Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Home Cooking Uruguayan Style

A couple months ago a friend invited us to a backyard barbecue in Arlington that was a post-mortem for a FIFA World Cup game. I thought, sure, I'll get the brooding Frenchman out of the house and have a chicken wing and a beer. For me barbecue's are usually a bunch of people standing around an outdoor Weber with a cold Corona, waiting for the barbecued-sauce-smothered chicken or ribs to cook, stuffing their face with chips and sides. Not this barbecue. This was Marco's Uruguayan Barbecue Theatre. What you eat is prepared with love, experience, pride and passion. Where the barbecue itself has been hand constructed, brick by literal brick. Where the coals are not Kingston coals with a gallon of lighter fluid, or fake gas coals. No. The source of heat is hot wood chips from a burning set of 8-10 logs piled on top of each other, and are retrieved by Marco hitting on the iron grate with a shovel so they fall off the burning logs. He then shovels the fallen, red hot wood chips underneath a grill rack. Everything was extremely delicious and we were fortunate enough to be asked to come over last Saturday. This time I was prepared. I took my camera and a bigger appetite.

Marco served us freshly made salsa, that he cooked for a few minutes to soften Safeway's best unripened tomatoes and marry the cilantro, onions and lime juice. Our hostess, 
Fernanda, heldthe chips and salsa long enough so I could take a picture and then it disappeared. (Notice the hand in the photo). There were almost six of us by then, but by the time the meat was ready, the guest count had risen to almost 15. Everyone from frien
ds and cousins to colleagues and neighbors were there. People were dropping in on their way to clubs to grab some dinner, give Marco a hug and leave.

For dinner, Marco served Picanha-cut sirloin steak, sweet breads, white sausages, blood sausages, rosemary potatoes with marinated red peppers, big bread rolls and plenty of Zinfandel.

American butchers don't sell the Picanha cut. It's a large roast with a thin layer of marbling in the meat that seasons as it cooks over the open flame. Sebastian, on the right, simply rubbed Kosher salt all over the Picanha and slapped them on the grill. Marco then turned to me and said, "in one hour we eat."  During that time we snacked on blood sausage sandwiches, the rosemary potatoes (when he wasn't looking), and again, plenty of Zinfandel. That's the beauty of home cooking: timing means nothing. It's all about the food, and the company.

The rosemary potatoes were easy to make. Marco covered potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters, in olive oil and let them fry on the grill until soft and brown. He added lots of Kosher salt and fresh Rosemary. Then he heated marinated red peppers in the leftover oil, and mixed it in with the potatoes.

The sweet breads were simply grilled. The flavor of the wood, which was just cut firewood logs, was the only seasoning, making them rich and delicious.

Marco is wanted all over town by some of the area's biggest restaurant chains. Javier Angeles-Baron, the executive chef for a Latin Concepts, who own Guarapo's in Arlington, joined us for dinner. He and I both agreed that Marco would be great as a chef, but it would be a waste to confine him to the kitchen. What Marco needs is a continuous pile of wood and a large audience. Thank you Marco and Fernanda!

If you want a real Uruguyan outdoor grill built on your patio, Marco does that too. He can be reached at bokajian (at)