Feature: Gazette tries Islington’s Argentinian steak masterclass
If you want to make the perfect pizza, you should ask an Italian. If you need to create a cracking curry – you might turn to someone from the sub-continent. But if you want to cook a scintillating steak, and get to know more about red wine in the process, there’s only one place to go – Argentina.
And if you’re going to enlist advice from Argentina, you might as well go to the best. Ernesto Labrada Del Toro, although of Cuban extraction, has been feeling the heat of Argentinian kitchens for years.
In fact, his mercurial skill with the grill saw him featured on Gordon Ramsey’s F-Word back in 2007.
But now he has transferred his talents to Islington’s very own bodegon; De La Panza, in Southgate Road.
And far from keeping his skills to himself, he now runs monthly masterclasses, teaching the population how to cut, prepare and cook the perfect slice of steak, as well as the majesty and beauty of Argentinian red wine.
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I didn’t really know what to expect when I headed down on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Although I can wield a frying pan, I certainly wouldn’t call myself any kind of chef. Was I ready for a masterclass?
Luckily Ernesto put me and my three fellow students immediately at ease by popping the cork of a light but satisfying Pinot Noir and furnishing us with a plate of olives before we had even sat down.
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From there, he started to explain why Argentine beef is so well-regarded. Three imported breeds wander free round the Pampa Humide, a grassland twice the size of the UK; the shorthorn, the Aberdeen Angus and the Hereford, all of which produce thick, tasty slabs of steak – with less fat content than those that are corn fed.
Ernesto whipped out an enormous pile of raw meat and showed us the different cuts (fillet, rib-eye, sirloin, etc) and how to trim the fat and slice them into manageable chunks.
He told us the different fat content each cut should be left with – the fat should be thought of almost as butter when cooking and 90 per cent of the cooking time should be done on the fatty side.
He also took my love of fillet steaks down a peg or to: “Girls tend to prefer fillet because it is very tender and has less fat,” he said. “But for men, the choice is normally rib-eye. It has more taste and we don’t care if we put on weight.”
By this time we were on our second bottle of wine – this time a full and tasty Malbec – and took a study break while some nibbles came out.
Our host took this opportunity to explain why Malbec, a French grape, has become the signature variety for a South American county. “The conditions in Argentina are the best in the world for growing the Malbec, just perfect,” he said.
The handout we all received also went into some detail about matching different red wines to different cuts of beef – indispensable knowledge for dinner parties. Then it was time to head back into the kitchen for more hands-on tips.
Firstly, a true Guacho cooks on a barbecue, not a frying pan, and it seems to be worth spending money to get quality charcoal (Ernestos imports his at great expense from South Africa).
Second – don’t let it get too warm. The grill should feel hot but not burn your skin.
He was also full of tips about cooking times and when to season, including an ingenious way of using your thumb to judge how rare your steak is.
But the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so the five of us settled down on the restaurant’s terrace to wolf down an astoundingly big helping of meat – all perfectly cooked.
The masterclasses at De La Panza really are a fantastic way to spend an Sunday afternoon.
You learn loads in a really friendly and social setting, there is great red wine aplenty and you end up with more meat than you can possibly manage.
Suffice to say I am going to feel petty confident, spatula in hand, at most barbecues this summer.
n The Parrillada Masterclasses run at the end of each month, visit http://delapanzamasterclass.tumblr.com.