Argentine Beef: A buyer's guide
*** DISCLAIMER: If you are a vegetarian - I applaud you but I would suggest you don't read any further on this article. I don't want anyone to be offended, but this is an important part of the Argentine culture and adjusting to life here if you're not a vegetarian.
I'm writing this post because, although I love to cook and considered myself pretty okay in the meat section of the supermarket, it's been a challenge to maneuver the meat aisles here in Argentina. So I hope this guide will make it less of a learning curve for those of you reading this.
If you're looking for good beef then you've come to the right country. I've been amazed at how much beef there is in the supermarkets. Usually there are full two to three refrigerated aisles that are dedicated to packaged beef, plus there is also a butchers section in the supermarket where they cut meat for you.
Where to Buy Your Beef
Supermarkets aren't the only place, however, to buy beef. Carnicerias* or butcher shops are also an excellent source. The best way to find a butcher is to ask for a recommendation from people that you know. The advantage of buying directly from a butcher is getting the type of meat you want cut exactly in the right size and style.
A note about the left over huesos* or bones. If you have dogs then they will think they went to heaven if you treat them once in awhile as well. The bones cost next to nothing. I think I paid the equivalent of .50 cents for two HUGE dino bones which I boiled in water for a little while to cook the marrow and sanitize a bit but that's a personal choice - they're still working on them after two weeks. Of course if you are in an apartment, it might be a bit messy, so you'll have to take that into consideration.
Why Argentine Beef Tastes Different
The taste of Argentine beef is quite different from that produced in the United States - this is what makes it so special. The reason for this is Argentine cattle are grass fed, unlike the U.S. where they are finished on grain in feed lots. Although this produces a meat that is leaner and less fatty than cows from the U.S., it also gives it a distinctive flavor.
Also, the breed of cow makes a difference in how the meat tastes. There are more than twelve different breeds being raised in Argentina, but the most common references to breed or raza* specific meat will be Hereford and Black Angus, which you will pay a bit more money for. Otherwise you are probaly consuming some type of mezcla* or mixed race.
Age of Beef
The typical categories from youngest to oldest:
Peceto Ternera - veal round steak
Ternera - veal (the most tierna* or tender and usually the most expensive)
Vaquillona - slightly older
Novillito - young steer
Novillo - the most popular cut
Vaca - older beef
Guide to Cortes de Carne de Vaca* in Spanish and English
Aguja - Chuck Roast
Asado - Short Ribs, Roast Prime Rib
Bife Ancho - Prime Rib, Rib Eye Roast, Rib Eye Steaks
Bife Angosto - Porterhouse or Strip Steak
Bife a la Rueda - Round Steak
Bife de Alcatra - Sirloin Steak
Bife de Costilla (con lomo) -T-Bone Steaks
Bife de Chorizo - Sirloin Rump Steaks
Bife de Vacio - Flank Steak
Bola de Lomo - Sirloin Tip
Carnaza - Stew Beef
Carne Picada Comun - Ground Beef with Fat
Carne Picada Especial - Ground Beef with out Fat
Chinchulin - Lower Intestines
Chorizo - Sausage
Churrasco de Paleta - Pot Roast
Cogote - Neck
Colita de Cuadril - Rump Steak
Corazon - Heart
Costillas - Rib Roast
Cuadrada - Bottom Round
Cuadril - Rump Roast or Rump Steak
Entrana - Skirt Steak
Falda - Flank Steak
Higado - Liver
Lengua - Tongue
Lomo - Tenderloin
Marucha - Short Ribs
Matambre - Flank Steak
Milanesa - Minute Steak
Mollejas - Sweetbreads
Morcilla - Blood Sausage
Nalga - Beef Round for Stew
Osobuso - Osso Busco
Paleta (see also Churrasco de Paleta) - Pot Roast
Palomita - Shoulder Roast in Butterfly Cut
Peceto - Beef Round Steaks, Roast Eye of Round
Pecho - Brisket
Rabo - Oxtail
Rinones - Kidneys
Ros Bif - Roast Beef
Sesos - Brains
Tapa de Asado - Rib Cap Roast
Tira de Asado - Short Ribs
Tapa de Nalga - Cap of Round Roast
Tapa de Cuadril - Cap of Rump Roast
Tripa Gorda - Tripe
Ubre - Udder
Vacio (see also Bife de Vacio) - Flank Steak
Choosing the Right Cut of Beef
It's important to choose the right cut of beef for the type of cooking you plan to do. I found an excellent website that gives the recommended cooking style for the cut of beef. It's completely in Spanish, but it's a nice outline.
You can also use the following as a quick reference for typical cuts and typical cooking styles:
Best Choices for:
Asado: Asado, Bife de Lomo or Lomo, Bife de Chorizo, Vacio
Milanesas: Milanesa de Bola de Lomo, Milanesa de Lomo, Milanesa de Nalga
Roasting: Colita de Cuadril, Corazon de Cuadril, Lomo, Peceto
Steaks: Bife Angosto, Bife de Chorizo, Bife de Lomo
Stews: Bola de Lomo, Nalga, Rosbif, Tortugita
Stir Frys: Churrasco de Cuadril
There are a couple of books that will help guide you with cooking and provide further information. The first, Asi Cocinan Los Argentinos - How Argentina Cooks by Alberto Vazquez Prego, is bilingual English and Spanish so it's a great way to become familar with words and cooking terms (helpful when you start attempting recipes in Spanish). The second, Food and Drink in Argentina, written by Dereck Foster (food editor for the Buenos Aires Herald) & Richard Tripp, and, although not a cook book, is an excellent resource.
Thes are a few of the best blogs I've found with information related to Argentine cooking, including beef. Asado Argentina (eng), La Majuluta (span), and Pomelo Pleasures (eng). Salt Shaker (eng) is an excellent overall resource.
One Last Note...Cooking Beef (or anything else) on the Parilla
The best way to cook beef, in my opinion, is on the parilla and the tastiest comes from cooking with carbon (real wood). But, a word of caution - I had an Argentine friend tell me that the reason we got tummyaches for four days following our first foray into cooking on our parilla was because we didn't let the charcoal get completely red (ie. absolutely no black) and the fumes can cause gastrointestinal stress.
Thus, to get the best flavor, use carbon (real wood) to cook, but make sure you allow it to burn for some time and get nice and red. And, for a small fire, start your fire about two hours ahead and larger fires at least three to four.
That's it for now, hope this is all helpful!