Strolling through a quaint Santiago barrio or a quiet Patagonian town on a lazy Sunday afternoon, sooner or later you’re bound to come across a barbecue in full swing. It’s a multi-sensory experience: a wispy gray smoke cloud rises into the air, mixing with tantalizing aromas and the pleasant buzz of conversation. Stereos blare, children laugh, a dog barks, the smell intensifies and vegetarians begin to question themselves.
Known as asados, barbecues are an important part of life in Chile, where family and friends gather to share a meal and a good story all year round. And while the essential elements – meat, heat and a plentiful supply of beverages – are familiar, there are some distinctive elements that help set apart a true Chilean asado.
Here’s a small taste to whet your appetite:
The equipment: At its most basic, a Chilean barbecue consists of a metal grill, or parilla, suspended above a coal or wood fire. Bags of coal for asados can be found at most supermarkets and corner stores throughout the country and it’s a good idea to have some old newspaper available to kindle the coals. Any left-over pages can be used to fan the flames and if that fails, a hair dryer usually does the trick. Once the fire gets going, it’s time to start cooking.
The starter: There’s no better way to start your Chilean barbecue than with choripanes, spicy chorizo or longaniza sausages on a bread roll. Quick and simple, they are the perfect appetizer, guaranteed to get your mouth watering in preparation for the main event.
The meat: Although there’s always room for variety, the most common options at a Chilean asado are rib eye steaks, long racks of pork ribs and meat skewers, called anticuchos. Other popular barbecue choices are lamb and chicken. All the meat is seasoned with a generous sprinkling of salt.
The sauce: The classic way to complement a tasty choripan or a juicy steak is pebre, Chile’s national condiment. Made of diced onion, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, cilantro and chilli peppers, it packs a spicy punch.
The side dishes: The most popular salad among Chileans is ensalada chilena (“Chilean salad”). Composed of thinly sliced tomatoes, raw onion and cilantro, this simple recipe is surprisingly tasty, especially when prepared with fresh Chilean produce. Another favorite at Chilean barbecues is Russian Salad, which consists of diced potatoes, other vegetables and boiled eggs combined with mayonnaise.
The drinks: A full bodied Chilean red wine is the ideal way to bring out the flavor in your freshly cooked steak. A proper asado will also have a good supply of local beer, pisco sour and, if you’re lucky, some home-brewed chicha.