Monday July 8, 2013
[Note: I partook of the Asado before the start of the Nine Days of the Hebrew month of Av, when Ashkenazi Jews don’t eat meat as part of the mourning ritual commemorating the destruction of the Temple — it should be doubly restricted in Uruguay as it is so enjoyable…]
Anatomy of an Asado
Perhaps one of the most glorious aspects of the Uruguayan culture is the “Asado”. An Asado is the classical local form of barbeque. But there is much more to it than merely grilling meat. There is a form. There is a process. And there is the whole social aspect to the “Asado”.
I have had the very good fortune of participating in a number of Asados and am starting to understand some of the technical aspects that I will now share with you.
First is the Asado station itself, called the parrilla. When searching for a house (a whole other adventure) one of the first items agents will explain is whether the dwelling has a parrilla or not. Many buildings have communal parrillas and is considered a normal and healthy requirement for social development. The parrilla is typically a very large brick fireplace built to contain the classic Asado grill.
The grill consists of two distinct parts. Usually on one side is a grating constructed to hold burning firewood. The second part is the grill itself, large with a downward slope.
Purists will use firewood. The firewood is burned in its grating and as burning embers crumble off the pile, they are scooped up and spread underneath the grill.
The grill is laden with meat. Now when I say meat, I don’t mean hot dogs, or hamburgers or heavily processed meat. I mean meat. A lot of meat. Big pieces of meat. For chicken lovers, they put an entire chicken. Several. Big cuts of freshly slaughtered cows are put on the grill. Somehow there is a real tasteable difference between meat that was killed locally and meat that is sitting in a frozen vacuum pack for a transatlantic voyage and then prepared. There is also a distinct way that they cut ribs over here. They leave a lot of meat on, making the experience of eating ribs significantly more rewarding and delicious. I can go on about the preparation, the condiments, the overall feeling of satiety after participating in an Asado. I have reached a new level of appreciation for the Talmudic maxim that there is no festivity without meat and wine.
However, the greatest part of the Asado is the camaraderie. There is something tribal, perhaps prehistoric in sitting around a fire waiting for the kill of the day to be ready for human consumption. There is something civilizing about taking the raw material and over drinks and appetizers turning it into a meal fit for kings. There is something intoxicating about the sweet smell of our food reaching delectable completion and the open hearth warming you on a chilly winter night.
But all is not fun and games. In my position as Chief Rabbi, I have been asked at these occasions to share words of Torah. I cannot merely enjoy the Asado as just another hunter may have. I have to work for my meal. But that is okay. It is a very small price to pay. I would even say it is a great privilege to be asked to bring a little bit more of the divine into what is already a divine combination of food and friendship. I’m looking forward to many, many more.