Game on: a recap of a medieval asado April 12, 2012

Last week, my friend, Joe, decided to host an asado at his home in celebration of the Season Two premier of the hit HBO series, Game of Thrones.  He asked the Gaucho to attend as co-asador.  In the spirit of the show, he opted for the serving of a medieval feast, which included a number of game meats.  On the menu were: turkey legs, quail, rabbit, venison steaks, and a 5-lb. whole leg of lamb.  Side dishes included brussel sprouts cooked in a cast iron dutch oven, grilled fennel and avocados, an assortment of cheeses, and fruit tarts…all washed down with mead and ale.

Joe has the ideal set up for a backyard asado.  He had a large sitting area in the middle of the yard for people to sit, but away from the smoke of the firepit and parrilla.  He has a square plot in the middle of the yard covered with pebbles, in corner of which we placed his fire pit and parrilla.  This made the transfer of coals from the fire pit to the parrila rather easy.  If any coals spilled into the rocks, there was little concern of marking up a deck, a lawn, or a cement pathway with the spilled coals.  With the open-aired nature of his yard, we also had little concern for stray embers drifting into nearby trees and bushes.

Turkey legs were relatively inexpensive and easy to cook.  They took about 45-50 minutes to properly grill.  The skin got a nice crisp and took on a good deal of the delicious smoke flavor you look for in grilled meats.  Joe threw whole quail on the grill which also cooked up nicely.  He smartly marinated the quail over night in a sweet, teriyaki –style glaze and the meat took on much of the flavor.  The quail, however, were small and did not have a lot of meat and you really needed to eat the meat right off the bone to get most of them.

Similarly, the rabbit also produced smaller cuts of meat and also needed to be eaten off the bone.  Personally, I thought the rabbit meat was a bit too lean to grill.  I’ve mostly eaten rabbit in stews or braised for longer periods of time.  This usually makes rabbit more tender and flavorful,  whereas grilling rabbit produces a tougher texture.The venison steaks were also lean and cooked very quickly.  Joe marinated these as well which reduced much of the gamey flavor typically associated with venison.  They reminded me of vacio (flank steak) so we cut them into strips and served them as grilled snacks to the guests.eak

The leg of lamb was the star of the asado.  We cooked it over indirect heat on one side of the grill for about 4-4.5 hours.  It cooked perfectly and retained most of its wonderful juices.  It produced a good deal of meat and was incredibly flavorful.  That said, with the bone in on the leg of lamb, a 5-lb. cut will usually yield about 2 pounds of meat.  Something to consider when buying larger bone-in cuts of meat.

A few observations.  First, this was in no way a typical South American asado.  With no beef and no sausage, it lacked two of the staples that most Argentines would have at any parrilla.  I didn’t mind the change of pace in the menu but most of the Argentines I know would laugh if we told them that we were calling this an “asado”.

Second, many people like the simplicity of boneless cuts of meat being grilled, carved, and served to them for easy consumption. With so many bone-in meats, it makes for a messier affair.  In typical asados, the only meat on the bone that I might serve would be chicken.  With the turkey legs, quail, and rabbit, many people who do not like eating meat off the bone were a bit turned off.  Then again, it did fit the rugged nature of a medieval type meal.  So just make sure you know what your guests might like before assembling a menu.

Third, as the main dish, the leg of lamb was somewhat overlooked because it was served last.  Asados, with all the food coming off the grill for hours at a time, often fill up guests quickly.  It is difficult to have people enjoy your best dish when it’s served at the end.  So my suggestion is to start early enough so that it can be served some time in the middle when guests still have a healthy appetite.  It can disappointing to work long and hard cooking a larger cut of meat only to find that some guests have left and some are too full to truly enjoy it.

Finally, if you plan to serve baked dishes or other items which requiring cooking in a kitchen, make sure you have dedicated people to handle the “kitchen” plates.  There is just too much to do as an asador to also be working indoors in the kitchen as well.  We had planned to serve Yorkshire pudding (a baked dish) but with no one in the kitchen to watch the oven, we felt we might risk ruining the dish and did not have time to leave the grill to prepare it ourselves.  Often, this is why pre-prepared salads, cheeses, and desserts work well because they can sit outside amongst the guests while the rest of the food is cooked.

In all, the Game of Thrones Asado was a successful event and exposed more people to the virtues of hardwood grilling.  Though not a traditional Argentine asado, the event highlighted the versatility of the parrilla.  No one says you always have to serve chorizo and bife.  Get creative, do your own things…it’s an adventure in hardwood grilling and it’s yours to create.