Upon arriving at my doorstep in a timely fashion on Saturday night, my first ever Argentine date asked me what I wanted to eat for dinner. The answer came to me almost automatically: a parillada. Not because I’ve never had one and not just because during the week I only have time to stuff a cheese empanada in my face between classes and am thus largely protein-deficient by the weekend, but because I saw it as the perfect opportunity for a real Argentine to describe what everything in that heap of meat is, how to season it, how its made and with what regional variations. I suspected he would be the type of guy who loves to hear himself talk and figured if I had to listen to nervous date banter, it might as well be about something I actually care about. It worked out perfectly.
At Parrilla El Primo in Las Cañitas, we ordered the parrillada especial de carne and a bottle of Finca to help the Spanish flow, and he enthusiastically walked me through the dish, identifying each element and nostalgically recalling stories about family reunions, friendly gatherings and practical jokes involving the pieces of meat while I snapped away unapologetically with my camera like a true extranjera. He seemed to know a ton about how each thing is made, where its made and when, how its served, the proverbs and expressions connected with it. We even made flaky but somewhat promising plans to travel to the South where he’s from originally and to get what he roughly called “the real stuff” in the towns down there. Here are the yummy animal parts I tried, a deconstruction of the typical parrillada.
Mollejas (calf throat-sweetbreads) are velvety smooth, soft and plump bits of meat served best with a squirt of lemon and salt. It is often served as an appetizer. My date’s mom apparently prefers it breaded while her mother-in-law likes it grilled, a source of great friction and distrust within the family and a constant topic of argument at family asados.
Chinchulín (chitterlings) are wonderful little rounds of fat, made from the cow’s small intestine. This one definitely needs a squeeze of lemon. My date smirked noticeably when he caught me trying to spread it onto a piece of toast, the only way I know of dealing with something this greasy (but delicious). He proceeded to demonstrate how it is eaten, without bread or salad or anything to soak up the excess fat which one should, according to him, learn to appreciate instead of reject.
Carré de cerdo (pork roast), smokey, flat bits of tender, slightly chewy piggy meat with beautiful grill marks running through it. Lemon is actually not very good with this piece because it toughens the meat and also takes away from its subtle sweet ham flavor.
Morcilla (blood sausage): By the look on his face as I happily poked the casing, he was not expecting me to like this one, as the word blood, when applied to something you eat, seems to turn the chicas estadounidenses completely off. Not me. I love the stuff. The casing was crispy, with a smokey charred flavor, and the filling was soft like pudding or pate, slightly sweet with the undeniable flavor of cooked blood lingering in the background. He liked this one a lot and had a ton of stories about his grandfather making it and how terrible the kitchen smelled each time he did. He was definitely pleased to be able to enjoy it together with me.
Chorizo (pork sausage) is always satisfying. This one was slightly spicy but needed a bit more pepper. The casing was nice and crisp and the filling firm and a bit chewy. Not the best chorizo I’ve ever had, but good nonetheless. It also lead to stories about late-night quests to favored chorripan stands which were especially entertaining.
Vacío (flank steak): A fantastically satisfying, thick cut of beef one which I insisted on referring to, after half a bottle of CabSauv, as carne carne. I still think that this is a valid description, a very tender and flavorful rustic steak – meat meat to remedy that protein deficiency I work up during the week.
Churrasquito de cerdo (grilled pork): This was definitely one of my favorites, tender on the inside but crispy on the edges and very flavorful. It also stood out from the rest because it seemed to be marinated in a very tasty, slightly peppery sauce.
Riñón (Beef Kidney): This one was neither of our favorites. In fact, he didn’t touch it at all. I didn’t dislike it because of what it was (a pee-sieve, basically) but because of its texture. It had a weird gummy consistency, chewy in an annoying, tedious way and was impossible to swallow. Plus it didn’t smell too great either… Glad we agreed to leave this one out.
Asado de tira (cross-cut beef chuck ribs): Tender, juicy beef ribs cross-cut and served short rib style. The meat fell off the bone and was very flavorful, although salt is definitely a necessary addition. The chewy, fatty part only took up about 10% of the cut and actually made the flesh around it more buttery and delicious.