Cordero – Lamb

I call it the true piece de resistance to any asado; if this celebrity meat is available to make an appearance. I am talking about cordero, or lamb, one of the most juicy, flavorful, tender, and succulent items to be placed over hot coals. Yes, there are many who prefer beef or offal above the rest, but for others, acquiring lamb is like winning the gold medal.

Two back quarters of lamb

For those who live in the southern region of Argentina, called Patagonia, one does not have to stray too far or wait too long in order to find cordero. For those in most other parts of the country, the task can be much more challenging.

Although not as active today, sheep raising, or farming, in Argentina has its roots in Patagonia, particularly the island of Tierra Del Fuego. Large estancias were built by English and Welsh immigrants across the region for wool production. These days, sheep are raised for both wool and lamb exportation. The Patagonian lamb is one of the most prized meat of its kind due to them being free range and grass fed. The meat is quite lean, yet does not have the strong flavor notes that can be found in other lambs around the world.

The best and most traditional way to cook lamb is outdoors in the asado criollo style. A whole lamb is cut lengthwise from the rib side, spread open, and tied to a metal cross or spit that is driven into the ground and angled toward a hot coal fire. At some large asados, you may find four or more lambs encircled around the fire. The process is quite lengthy but any other preparation does not compare to the end result of taste and texture. For those who do not have the luxury of cooking with the aforementioned style, a large slab of lamb on a parrilla will do just fine. Cuts can come in all different sizes but usually most will cook at least a quarter-sized section.

Almost ready

Buying:

A whole intact lamb can be quite difficult to find for most. Many distributors and butchers sell them by halves and only then are they are cut to order from there. Calculating how much to buy can be a bit tricky due to the amount of bones to meat mass. Follow the typical calculation of one pound (half kilo) per person of meat in total but try to factor in the weight of the bones just a bit. If you are still unsure then the best thing to do is visualize how much meat is on the lamb and what else you are preparing.

Often, many people will ask the butcher, or the butcher may ask, to make shallow cuts across the back-bone section. This will make carving a lot easier when the time comes to serve the meat. However, you will need to take greater care when flipping the meat on the grill so that you don’t split apart any ribs.

Cooking:

When to salt the meat is up to you. I prefer to rub in a small amount of coarse salt immediately before placing the lamb on the grill.

With lamb, you will want to cook the meat slowly over a medium-low to low fire. A cordero should never be cooked too quickly. When you are ready to place it on the grill, remember, as with any meat that contains ribs, the cavity should face the fire first. Since the ribs are thin, you will have to manage the coals properly or else they will be done way before the thicker sections like the thighs and rump. Therefore, place an abundant amount of coals under the thicker sections and sparingly arrange a few under the ribs. Flip only once, and when the time arises, follow the same procedure of placing the majority of the coals around the thickest parts. Cooking time will very greatly depending on the size of the lamb and since you want to cook lamb slowly, expect the whole process to take about 2-3 hours. Toward the end, if the meat looks like it could use a little more browning on the exterior, add a good amount additional coals all around to finish it off quickly. Most people enjoy the meat fully cooked to the point that it practically falls of the bone and the skin crunchy like a potato chip.

Variation: If you want a little extra flavor, try rubbing some minced garlic, salt, parsley, and olive oil on the meat before cooking.

Perfection

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9 Comment(s)

  1. In Spain, where I leave, they make the best cordero asado, but they mean “asado” in the oven. The result is simply delicious, especially since all the juices remain in the clay dish in which you place the lamb. So the lamb is never dry.

    My fear with placing, say, a leg of lamb on the BBQ, is that over 3 hourse all the juices will go, leaving me with a rather dry piece of lamb. You see, I have to be sure that it will turn out better than in the oven, otherwise why bother?

    Also, they tend to use a lot of olive oil here, which makes it too greasy for me. I am tempted to make a brine of sorts with white wine – would this work?

    Ernest | Feb 23, 2006 | Reply

  2. >“asado” in the oven

    Quite popular here too. Some prefer the texture from cooking in the oven as you say, for others it is simply because they don’t have a grill or, if they have one, don’t feel like using it all the time. Most of the people I’ve seen cooking lamb in the oven just toss it into a pan under the broiler in order to give it the same texture as with cooking on the grill. Not the same but is as close as you can get I suppose.

    >clay dish

    I’ll have to try that some time. If i can find a good clay dish. There are quite a few dishes that include meats such as lamb and are cooked either in covered pots or earthenware. Cordero a la criolla is one that comes to mind. One version, but with cut up pieces or chops, is cooked in covered earthenware with tomatoes, onions, tomatoes, parsley, etc. Another version is with the leg but cooked in an open roasting pan with the same ingredients. Is that similar to what you cook?

