pepper flakes. Francis Mallmann, an esteemed Argentinian chef, has an amazing recipe.
The Gourmet Girls on Fire also have a really good recipe for chimichurri in The Gourmet Girls Go Camping Cookbook!
Thank you again, Erin!
The Gourmet Girls en Fuego!
Gail, Denise & Lindsey