by Troy Bishopp
So you’re a farmer and you’ve got this pile of brush you made out of tenacious, multi-flora rose bushes, overgrown honeysuckle, wily spiked hawthorn trees and dead limb wood. Before you touch a match to this hedgerow fuel and burn up your nemesis, might you consider this action functional as well as delicious? An asado is just a smoldering flame away.
What’s an asado you ask? It’s the ancient art of South American live-fire cooking while creating a social event around a barbecue. In countries like, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, a traditional asado usually consists of beef, sausages, and sometimes other meats, which are cooked on a grill, called a parrilla, or over an open fire. Argentine grillmaster and chef, Francis Mallmann, says, “Fire is such a fragile and beautiful thing.”
The first asado experience my wife and I had just so happened to be in the heart of Vermont at Randolph’s Howling Wolf Farm around a brush pile where the husband and wife team of Jenn Colby and Chris Sargent, aka “Sargent Sausage”, turned a bed of coals into an eating destiny. The dynamic duo, known for their family-run competition “Howling Hog” barbecue team for 13 years, coveting more than 45 awards at barbecue and grilling events and becoming one of Vermont’s most decorated competition cooking teams is now transitioning to hosting intimate, “meat-forward,” seven-course tasting menu events at the farm.
Watching Chris, the Asador, manage fire, smoke and build homemade wooden stakes, cinder block grills and grated griddles was art as much as inherent skill and patience to create a low and slow, fall-off-the-bone feast. He skewered a pork tenderloin and our own grass-fed steaks, he racked whole chickens, grilled vegetables and even fried cheese with its coating of red pepper flakes and garlic, sensational!
A big fan of Francis Mallman’s barbecue book, “Seven Fires-Grilling the Argentine way”, Sargent gently basted the marinated meats with what is known as a Salmuera or brine, that is largely salt with hints of garlic, parsley, oregano, crushed red pepper flakes, olive oil and red wine vinegar which are the traditional seasonings used on barbecued meats in Argentina. Salmuera stays in line with that tradition yet also includes the added benefit of keeping meats that require lengthy cooking times from drying out. The end result is a subtle, salty, garlic taste that mildly accompanies the flavor of the meat instead of overpowering it.
The Saturday afternoon eating experience was a wonderful tribute to a craftsman who appreciates what a farmer produces every day. With subtle smokiness and flavor profiles from the various woods, the meat was a succulent reminder of what good cooking respects. The fire is also a conversation area where you can relax, share stories and anecdotes, preserve friendships and imagine what is possible when farming and chef ingenuity romance the soil. It creates memories.
“Sometimes, dinner can be the perfect getaway without all the fuss,” said Colby. At the end of the asado, we all felt more full — not just our bellies, but our hearts.