The Asado Burger: All the Flavors of the Argentine Grill, on Bread

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All the flavors of an Argentine asado in one package. [Photographs: Vicky Wasik]

Of all the experiences I have yet to cross off my gastronomic bucket list, taking part in a true South American asado is right at the top. Sure, I've eaten grilled steak with chimichurri and lots of other foods, like grilled slabs of provolone cheese, that are typical of those legendary cookouts. I've just never done it in the mountains of Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, or Bolivia, drinking wine while an asador tends to cracking wood coals and serves up heaps and heaps of the stuff. I don't know when I'll make it down that way to experience one firsthand, but what I do know is that I can take those flavors and enjoy them at home right now. Not only do I know that, but I know something even better: I can compress them all into a single burger that's ballsy enough to make a gaucho sweat with anticipation.

I start with six-ounce patties of ground beef with plenty of fat in the mix for maximum juiciness—15% fat at a minimum. Chuck is a good and inexpensive cut for this, though you can get way fancier if you want. Following basic good burger practices, I form the patties gently, doing everything in my power to avoid over-mixing or manhandling the meat, which, along with salting the meat before forming the patties, will push them into meatball territory. Loose and juicy is what we want, not a tight puck of beef.

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Then I season the patties and sear them in a really hot cast iron skillet for a good crust. As soon as they're ready, I set them aside to briefly rest. Now here's where things get crazy.

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I pour off the fat and wipe the skillet clean of whatever little bits the patties left behind, and then I sear thick rounds of provolone cheese in there. This is a play on provoleta, an Argentine appetizer common at asados that can be either griddled or grilled and is then served while molten. Typically, the cheese used for provoleta is quite thick—thick enough that it won't just drip through the grill grate as it heats. In this case, it's going to be the cheese element of our burger, so it can't be so thick. Still, at about a quarter-inch, our rounds are going to be way thicker than your average slice of cheese for a cheeseburger.

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Not only does searing the cheese give it a browned, crispy crust, it also ensures that the slabs will melt enough, which wouldn't happen if we just draped them over the patties as they finished in the pan the way we normally would with cheeseburgers.

You'll need a few things to get this right. First, you'll need a well-seasoned cast iron skillet, because otherwise the cheese is gonna fuse to the pan. Second, you'll need a very thin metal spatula, because you're going to need to scrape under that cheese with a quick, deft movement—clunky plastic spatulas won't cut it here (frankly, they won't cut it for the burger patties, either). Finally, you need that skillet to be absolutely smoking hot, since you want maximum browning before the cheese totally blows out.

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As soon as they're done on both sides, I slide the melted cheese rounds onto the rested patties and transfer them to the bread.

About the bread: I felt like the last thing this burger needed was a soft, sweet potato or burger bun. I wanted something with a little more savoriness and backbone to stand up to that big fat patty and melted slab of cheese, so I decided on toasted slices of peasant bread, trimmed down to patty size and drizzled with olive oil.

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Then I spoon on some chimichurri—the classic Argentine steak sauce made from lots of fresh parsley, olive oil, and vinegar, along with oregano and red pepper flakes—and close the burgers.

I'm telling you, the mountains can wait.

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