Whether you're dealing with sirloin, rib eye, flank, you name it—follow chef Lucia Soria's guidelines for cooking beef.
Whether you're on gaucho turf or in the bustling heart of Montevideo, Uruguay is undeniably beef country. It is estimated, after all, that Uruguayan cows outnumber Uruyugan humans four to one. Lucia Soria, chef at and in Montevideo, is one of the country's best-known chefs, having starred as a judge on Masterchef: Uruguay and opened one of the country's most beloved restaurants (which was featured by Anthony Bourdain on Parts Unknown). So, given her surroundings, Soria knows a thing or two about cooking beef. Uruguay is "no country for vegetarians," Bourdain had . "Everywhere you look, on parrillas (large iron grills)—the prominent cooking method of the region—vast wonderlands of meat and sausages cook slowly over wood coals. Salads are few and far between."
This March, Soria, who trained under Patagonian star chef Francis Mallmann for ten years, offered a parilla demonstration in Uruguay with several cuts of beef from , which sells grass-fed, free-range beef that's sourced largely from Uruguayan ranches. Her tutorial was a masterclass in handling beef—no matter the cut—with care and attention.
Here are a few of Soria's essential beef preparation tips.
1. Let your beef sit before cooking it.
"Let it sit at room temperature—I let it sit for half an hour," said Soria. "If you don’t have that much time, a little bit less is okay, like 15 minutes. But it’s important that it’s not cold, because if it's vey cold inside, it's going to take longer, and you’re not going to get the temperature you want to achieve."
2. Don't overseason.
If you're working with good quality beef, you don't need to do a lot to it before putting it on the grill. "It's important not to overseason, because the important thing is to taste the flavor of this meat," she said. For grilled beef tenderloin, Soria seasoned the meat—both sides!—with chili flakes, salt, and a little bit of olive oil.
She cited her mentor, Mallmann, as teaching her the art of simplicity. "Where you see too many things on a plate, or meat and sauce and this and that, they’re hiding something," she said. "They don’t know how to cook so well, or it’s not quality. The hardest thing is to be simple."
3. Don't fiddle with it.
Once you put the meat on the grill, "then you don’t touch it anymore," she said. "You don’t play with meat. It's important to leave it where it is. Every time you move meat or vegetables, the water that’s inside of that starts going out ... If you want, you can look at it, but don’t touch it."
4. High heat is key.
To check to see if the grill is hot enough, Soria holds her hand over the grill (at a safe distance, of course)—you shouldn't be able to stand the heat "for more than three or five seconds."
5. Embrace the Uruguayan asado mentality.
"We love the situation where we chat next to a fire for hours," said Soria. "And two hours later the asado gets there. We do small things to eat first."
In keeping with that laid-back ethos, don't stress out if you're missing an ingredient.
"If you don’t have an ingredient, forget it," she said. "You can do it with something else. You have to be happy and free."