The Clay Oven In Argentine Lore
PHOTO: The horno de barro, or clay oven. (Courtesy YouTube)
Almost every culture has some kind of love affair with meat. More specifically, grilled meat.
Whether it’s a South African braai, a Brazilian churrasco, a Korean gogigui or a Fijian lovo, people around the world enjoy gathering to share friendships, have a few drinks and feast on barbecued meat.
While the United States can certainly lay claim to being a nation of beef lovers, hop a flight on Aerolineas Argentinas to see how Argentines almost revere their meat. Residents of Argentina eat nearly twice as much beef per capita as their neighbors to the north. And to consume that much beef, you have to get pretty inventive about ways to cook it. Or do you?
Meet the horno de barro, or clay oven.
Argentines are nothing if not purists when it comes to grilling. Whereas Americans are only recently coming around to the idea of hormone and antibiotic-free, grass-fed beef, Argentines have long known that natural beef is the best beef, and to do it justice, one doesn’t just throw it in a pan and crank up the heat. Instead, Argentina has what is an almost legendary means of ensuring that its prime cuts of beef don’t end up overcooked slabs on someone’s plate. The horno de barro is time-honored means of backyard cooking and is used to grill everything from vegetables and empanadas to pizza, and, of course, meat.
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The horno de barro is a ubiquitous feature of backyards across Argentina and is the focal point of many a family and weekend gathering. In fact, it’s such an ingrained part of Argentinian culture that even newer condo and high-rise developments have built them into their rooftop decks. These grills can range from homemade brick or clay structures to large open-fire stainless grills with crank wheels along the side, allowing for the cooking surfaces to be raised and lowered as needed.
And while Americans may have heated discussions over the benefits of charcoal versus propane, any self-respecting Argentine will tell you that the only way to barbecue is over glowing wood coals. Typically, the wood is burned in a separate area and transferred to the horno de barro once the fire and smoke have abated. Another difference with U.S. grilling practices lies in the act itself. Whereas most U.S. restaurants and backyard barbecuers opt for a high heat (more than 800 degrees in some of the finer U.S. steakhouses) over which they sear the outside of the meat, sealing in the juices, Argentinian chefs prefer a slower cook method that sees the cut of beef cooked for a longer period of time over a lower heat.
The result is a steak decidedly more even in color and bursting with flavor. Argentines use every inch of the cow, enjoying such cuts as sweetbreads, asado de tira (short rib), skirt steaks and more. And while Americans tend to enjoy a meal with the steak as the focus and a variety of sides as accompaniment, Argentines spend the day grilling, feasting along the way on a variety of tasty salads, sausages and sauces created to bring out the flavor of each cut of meat.
More by Kristina Rundquist
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