We’re in the height of summer, with our lakes, forests and mountains thronged with people enjoying outdoor adventures. With this surge in outdoor living, we have a great opportunity to entice more customers through our doors with the scent of wood-fired dishes.
To stand out from the crowd, we need to offer more than homemade burgers and grilled corn.
Australian barbecues, Southern US smokehouses and South African Braais all offer a multitude of amazing dishes for cooking outdoors.
However, I’d argue that no culture has elevated the skill of cooking with fire quite like the Argentinians.
Argentinian BBQs stand apart from the competition for a number of reasons:
The number of ways they use fire for cooking:
The celebrated Argentinian chef Francis Mallmann covers seven different methods in his seminal book: Siete Fuegos (7 Fires).
- Chapa – a cast iron griddle on legs, places directly over a fire
- Inferno (Little Hell) – cooking with fire above and below the food
- Parilla – grill, a classic BBQ method
- Horno de Barro – cooking in a wood-fired clay oven
- Rescoldo – food cooked underground on hot embers
- Caldero – cooking in an iron cauldron, a bit like a South African Potjie
- Asador – cooking whole lambs, and pigs on a giant iron cross near a bonfire.
Native American tribes developed the majority of these cooking methods over hundreds of years, which were then adapted, and added to by the Gauchos.
The variety of dishes cooked with fire:
This list is a tiny selection, from thousands:
- Flashed grilled tuna loin, served rare with smoked garlic, rosemary and orange oil, and charred tomatoes.
- Baby pumpkins cooked whole until soft, then served with sharp goats cheese, wild rocket and roasted hazelnuts.
- Burnt plums, served with Dulce de Leche pancakes.
- Whole leg of lamb slow-cooked in Malbec wine, served with lemon, chilli, parsley, lovage and red onion salad.
- Chargrilled beetroot, leek, pear, grapefruit and pepper salad.
- Smoked duck breast with vermouth poached pears and potato galette.
Nose to tail cooking:
Argentinians consume almost 55kg of beef per person per year, but it’s not just ribeye, fillet and sirloin on the menu.
Go into any Parilla – steakhouse, and you’re likely to see a lot of offal on the menu: tripe, tongue, sweetbreads, small intestines, brain, heart. These are not small-ticket items, rather they are an essential part of the local diet, consumed with relish.
Additionally, you will see a much wider range of cuts of meat on the board than in a UK grill house:
- Entrana – skirt steak
- Vacio – flank
- Asado – short ribs
- Matambre – thin cuts of beef from between the skin and ribs
The benefit of cooking with some of the more unusual cuts, is they’re far cheaper, and if you know how to use them, you will surprise your customer with something they didn’t expect.
When it comes to buying dry and fresh stores for an Argentinian barbecue, one of the major benefits of this cuisine is the vast majority of ingredients are readily available from your current suppliers.
Two great draws for your customers when serving an Argentinian Asado:
- The first is always the smell of that meat, fish and veggies cooked over wood smoke. Place your grill so that the breeze wafts the scent down the street and you’ll even have competitors wandering in to check out the food!
- The second draw is from a customer perspective, you’re showcasing seemingly typical ingredients, which makes the mental buy-in easy.
You can then enchant your clients, serving dishes that inspire and delight in equal measure. The next time your clients smell a wood fire, those tiny molecules of scent, and the memory of your food will have them yearning for your next Argentinian night.
Contributed by Kieran Creevy; Expedition chef and private chef, Mountain Instructor and Arctic wilderness guide.
Photo Credits: Claire Burge