“Traveling on two steaks a day” is a common quip for holidays in Argentina, and justifiably so. While Americans have a reputation as a beef-loving nation, Argentines eat more than twice as much red meat on average. It is not just about quantity either: Argentine cattle are grazed on the rich grass of the Pampas, making for some of the leanest and tastiest steaks in the world. Simply put, you have never had a proper steak until you have chowed down on Argentine beef, cooked on a parilla. With Argentine beef imports being more widely available in the United States, this is now a meal that you can serve in your own home!
There is currently a ban on Argentine beef in the U.S. It began some years ago because of a hoof-and-mouth disease outbreak in Argentina, but has been maintained because of lobbying from the American cattle industry. Until the ban on Argentine beef is lifted, the closest equivalent will be organic, grass-fed American or Canadian beef. Yuppie-oriented supermarkets may carry it, but even if they do they might not have it cut the way you will want it. Thus, the first stop on your shopping trip is the butcher’s. Although this venerable institution has almost disappeared into the supermarket in most towns and cities, they still exist around the United States. If you live in at least a small city, there should be a butcher shop of some kind, even if it is just as a small wholesale business.Finding a shop with the beef and cuts you want likely be the most difficult part of your shopping. What cut of beef you want for your steaks is a matter for your tastes and pocketbook, but remember to go at least an inch and a half thick for a proper Argentine steak. A porterhouse or sirloin approximates the Bife de Chorozo, the most popular, general cut in Argentina.
Your second stop will be at a good wine shop. Argentina’s Mendoza province is producing some truly excellent wine, including what is arguably the best Malbec in the world. It is widely exported and you should be able to find some good examples in any wine shop or upscale liquor store. The labels available will depend on where you shop, so rather than recommend a particular label that may not be available to you, the author suggests you explain what you are doing for dinner to the shop’s proprietor and seek their advice.
While you are at the liquor store, you might want to pick up a bottle of lemonicello. This lemon liqueur is often served as a digestive after meals, and adds that little something extra to a meal served at home.
Now you have your two major items: your meat and your wine! This might very well be all you put out on your table, so select them with care and feel free to splurge on them.
If you go to a steakhouse or neighborhood parilla in Buenos Aires, you will find that the steaks on the menu are huge and come alone. If you wish for side items, you must order them separately. You can combine your steak(s) with whipped potatoes, grilled vegetables, and/or good bread. Any of these would be typical, but serve them in side dishes and not as portions on the plate, and consider all of them as optional. An Argentine steak meal can be as simple as a great steak and good wine, and that is all you really need. The more you put on the table, the more you detract from these two key elements.
To give you some idea of how a good steak house in Argentina goes about its business, they will all have two items not commonly found in any American restaurant: the parilla and the asador. The former is a particular form of charcoal grill, but the latter is an open roasting pit! So, while it is doubtful you will have a proper parilla, let alone an asador, a regular charcoal grill will do. Baste the steaks in butter and a pinch of salt and cook them up on the grill. Since this meal is all about the flavor of the Pampas-fed beef, go for rare or medium rare. Anything more is overcooked and a waste of the expensive meat. While Argentina does have a sauce called Chimichuri, this is not often used with a really good cut of beef. Cooking a 1 1/2 inch steak over the coals to medium rare should take 7 or 8 minutes, so for a rarer steak cook less.
Now you are ready to prepare your very own rendition of the parilla experience at home. Bon appetit!