Temperatures rise, pools open – and out comes the barbecue grill. It is time to enjoy grilled meat, but Hispanic style – this isn’t about hamburgers and hot dogs.
This kind of Hispanic cooking or carne asada comes with a certain attitude, standing out from the other outdoor roasting perhaps because there is a mix of different cuts of meat and sometimes even a bit of pork, such as chorizo sausage, and chicken or seafood.
When we hear the melodious words, “carne asada,” we immediately think of a succulent plate of steaming meat, sprinkled with onions and, why not, some charro beans, fried cassava and a good portion of picot de gallo or Argentine chimichurri.
Looking for the best meat
But to attain the perfect carne asada, one must start with the selection of the meat, which is why the Hispano de Tulsa posed the question to two butchers:
“Skirt steak (arrachera). That is the best meat for grilling,” said Silvestre Ocando, who has worked as a butcher for nine years in a store in east Tulsa. “This type of meat is very soft. It is a classic cut for grilling.”
This cut, whose name is very particular,” is an invention of the people of Monterrey,” said Ocando, referring to those from Monterrey, the capital of the Mexican state of Nuevo Leon. “The meat comes from the cow’s diaphragm and looks like a girdle. And arrachera is a cinch – a cinch for horses.”
Ocando emphasized that the type of meat is not as important as the manner in which it is cut. “You can have the best meat, but if you cut against the grain, then you will eat a rock.”
Diners want a piece of meat that is tasty and easy to chew. “After the cut is correctly made, check the color. Fresh meat is pink. Dark red or brown is a bad sign. “
The loin and sirloin are the favorite cuts for José Estrada, a butcher originally from Zacatecas, Mexico, who has worked for four years in an east Tulsa supermarket. “The trick is to marinate the meat at least eight hours before grilling,” he said. “I use a lot of garlic, oil, lemon, black pepper, salt and a couple of chiles de arbol. That is my marinade.”
Charcoal or gas
Rogelio Martínez, who has a Mexican food truck in east Tulsa, says a charcoal grill is “much better than a gas one,” noting that “the heat is more uniform. But you have to wait until it is all just coals, without any flames. The flavor is better. It can’t be used commercially, but when one is with friends, it is the best.”
Two blocks from Martínez’s food outlet, Paco Gonzalez, who runs a mobile food unit, believes otherwise. “A gas grill will cook a lot faster than one with charcoal,” he said. “But if you don’t know how, you can burn the outside of the meat and leave it raw inside. You have to know how to use it.”
Martinez revealed his secret for lighting charcoal: “I do not use these automatic lighters; that would be like cooking with gasoline,” he said. “There’s nothing better than a newspaper with oil. You place it in the middle of the coals and light it.”
Enjoy the warm temperatures and take on the challenge of conquering the grill. It is the perfect excuse to mix in sausage, beef, nopales (prickly pear pads), cheese and even a mixed salad.
Photos by Juan Miret