Asado – barbecue, specifically an Argentinean barbecue of meat cooked over an open fire.
When we first went to Argentina more than 16 years ago we were introduced to the delights of the asado – barbecues on a parilla – the wood fired oven.
The food was delicious and I put a parilla on my one-day-when list for home.
In the meantime we had to make do with ordinary barbecues, or what one of our Argentinean visitors dubbed asado con gas – asado with gas.
Nearly three years ago we got the South African version of a parilla – a Kiwi Braii – at our crib in Wanaka and now, finally we’ve got a parilla at home.
The last of the fire bricks were installed last week.
We’ve got 150ish people coming for dinner tonight so my farmer test-drove the parilla, cooking a fillet of beef yesterday evening.
One of the secrets of the asado is cooking over embers rather than flame.
The fire is lit to one side and when the embers drop, they’re lifted on a long-handled shovel and placed under the food.
It requires patience but the taste and tenderness of the meat is worth the wait.
Last night’s test-drive was a success.
I’ll be able to report to our Argentinean friends that we can now cook an asado con y sin gas – with and without gas and we’ve brought the taste of Argentina to #gigatownoamaru.
One of the highlights of last September’s trip to Argentina was visiting Mercado de Liniers.
Seven fifteen is an early start when you’re on holiday, but the Buenos Aires cattle market opens for business at 7.30am.
We were picked up from our hotel by a driver and Maria, our guide who has made tours of the market her speciality.
Cattle arrive overnight from up to 500 kilometres away. They are checked by a vet and weighed by pen then walk seven blocks from the scales to the market which covers an area of 34 hectares.
It is criss-crossed by a series of raised walkways which enable buyers, brokers and visitors to get a good view of the stock below.
Our party included farmers and stock agents. They didn’t understand Spanish but recognised the nods, winks and other body language of the buyers which is universal.
They noted how quiet the cattle were and put this down to the fact they were worked with horses which needed little, if any, guidance from their riders.
The experienced New Zealand sale-goers were also very impressed by morning tea – large slabs of steak and chorizo, (spicy sausages) cooked on the asado, the wood-fired barbeque.
All cattle must be sold no later than the day after they arrive and on Fridays all stock must be sold because there’s no market at the weekends.
The day we were there 8,500 head of cattle went under the hammer. The most sold in the three years our guide had worked there was 31,000, well short of the market record for a day’s sale of 42,00o.
A bell ringing for about five minutes signals the start of an auction. Prices went from 8.5 to 10 pesos a kilo, liveweight. As each pen is sold cattle are taken by men on horse-back to be weighed – manually and electronically. Both weights must agree because stock is sold by price per kilo.
Weights and prices are conveyed by fibre optic cable to a central computer and are available instantly on the market website so Liniers sets the price around the country.
The broker gets 4% of the price and .04% of the price goes to the market which is jointly owned by 55 livestock broker agencies.
When stock is transported from the market the trucks are tracked by GPS as a security measure to ensure the driver doesn’t drop off any cattle en route.
The neighbourhood grew up on the back of the market which still supports 2,500 families.
Outside the market is a monument to a gaucho, the only one of dozens in the city which pays tribute to a worker.
Our guide, Maria, who speaks perfect English, has her own company Bespoke Tours.
The couple at whose wedding I officiated yesterday work for us.
My farmer offered to help with the after-match lunch today and cooked a lamb:
He’s done it several times and got the recipe right – a smallish lamb, cooked very slowly over the embers of hot burning hard wood like manuka or blue gum.
It stays moist, is very tender and tastes delicious.
The annual Geosciences conference is taking place in Oamaru this week.
Last night about 200 delegates were dining at Burnside Homestead. The owners asked my farmer and a friend to lend a hand.
They were happy to oblige and spent most of the day tending two lambs and a leg of venison as they cooked over the fire.
They’re getting well practised and have found the secret. They use hard wood like manuka or blue gum which burns hot, then use the heat from the embers rather than the flames so the meat cooks slowly.
The result is tender, succulent meat which almost falls off the bones.
One of the delegates was Argentinean and was thrilled to have an asasdo for the first time since she’d left home.
We’ve just completed a farm tour with a group we were invited to join four years ago.
Each autumn we have a study tour which visits members’ farms, alternating between the North & South Islands. We also have a city-based seminar every second winter and conference calls with a guest speaker every couple of months.
Farming can be a lonely and isolated business so sharing experiences with and learning from others in this way has immense value.
Chatham House rules apply which promotes a high level of openess in discussions and very strong friendships develop amongst us all.
This trip we visited nine farms which included a lamb finishing unit, intensive dairy and crop farms and a high country run. We also visited an agribusiness and had two sets of guest speakers.
They not only opened their gates to us, they opened their businesses too.
They were very different operations but all had several things in common – the people who owned them work hard, are very good at what they do and are passionate about doing it.
Discussions often got on to the recession and there was concern about what impact it might have, but also confidence about the part agriculture will play in the recovery.
The week wasn’t all work, we also had plenty of good food, wine, lots of laughter and finished here with an asado:
It’s very pleasant to pass a Friday evening with good friends, a glass or two of wine (Charles Wiffen sauvignon blanc) and the first barbeque of the season.
However, just a wee quibble, having been to Argentina, no food from a gas barbeque – not even fresh asapragus – can match that from an asado like this. . .
. . . which was cooked by an Argentinean friend for a party at our place in February.
Or this in Argentina:
Or this in Uruguay:
Alliance Group might buy lamb from South America to fill orders it can’t meet from New Zealand.
Chief executive Grant Cuff said with sheep numbers declining around the world, the Invercargill co-operative was looking at supplying North American and European markets with South American lamb.
Alliance considered a similar possibility about a decade ago, but Cuff said the situation had changed.
At the time South American lambs were lighter in weight, there were insufficient numbers and issues with disease and traceability.
South American farmers had improved the quality of lambs and addressed the disease and animal traceability issues which, together with falling sheep numbers, had encouraged Alliance to revisit the idea.
“New Zealand has looked at it before. It is all a matter of timing and priorities and we think the moment is right to have another look.”
Cuff said Alliance was still to decide if the lamb would be sold under its own brands, but initially that was unlikely.
Guaranteeing continuous supply may be necessary to satisfy export markets and if that can’t be done with our own lamb, meat companies will have to look elsewhere.
I have no concern about the quality of meat from South America. I’ve enjoyed several meals of lamb in Argentina and the meat was at least equal to the best I have eaten here, although that was due in part to the way it was cooked – on an asado .
However, there is a danger in branding their meat like ours because foot and mouth disease is a recurring problem in South America.
Keeping separate brands will ensure there is no risk to our exports by association with theirs if or when there is another outbreak of the disease there.