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. Kieran has over 25 years experience cooking and guiding in remote and challenging locations.
Photo Credits: Claire Burge
BAKED SQUASH WITH RAW SHEEP CHEESE, MINT, ROCKET AND TOASTED PINE NUTS. SERVES 2
- 1 large (1.5 – 2kg) squash (acorn or similar)
- 150g creamy soft raw sheep or goats cheese
- 1 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh mint leaves
- Handful rocket leaves
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Make sure your wood fire or bbq has reduced in intensity to the point where you could hold your hand 1-2ft above the wood for a few seconds
- Slice the top 1cm off the acorn squash leave to one side
- Wrap the rest of the squash in tinfoil
- Place in the middle of the coals or on a grill (bbq) for 1 hour
- Remove and test with a sharp knife which should slide in easily
- Leaving the skin and a 5mm (ish) rim intact scoop out the flesh and seeds, transfer to a big bowl
- Remove the seeds
- Mash the flesh with a fork, season, add the olive oil and the garlic, spoon back into the squash.
- Mash the cheese roughly with a fork and add to the squash
- Chop the rocket and mint
- Add to the squash and top with the pine nuts
- Return to the fire
Eat directly from the squash with spoons.
DUCK BREAST, BLUEBERRY, THYME AND HONEY SAUCE, WILD BLUEBERRIES, NEW POTATOES COOKED IN DUCK FAT. SERVES 4
- 2-3 Duck breasts, skin on.
- 3 handfuls of wild myrtilles
- 2 tsp wild thyme chopped
- 1 tbsp mountain honey
- 20 new potatoes
- Sea salt and pepper
- Add 2 handfuls of the wild blueberries, 2 tsp of thyme, the honey and 1 tbsp of water to a saucepan.
- Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 5-10 minutes.
- Pass through a sieve, cool and store in a lightweight bottle.
- Parboil the new potatoes in a pot of salted water.
- Allow to cool then store in the fridge.
- Season the duck breasts and score on the skin side
- Sear the duck breasts on the parilla or chapa flesh side for 2 minutes.
- Turn over and cook, skin side down for 4-6 minutes (depending on the heat of the fire and the size of the breasts), taking care to caramelise, but not burn the skin.
- NB, take care not to overcook the breasts.
- From time to time scrape off a little of the duck fat that renders out into a bowl
- Remove the duck and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
- Using the duck fat from the bowl, cook the parboiled new potatoes in a pan, turning frequently.
- Transfer the potatoes to a bowl and season.
- Pour the bilberry sauce into the pan and warm for 1 minute.
- Add the sliced duck breasts, and heat for 30 seconds.
Spoon the duck slices and sauce on plates. Add the new potatoes, sprinkling some additional wild thyme over them. Finish the plate with wild blueberries.