Requiring a full day of preparation and physical efforts rarely called for in the realm of meal prep, cooking via the Argentine curanto method is a wholly satisfying experience -- for those of us who enjoy adventurous cooking, and working really hard for a big meal. Your hands will get dirty. A workout is in order, as stones and firewood must be gathered, and a pit dug. Tending to the flames is a brilliant chore, laced with the possibility of danger. And as you choose your foodstuffs, wrap their raw forms in foil or canvas, layer them atop the hot rocks and cover the whole mess with earth, you will find yourself wondering what exactly you have gotten yourself into. What lays between you and your meal now is hours of slow cooking under the dirt; success dependent completely on whatever heat has accumulated in your layer of stones. With every shovelful of dirt heaped atop the pit, the fate of your meal is further sealed. What's done is done - there is no way to raise the temperature, test the potatoes for softness, or peek at your beets. All you can do for the next few hours is hope it all goes to plan . . . we recommend this step be completed with a glass of #chispa in hand. It keeps the energy up, and soothes the nerves. A few empanadas as a snack come in handy, too.
...Alas, we have made this primal, highly traditional form of cooking appear dramatic. The concept of an earth-oven is straightforward and practical, and practiced not only in Argentina (where we learned our method), but all over the world. It's just that, accustomed as we are to the convenience of, for example, a dial to control temperature, a dial to control the flame size on our gas range, the timer's dial that tells us when our food is done cooking, and so on and so forth, is it any wonder that the process of a curanto feels like you're practicing some truly awesome ancient art? Digging up your meal, after hours of steaming beneath the ground, will raise your heart rate in anticipation. Will it be raw, or cooked . . . or maybe a little bit of both?
On that note: Like the title Jim Harrison's masterpiece collection of food essays "The Raw and the Cooked," our curanto yielded both the raw, and the cooked. Some of our stones did not heat up to full hotness capacity, resulting in a few hard potatoes which we were happy to throw into the compost pile. On the other hand, our salmon was perfectly tender and delicious; our squash were soft and sweet; and the fennel bulbs were refreshingly steamed and slightly crisp.
These delicious vegetables were enjoyed alongside a flank steak doused in #GimmeChimmi. Meal: Complete. Salud!
Want to #curanto ? We recommend the instructions given in Francis Mallmann's excellent cookbook, "Seven Fires." If you try it, drop us a line - we'd love to hear YOUR tale of adventurous cooking.