Steaking out Buenos Aires – five cuts of Argentinian beef

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Looking out my window on the flight from Bolivia there were fertile, pancake flat plains as far as the eye could see. That’s where my steak lives, I thought.

The beef of Argentina has been a dream for some time as we traveled down from Colombia surrounded by fried chicken, potatoes with rice and scrawny cuts of meat. Its promise was one of the things that made Buenos Aires such an exciting stopover destination. Now here I have been determined to sample the wares of the cow as extensively as possible. This post serves as a review of five different cuts of meat.

Overall, excellent

Three general comments to make before we get down to the detail

  1. The beef is all excellent and delicious. Any criticism in the reviews that follow are relative. Any and all deserve a place in Ron Swanson’s album and would knock the socks off all but the best fillets at home.
  2. The sizes are ginormous. If any of the Argentinians sized steaks were on a menu back home the restaurant would give you a free t-shirt if you finished one. Look at the photo above. Those steaks on the counter are for one person.
  3. The cooking on the parilla (grill) is exceptional. I asked my waiter whether one cut would be jugoso, roughly equivalent to rare. He replied that they cook it a punto, literally to the point. And indeed they do, to the point of perfection.

Now on to the five cuts.

Bife to lomo – El Desnivel, San Telmo

This guy is the biggest and generally the most expensive is on the menu. The heft of the steak, its texture and juiciness are all superb. It is a little lacking in flavour however as the cut is too lean. One site I read describes the lomo as like a fashion model. Great to look at but not a lot of substance on the inside. To the extent that lack of flavour is an issue, however, it is easily remedied with a little chimichurri sauce.

Vacino – Parrilla 1880, San Telmo

The vacino is probably the cut that is most different from what we’re offered at home. It’s essentially a flank steak and its meat is surrounded by two layers of fat that, cooked well, go crispy and juicy. The experience of eating this monster was a lot like having a whole side of roast beef to yourself. It takes more chewing than a normal steak, and there’s more variation from one bite to another. Some mouthfuls are pretty well the best beef you will ever have. Some are luxuriously fatty. Some are just too fatty. I’d order this cut again, but in the context of sharing rather than all for myself.

Chorizo de bife – Don Julio, Palermo

Having nothing to do with sausages, the bife de chorizo is probably most similar to a porterhouse at home although, as you might expect, it is significantly bigger. It’s a well balanced cut that’s flavorful and juicy. It’s the kind of steak you can imagine as being your go-to option on a menu. It would also probably be the best received at a New Zealand restaurant.

Entraña – El Obrero, La Voca

My mum lived in Argentina in her late teens. As you’d expect her tales have included stories of steak. In particular she talks about a cut that is similar to schnitzel at home, but a little thicker, and much juicer. I’m pretty sure this is the entraña or skirt steak. As thinner meat it comes more well done than say, a bife but it maintains its moisture very well. A good option if you’re being worn down by the larger cuts, I suspect it would also make for an exceptional sandwich meat.

Asado de tida – El Obrero, La Voca

These short ribs are the only cut I’ve had that has included bone. It comes in a long slab of meat (some I have seen are very long) with the ribs to one side. It’s a chewier – probably as much as a well cooked rump steak at home – but the chew is matched with an unsurpassed juiciness and flavour. It’s another great steak for sharing, which is how we enjoyed it.

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