"Cooking over a wood fire is like having a first date. It's something you wait for with great expectations and a little anxiety".
The Seven Fires, Francis Mallmann, 2010
To talk about fire in cooking is like talking about the wheel in cycling: it has a little bit of obvious and a little bit of monument. Lévi-Strauss (who I believe has a few more publications than I do) mantains that the step from raw to cooked implies the apparition of the culture itself, the human. This frontier is only crossed through fire, which seems an obstacle worthy of such endeavour. However, if the cooked make us human, where does that leave the Japanese? Is it underdevelopment to make sashimi? Clearly Lévi-Strauss was refering to the concious decision ofpreparing the food. We attend then to the birth of creativity, which means going one step further than mere survival needs: the creativity made us human.
In Argentina, the chef-writer Francis Mallmann has the last word on fire. In his book "Seven Fires" (2010, edited by V&R), which has even a trailer , he gives us precise instructions for how, where and when make a fire and its different uses. The steps to light a fire, the Mallmann way, are:
- Pile up some handfuls of splinters (replaceable by a paper ball).
- Make a kind of tent with little sticks around the splinters.
- Around the tent, build a second one with bigger sticks.
- Roll 4 or 5 sheets of paper and place them between the sticks.
- Build a third tent with trunks cut about 40 cm long and 10 to 12 cm wide.
- Light the rolled paper and do not touch the fire till the trunks are burning.
- Once the whole structure is lighten up, start adding bigger trunks.
- To light the coal, usually they use a fire basket, which is placed next to the wood fire.
- This proccess must be done at leat 45 minutes before starting to cook, because it should be ready when a layer of ash is formed on the coal surface.
For less perfectionist users here we have a video, not any less authentic:
In relation to the meat, Argentina, as well as Uruguay, is a country full of cows. If the Argentinian were hinduists, the human race would be in danger of invasion. Among the most popular cuts we have the entraña and the chinchulines. The entraña is found in the part of the diaphragm closest to the ribs (thin skirt steak). Its a very popular cut because it cooks fast but it must be really juicy. Chinchulines are intestines, surprisingly tasty when really crunchy. The name seems to soften the nature of the dish and its rough origin.
Some other popular Argentinian cuts for the grill are:
- Vacío (flank): is a cut located on the side of the rear fourth of the cow, between the fake ribs and the hip gaps. Fibrous and juicy, you leave the covering membrane to grill it.
- Lomo (sirloin): long and conic muscle located next to the spine and under the ribs. In order to be tender and juicy, the cut must be perpendicular to the meat threads. Very appreciated for its soft flavour.
- Matambre (subcut, muscle): typical Argentinian cut, it's the lean layer of meat that you get between the skin and the ribs. The thick fat is removed.
- Tapa de asado (skirt steak): it covers the front and top sides of the ribs. It's a bit hard.
- Colita de cuadril (tail of rump): the cuadril is a boneless cut from the lower, external and transverse part of the rear fourth. The colita de cuadril is a long muscle cut from the whole cuadril. The smaller the more tender.
- Costillar (ribs): big piece which includes all the cow's ribs with not much meat, and you cook it whole on the grill. Like the vacío, it's often covered with a membrane which gets crunchy and really tasty once cooked.
- Pechito de ternera deshuesado (boned breast): the thinest and most boned part of the skirt.