No, friends, let me reassure you that you have not accidentally stumbled upon some weird, faux-rustic “pron” site. For good or bad, the only p0rn you’ll find here is daring, ultra-close-up pics of the juicy, young flesh of pasture-fed Argentine cattle. And the only things being roasted (or stripping for that matter) are long strips of beef ribs, or tira de asado.
The setting for this particular Argentine skin flick was El Establo, (meaning the stable), a famous old parilla in the Retiro district of Buenos Aires.
Arriving at this restaurant after another long walk across the City, we found ourselves salivating even more than usual at the sight of giant hunks of meat sizzling over glowing coals because the previous night’s meal had been so disappointing. We’ll devote an entire post about why our experience at Casa Saltshaker was such a let-down another day, but suffice it to say for now, that this chastening experience was beneficial because we learned that disappointment can be an excellent appetite-whetter.
Greeted enthusiastically by our ebullient waiter Javier, we were presented with a large menu, including a range of steaks and pasta, as well as a wide variety of northern Spanish classics – the restaurant’s founder being an immigrant from the Gijon area of Asturias. After a good ten minute study of said menu, we looked up and noticed our surroundings: a high-ceilinged whitewashed room with thick, dark wood beams, somewhat reminiscent of a stable, with the exception of the giant barbecue, and behind us, an intimidating old liquor cabinet packed with all manner of head-splitting firewaters in knobbly green and brown bottles.
Famished by our walk and the meager offerings of the night before, we ordered the heroically proportioned ensalada del Establo (containing almost every vegetable you can name plus potatoes and boiled eggs), and what turned out to be a giant order of lengua a la vinaigrette (cold, boiled beef tongue with garlic, hot pepper and vinegar sauce) as appetizers, and somewhat conservatively, we figured, a half order, respectively, of entraña (skirt steak) and tira de asado.
Tira de asado (roast strips) is one of several uniquely Argentine cuts of beef that are perfectly suited to the high-heat charring (al carbon)of a traditional parilla. Beef ribs are cross-cut so that long narrow strips of inter-costal meat are interspersed with knots of rib-bone, which serves to shorten the often tough fibers of this part of the beast and allow them to be grilled instead of cooked using the long, low & slow method for the typical beef ribs barbecue familiar to Americans.
The juiciness and wonderfully gamey flavor of beef ribs is also retained brilliantly with this method, creating an irresistible contrast in texture to the crust formed on the outside by the searing heat from the charcoal.
Similar cuts of meat are available from some butchers in the US, the closest probably being the flanken rib, which is a short rib cut across the bone. From what we know from visiting several local butchers in Brooklyn, these are delicious, but generally thicker and meatier than those we ate in Argentina, bringing us to the conclusion that they’re cut from higher up the steer. Of course, as we plan to do at several points over the summer, you could quite easily buy yourself a rack of beef ribs and a fine-toothed saw (or heavy cleaver) and cut your own meat to order. I expect that satisfying thwack of steel on bone will be one of the signature sounds of the season.
We were delighted with our lunch at El Establo in all respects, and the playful friendliness of Javier interjecting his Argentine-inflected “you’re welcome”s as he brought more and more food to the table, only complemented our general sense of well-being. Like many professional waiters, he did his job expertly without either writing anything down or seeming to be in a hurry. Strolling around, gracefully hefting heavily-laden iron meat trays, and pausing now and then to chat and joke with our fellow diners, Javier seemed to be enjoying himself as much as we were. In fact, the only time I saw him frown was when, casting a wary eye over the meaty wreckage on our table, he tapped his nose, and, winking, advised us that we would need another half-bottle of wine if were going to properly enjoy the remainder of our steak. You can’t argue with service like that.
We ate tira de asado on at least three occasions during our week in Argentina, and so hooked were we that for our first steak meal in the month since returning home we trekked all over Brooklyn looking for an appropriate cut of meat. Ultimately, we didn’t quite find an exact facsimile of what we’d eaten in Buenos Aires, but the ribs we made and grilled at home were still very, very good all the same. And, when accompanied with lashings of sweet-vinegary-spicy condiment salsa criolla (creole sauce), a hearty Malbec, and a bowl of the highly addictive side dish that is papas fritas a la provenzal (french fries with fried garlic and parsley), it didn’t take an enormous mental leap to be back at El Establo listening to Javier expound his theory of why Fernet-Branca is the most popular digestive in Argentina. (it burns through steak the best)
(makes enough for 2-3 hungry people)
- 1/2 red onion, finely diced
- 1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed & finely chopped
- 1/2 red New Holland pepper, or any medium heat red pepper of your choice
- 1/2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- 1/2 jalapeno, finely diced
- 3tsp flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped or julienned
- 5 tbsp best olive oil
- 2-3 tbsp white wine vinegar
- good pinch of kosher salt
- good pinch of freshly ground black pepper
- Combine all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl and stir well.
- Cover and allow to sit at room temperature for at least an hour prior to serving. Best after at least 24 hours.
- After letting it “improve”, taste sauce and add shade more oil, vinegar or hot pepper according to your taste.
- Enjoy with the grilled meats of your choice, but also try on chicken, fish, over rice, or just about anything that could do with a little helping hand flavor-wise.
Paraguay 489 (y San Martín), Retiro, Buenos Aires, CF, Argentina.
7:00 a.m.- 2:00 a.m. daily; mains AR$25-$48