The Common Flame: A Perfect South American Steak

by Tanner Colley

Cover photo by Jack Johns and Owen Tozer

In troubling times, we learn to appreciate the goodness of others on a global scale, so we’ve set out to explore our common connection with people across the world through cooking with fire. We hope you’ll be inspired as we explore traditions, recipes, and goodness from cultures around the globe with a new series on the Solo Stove blog: The Common Flame.

In this first installment, we set our eyes on the life of the gaucho: the South American cowboy and one tasty steak recipe.

The gaucho (pronounced “gowshow”) is one of South America’s most romanticized figures. To some, the gaucho is a hardened, nomadic outlaw. A real South American Robin Hood. To others, the gaucho is the hero of the frontier, revered for their expert horsemanship. However they are viewed, the way of the gaucho is 1) respect for the cattle they raise, 2) the land they roam, and, the one we’re most fond of, 3) the tradition of roasting meat over roaring, open flames.

The Way of the Gaucho

In South America, particularly Brazil, Argentina, and Patagonia, beef is king. The gaucho rises early in the morning, spends the majority of the day on horseback as they drive cattle across vast swathes of pampa, the treeless plains of South America.

The life of a gaucho is often spent in solitude for days on end as they herd cattle across pampas as far as the eye can see. While meals are often eaten on horseback, the gaucho relies on small campfires to brew a special blend of yerba mate throughout the day to give them the energy boost and vitamins they need to stay sharp on the cattle drive.

Whenever gauchos return to the estancia (the farm) after a long drive, everyone in the estancia’s community throws a giant party called an asado to celebrate the work and skill of the gauchos. Imagine an evening of dancing, singing, cooking and swapping stories from the cattle drive around a massive, roaring fire and you’ve got an asado. Asados are an essential part of gaucho culture. The dishes prepared, as you might have guessed, included large cuts of beets cooked over the bonfire with minimal seasoning in order to preserve meat’s flavor.

Cooking the Gaucho Way

From its simple origins, gaucho cooking has inspired recipes from some of the world’s premier chefs, as well as popular steakhouse restaurants. 

Francis Mallman by Michael Evans

Francis Mallmann, world renown Argentinian chef (and venerable Renaissance man) cooks his dishes the gaucho way, solely over an open flame. Mallmann spent years in French kitchens cooking with some of the world’s best chefs, but returned to his Argentinian roots after becoming tired of, what he calls “the pretentiousness of haute cuisine.”

“I wanted to cook with Argentine ingredients and wood fires the way I had seen gauchos cook when I was growing up,” says Mallmann in a recent interview. His art of braising meats have brought worldwide interest in gaucho-style cooking. He most recently was featured on an episode of Netflix cooking series Chef’s Table.

If the thought of meat cooking over an open flame has inspired you to cookout in your backyard, Mallmann provides some tips on how to cook your own perfect steak:

  1. Start out with a prime cut of meat with a good amount of marble. That marble will melt and add more flavor to your steak. 
  2. The most important thing is to flip your steak only once after you start cooking. If you are cooking the meat for ten minutes, cook one side for 6 and the other for 4. This way you won’t overcook or lose the flavor from the marbling.
  3. Constantly watch the steak while it cooks. Mallmann says, “you have to read what’s happening around the steak as you cook it.
Photo by Juan Fernando Ayora

May you be inspired by the way of the gaucho. 

In the next installment of the series, we meet the legendary “flamethrower street food chef of Japan.” 

Yes, you read that right.