    >white wine

    I don’t see why not. Personally I haven’t tried it on lamb, have used red wine on occassion, but I have used white with pork and chicken. Always an excellent outcome. However, I always dilute it down with water to cut down the acidity a bit if just using as a brining marinade. Usually I like to use a plain salt water brine. Actually I want to write about that one day. You know, I never see anyone do salt water brining here before an asado. I’ve raised the topic a few times with friends but either they never did it or a few knew someone who did do it on occasion. For some meats it might mess with the goal of texture, but for chicken you just can’t compare the difference.

    Administrator | Feb 28, 2006 | Reply

  3. Hi,
    First of all, thank you for a very well done and informative site. A lot of inspiration!

    I have a question about how to carve and serve an asado lamb that I really hope you can help me with.

    I live in Denmark but have been to Argentina several times as my father is from La Plata. The both of us have always been fascinated with the Asado. After having experminted around, I have over the last years started doing real asados here in Denmark and am getting to the point where I cater with it during the summer.

    I have finally invested in a mobile asado grill which lets me do asados most places in the middle of urban Copenhagen. I do the asado as part of an event for company parties, galleries or just anyone interested :)

    When the lambs are done, there might be 100 anxiously waiting guests ready to eat. The lamb and side dishes are served “buffet” style where guests make there own plate.
    So, the question is, how do you carve the lamb, when serving such a large number of guests? Do you cut each piece of meat “properly” so some get nice slices of roast, some shredded meat and others get pieces of the lion? Do you have any experience carving and serving asado as a buffet?

    I really hope you can help as carving is really half the battle!

    /Michael

    Michael | May 13, 2007 | Reply

  4. Michael:
    “Do you cut each piece of meat “properly” so some get nice slices of roast, some shredded meat and others get pieces of the lion?”

    Lion isn’t very popular here so I’m not sure. Just kidding, couldn’t resist :)

    That pretty much covers it, except it is more chopping instead of shredding–but go for it if you have that many guests. The main thing is for them to enjoy the meat.

    Usually the asador has a large knife that is about the size of a broadsword from the middle ages that he/she uses to break bones or chop off chunks of meat. An easy way to cheat– and what many people do here outside of the fancy corderos al palo cooked in restaurants and in the campo– is to have the butcher use their band saw to make partial cuts along the bones so that it’s easier to chop after cooking.

    Asado Arg | May 16, 2007 | Reply

  5. I have been asked to help make a cordero criollo style. I have only seen it done in Patagonia. Can you give me some hints regarding cooking time, basting, cooking both sides, size of fire pit, etc. Gracias.

    Tony | May 23, 2007 | Reply

  6. Hi Tony,

    I’m holding off on writing anything about it until I get to actually do the whole thing from start to finish myself and take pics. Which was supposed to happen earlier this year but fell through. (need good location for doing it so I don’t set some wild fire)

    There are a bunch of sites in spanish that cover the topic much better but I could just do the writing myself if I went so far as to translate them.

    However, these guys have a pretty good writeup.

    http://www.3men.com/asado_spit.htm

    The only item they don’t cover is the fire set up. My connection has been screwy these past two days and I’m having trouble accessing half the sites out there. Flickr being one of them and I’ve seen some great pics that would give you a good idea about fire and coal placement. (Easier to do in pictures than words)

    For what I’ve seen where one cordero was cooked, the fire pit was roughly about 1 to 1.5 meters in diameter depending on size.

    Two common methods although there are many others:

    The burning pile of wood(that you keep feeding) is in the center to provide primary heat with broken down embers spread all around.

    The other way is where the main fire is off to one side-yet not too far-and lots of embers are pulled from that and placed near and somewhat around the cordero.

    http://images.google.com/images?um=1&tab=wi&hl=en&q=cordero+al+palo

    http://images.google.com/images?svnum=10&um=1&hl=en&q=cordero+criollo

    Asado Arg | May 24, 2007 | Reply

  7. i recently had a tapas called cordero en salsa which i know its lamb and in a peppercorn sauce,ive been trying very hard to get the recipe but nothing has come up, please help, if u can then please email me, thank for your time, sarah xx

    sarah | Jun 28, 2009 | Reply

  8. Hallo

    Ich war vor kurzem in Argentinien! Und war natürlich hungrig auf Rindfleisch. Wir reisten viel in Patagonien. Das Lamm da war etwas vom herrlichsten, was ich je hatte! Super! In verschiedenen Restaurants konnte man eine Art Roulade vom Cordero essen. Das war genial. Ich habe aber keine ahnung wie es heisst und wie es zubereitet wird. Kanst du mir vielleicht helfen? Es war gut durchgegartes Lammfleisch, auseinander gezupft und mit vielen Kräutern vermischt. Dann wieder zusammengedrückt zu einer ARt Roulade.
    Wäre super, wenn du mir helfen könntest.
    Pascal

    Pascal | Jul 2, 2009 | Reply

  9. Hi people, is there any argertine restaurant or food in singapore… i am very kin to see and look forwrad to eat beef in asado way.
    Please help, thank you.

    BT | Nov 4, 2009 | Reply

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