Parrillada at De La Panza – The art of the Argentinian Steak!
What could be better than an evening of top class steak, red wine and good conversation? Well, only one where the chef explains to you what makes the steak so special and shows you how to cook it yourself!
I was really thrilled to be asked along to the Parrillada (grilling) Masterclass at De La Panza. Partly because I love steak and partly because I was very, very curious to hear more about how it was cooked in Argentina. And, despite the trek to North London, it was definitely worth the effort!
Our host Ernesto Labrada was a charming Cuban with an obvious enthusiasm for Argentinian steak. He started by charming us, introducing the three breeds that are the foundation for beef from Argentina. And you know what, they were all British – the Shorthorn, the Hereford and the Aberdeen Angus! Of course, over time they have evolved. Both Shorthorn and Hereford have been cross bred with local breeds, while the Aberdeen Angus has been reared on the natural high quality pampas. And, according to Ernesto, it’s the pampas and the fact the beef is not pumped with antibiotics and growth hormones that makes Argentinian beef so special.
We went on to learn a bit about the different cuts of steak, how they should be butchered and how they should be cooked. I was particularly interested to learn that many cuts are better cooked to at least medium rare (the exception is fillet), with fattier cuts like Ribeye really benefitting from slightly longer cooking. I was also surprised at the different fat content of the cuts. Rib-eye is 12-14% fat while rump is the leanest cut at just 2%fat. And, cuts which I thought were the same, were actually slightly different. I love chateaubriand, but always thought it was a ‘big piece of fillet’. In fact it is cut from just below what Ernesto described as the ‘head’ , and above where the medallions that are served as fillet are taken from.
After some traditional and very tasty empanadas and large quantities of Argentinian wine the women went to learn how to grill. Now, the large open grill in the kitchen was unlike anything I’d seen before. Apparently, in Argentina the grill is very much the domain of men. And, we were shown how the wood was prepared so that you were cooking over ash covered pieces, together with which cuts were place in which area of the grill. Our induction into how to grill was quite brief, rather amusingly, perhaps because we’d all got a little carried away with wine-induced-girl-talk or perhaps because Ernesto really believed this was a man’s role! I think the men spent two to three times as long learning how to grill…and appeared to manage to keep on track throughout!
Then, we got to taste the different cuts. I like steak and there was nothing that I really didn’t enjoy. In the past I’ve had some issue with rib-eye, but I suspect that is when it hasn’t been cooked for long enough or at a high enough temperature to melt the fat. I was also interested to discover that steak from the open (and presumably lower temperature) wood-fired grill tasted every bit as good as the josper versions we’ve enjoyed at Goodman and elsewhere in London. Now, of course, what the open grill lacks is easy control for fast reliable levels of service. But, doesn’t that just prove the skill of the chef?
Thank you very much to De La Panza and Ernesto for a fabulous evening. If you want to try for yourself, the Argentinian steak master classes are held regularly – for more information check the De La Panza website.