The whole meat/men/fire thing is a cliche, but like many cliche is (at least in my case anyway) based on a kernel of truth. I suppose the advantage of barbecuing over other forms of cooking is that it’s all happening as you watch, and therefore it doesn’t take as much practice to get to grips with compared to the mysteries of the oven or casserole dish. It also satisfies the impatient amongst us, and as a final recommendation gives that “I’m really a hunter gatherer, I just happen to be wearing a polo shirt and chinos today” feel.
The Argentines love beef,being the world’s second highest consumers per capita (behind the Uruguayans) , and especially love cooking beef on a wood fired grill (as a non Spanish speaker, I’m unsure as to the difference between parrillada, parrilla and asado). To improve my grilling skills, I went to a parrillada masterclass at De La Panza, an Argentinian restaurant in Hackney.
The evening was presented by the ever enthusiastic Ernesto, who started by talking us through the various cuts we would be tasting during the evening: the lower fat fillet and rump through to the higher fat levels of sirloin and rib-eye. But before we set to with meat and grill, we started the evening with a baked empanada – I went for the spicy beef, resolving to find out how what are basically pasties made their way across the Atlantic. Wikipedia tells me that Cornish miners had nothing to do with it, and empanadas originated in Spain, with the ultimate ancestor being the samosa.
And then it was into the kitchen to see the grill in action. I was hugely envious of the wood fired grill – with a rack and pinion system to raise the grill to enable the charcoal to be distributed properly. The first surprise was the temperature of the grill – the charcoal was arranged to give good, but not excessive heat. This was not going to be an evening of ultra short cooking times and blue steak. Rather, the meat was cooked in a slow and steady fashion and especially with the fattier cuts, done medium.
My tasting notes of the various cuts are short and sweet: the first two steaks up for consideration were rib-eye and sirloin. The rib-eye was rich and almost gamey compared to a smooth tasting sirloin, and I much preferred stronger tastes of the former. Third in line was the rump, which again I preferred to sirloin.
Then came ribs – rich, fatty and chewy, followed by the fillet. The lack of fat on the fillet (combined with the fact that it was cooked for a little longer than I would have liked) again emphasised how much I preferred the fattier cuts, further confirmed by the last two tastings of the evening of a belted rib-eye – where a thick steak had been cut, spiral fashion, into a long strip – and a rump cap, a thin slice of which was cooked on one side only.
The steaks were accompanied by a range of Argentinian reds (as well as excellent chips and salad), all of which I enjoyed, none of which I actually managed to make a note of – blogging fail, I’m afraid. I’m only just getting the hang of the photograph everything before eating thing.
The two revelations of the evening were first, a strong re-emphasis on how much I like fat, and prefer fattier cuts of meat. Second, how great the benefits of a slow and steady cooking can be, even for steaks. I found the whole evening hugely enjoyable, and would recommend it to any meat-eater.
Fuss Free Flavours was the guest of De La Panza.
Parrillada Masterclass £50 per person, up to 10 in the class.
De La Panza Restauarnt
105-107 Southgate Road
London N1 3JS
Reservations: 020 7226 0334