Elevate your braai/grilling/asado game, with Patagonian-style crucified lamb
South Africans have braais, Americans have BBQs, Ozzies have Barbies, Brits have tea, and Argentina has the legendary asado. Sure, it’s a general style of grilling, parts of which are not that dissimilar to what you might make at home on a continent far, far away but asado boasts certain elevated, centre-piece ‘dishes’ that are so far removed from tanning a chop or burning some wors that, other than the connection of meat and an open fire, they are in a league of their own.
Lamb al Asador or Cordero al Palo is one such dish. It involves crucifying a lamb (not a goat as that will get you the wrong kind of attention), then cooking it over a fire for hours till it is perfectly done. We experienced proper asado recently at Jurassic Lake Lodge in Patagonia where, after a long day spent catching giant rainbow trout hand over fist, chef Belen ‘Belu’ Acuña and her gaucho sidekick, Luca Inostrosa, showed us how they make Cordero al Palo.
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Let’s be upfront about something: if you’re impatient, or lazy, this is not for you. But, if you are prepared to put in the effort, the resultant flavour embedded in the slow-cooked crispy fat and delicious meat not only makes it well worth your time, but could elevate your culinary standing among friends and family to Head Chef levels.
“Like most things involving outdoor cooking, there are a lot of variables: How dry is your wood? Did that lamb pump iron? Was it really lamb or the Glenwood High School 1st XV equivalent? Can you measure 75cm accurately”
So, venture into this knowing that A) it is not an exact science and B) we take no responsibility for whether you execute this properly (any couriered burnt lamb ribs will be returned to sender).
Deal? All set? Great. Now step up. Here’s Belu’s cheat sheet to making your own at home.
BELU’S ASADO DO’S AND DON’TS
– You need a whole butterflied lamb for this. Ask your butcher or take along a picture of Ramsay Bolton’s house coat of arms (from Gamne of Thrones).
– For your outdoor kitchen, you need to choose a suitable area to make your fire because this is going to be a decent-sized fire and it will burn for a long time.
– Begin by making a fire using that season’s dry wood (ed. No, charcoal will not do in this case).
– The fire must burn for at least 30 to 45 min, because what you will be using for cooking are the glowing hot embers. From time to time you will need to put extra wood on the fire, to ensure a steady supply of these embers.
– Using steel wire, fix your whole butterflied lamb to a metal crucifix in an upright but rotatable position (ed:You want a crucifix with a second cross bar, somewhere between a crucifix and a hashtag). Make sure you fix it as well as possible at the ankles and through the back section on to the spine, as the lamb needs to cook for several hours and cannot fall off the crucifix halfway through.
– Liberally salt the lamb.
– Drive the bottom of your lamb crucifix into the ground at a 45° angle over the fire ensuring that the fire is always approximately 70 to 75 cm away from the lamb. ‘Low and slow,’ is the rule of the game.
– As your fire keeps producing more glowing embers, these coals should be moved closer to the lamb in whatever quantities needed to regulate a steady cooking temperature.
– Depending on the size of your butterflied lamb, cooking time will be anywhere from 3 to 4 hours.
– The lamb has to be rotated periodically to ensure equal cooking time on both sides. You should probably open a few bottles of red to help pass the time.
– As it cooks, keep basting the lamb with a marinade of Chimichurri and water.
– Serve with side portions of grilled morcilla (blood sausage) and steak.
– Buen provecho!
For the ingredients, the method and more, check out the rest of the story in issue 21 of The Mission for free below, or buy the print edition (worldwide shipping) here.