Anya Fernald, the CEO of California-based Belcampo Meat Co., looks over cuts of meat being cooked with the “asado” grilling technique in Uruguay. (ABC News)(MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay) — Anya Fernald had been traveling for days, making the trip from her home in northern California to a place three hours outside of Montevideo, Uruguay, all for a taste of what she believes is the best barbeque in the world.
Fernald, a butcher, rancher and restaurateur, travels to Gaucho country, the land of the famous South American cowboys, to find inspiration for her cooking.
“The country of Uruguay is the land of meat and this is where it all starts,” she said.
But she’s not talking about a rib-eye steak or filet mignon.
“Seeing that fatty intestine and how it gave that great crust to the chorizo is amazing,” she said, watching two asaderos work the meat over an open flame. “We can definitely mess around with it.”
The Gauchos, Fernald said, have what a lot of people consider as the best grilling technique in the world, called “asado.”
“It’s going to be a very, very tender way of cooking because essentially it’s a slow smoke,” she said. “Asaderos is a very traditional role. They make the fire, they cook all the meat, they go very slowly and it’s really an all-day affair.”
Asado was originated by the Gauchos out on the range who would slaughter a steer and eat as much meat as they could for two days, everything from the loins to the off-cuts or offal, meaning intestines, heart, blood and brains.
“You eat the blood and the organs first and then the big cuts,” Fernald said, because the offal has a richer taste.
Their slow-cooking technique is what Fernald said enables the Gauchos to get a tasty meal out of cuts most Americans would reject.
“A lot of these cuts, in the American tradition, we would be cooking them with moisture, like braising them, because they’re kind of tough cuts,” Fernald said. “This way, with this very, very low heat, they’re essentially doing very slow cooking, which makes the flavor really come out.”
Since most of us don’t have 12 hours to make dinner, Fernald’s latest plan is to package these dishes and sell them back at home.
“Looks spectacular,” Fernald said, talking about the beef intestines stuffed with chorizo. “I think people will freak out about that.”
Believe it or not, Fernald was once a vegetarian, but said she then drank a gallon of whole milk a day and started eating only fatty meats and lost weight. Now she is all about the meat, and not just any meat, but raw and fatty meat from all parts of the animal – foods we’ve often been told to stay away from.
“My baby… teethed on lamb ribs and goat ribs, she loves goat,” Fernald said. “We eat a lot of raw beef at home. Raw beef was her first food when she was four months old. She loves it to this day.”
And Fernald is making it her business to get everyone else on board. Back home in California, she’s building a meat empire with a string of butcher shops and restaurants called Belcampo Meat Co., where they insist that meat is more than just chicken breasts and lean steaks.
“If you want to use the whole animal, heart is a very edible part of it,” said Bronwen Hanna-Korpi, President of Belcampo Meat Co. “It’s just high in protein, and low on fat, so it’s going to be a great way to get a boost of protein. It’s superfood.”
One of Fernald’s workers, Billie Joe, the apprentice butcher at Belcampo Meat Co.’s Santa Monica shop, was hard at work making “lardo butter” from pig fat.
“It’s insanely delicious,” she said. “It’s the craziest, yummy taste you didn’t know existed.”
Fernald scours the world in search of new recipes. She’s traveled to Northern Sweden where she tasted reindeer broth, and said it’s “the most delicious tasting broth” she ever had. Next up on her list? Southeast Asia, where she would like to search for the best way for making curry paste with fermented bison skin and then Scotland to try mutton.
While many of these dishes might sound unappetizing to the American palate, Fernald said that’s because we have lost touch with the way we should be cooking.
“I think that there are a lot of issues in America… that are related to us moving away from a historical way of eating,” she said.
In Uruguay, the best cuts of beef are exported all over the world, but locals save stringy cuts for themselves, and Asado is their secret.
“We would consider cuts that are too tough to grill and those are the basis of the whole grilling culture [in Uruguay],” Fernald said.
She knows it’s not for everyone, but she has already made progress. Her chef at her shop in Santa Monica said her raw lamb and lard on toast are already big sellers.
“Deliciousness wins,” Fernald said. “Conquer the heart through the stomach… make something really, really amazing tasting… make the change delicious.”
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