So you’re a farmer and you’ve got this pile of brush you made out of tenacious, multi-flora rose bushes, overgrown honeysuckle, wily spiked hawthorn trees and dead limb wood. Before you touch a match to this hedgerow fuel and burn up your nemesis, might you consider this action functional as well as delicious? An asado is just a smoldering flame away.
What’s an asado you ask? It’s the ancient art of South American live-fire cooking while creating a social event around a barbecue. In countries like, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, a traditional asado usually consists of beef, sausages, and sometimes other meats, which are cooked on a grill, called a parrilla, or over an open fire. Argentine grillmaster and chef, Francis Mallmann, says “Fire is such a fragile and beautiful thing”.
My wife and my first asado experience just so happened to be in the heart of Vermont at Randolph’s Howling Wolf Farm around a brush pile where the husband and wife team of Jenn Colby and Chris Sargent, aka “Sargent Sausage”, turned a bed of coals into an eating destiny. The dynamic duo known as the “Howling Hog” barbecue team, has won more than 45 awards over the past 13 years, becoming one of Vermont’s most decorated competition cooking teams. Now they’re transitioning to hosting intimate, “meat-forward,” seven-course tasting menu events at thier farm.
Watching Chris, the Asador, manage fire, smoke and build homemade wooden stakes, cinder block grills and grated griddles was art as much as inherent skill and patience as he created a low and slow, fall off the bone feast. He skewered a pork tenderloin and our own grass-fed steaks, he racked whole chickens, grilled vegetables and even fried cheese with its coating of red pepper flakes and garlic, sensational!
A big fan of Francis Mallman’s barbeque book, “Seven Fires – Grilling the Argentine way”, Sargent gently basted the marinated meats with a traditional Salmuera, or brine, made of salt, garlic, parsley, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, olive oil and red wine vinegar which are the traditional seasonings used on barbecued meats in Argentina. It’s great for keeping meats that require lengthy cooking times from drying out. The end result is a subtle salty, garlic touch that enhances the flavor of the meat without overpowering it.
The Saturday afternoon eating experience, accompanied by a fine wine and local craft beer, was a wonderful tribute to a craftsman who appreciates what a farmer produces every day. With subtle smokiness and flavor profiles from the various woods, the meat was a succulent reminder of what good cooking respects. The fire is also a conversation area where you can relax, share stories and anecdotes, preserve friendships and imagine what is possible when farming and chef ingenuity romance the soil. It creates memories.
“Sometimes, dinner can be the perfect getaway without all the fuss,” said Colby. “At the end of the asado, we all felt more full—not just our bellies, but our hearts.”
Chimichurri Recipe from Francis Mallmann’s Seven Fires book:
1 cup water
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 head garlic, separated into cloves and peeled
1 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 cup fresh oregano leaves
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
To make the salmuera (brine), bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add the salt and stir until it dissolves. Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
Mince the garlic very fine and put in a medium bowl. Mince the parsley and oregano and add to the garlic, along with the red pepper flakes. Whisk in the red wine vinegar and then the olive oil. Whisk in the salmuera.
Transfer to a jar with a tight-fitting lid, and keep in the refrigerator. Chimichurri is best prepared at least 1 day in advance, so that the flavors have a chance to blend. The chimichurri can be kept refrigerated for up to 2 to 3 weeks.