Monday, December 28, 2009

Eating Chilean Beef

Foreigners find Chilean cuts of beef confusing. They don’t look like the cuts they know and the names are even less helpful: lomo vetado (literally “vetoed loin”), lomo liso (smooth loin”), pollo ganso (“chicken goose”), huacholomo (“orphan loin”), posta negra (“black post”), etc. 


Lomo vetado on the grill


And of course, there is a good historical reason.

Cattle were introduced into Chile in 1554 by Don Francisco de Alvarado, and as in California, Mexico and Argentina, they adapted to the local conditions and multiplied quickly.  By the 18th century they were so plentiful that:
...they were worth no more that 2 to 4 pesos and very often they were killed to take the tallow and the hide; the rest was thrown out as almost useless, or else they cut the defatted meat in thin strips, and sold the sun dried strips under the name charqui. This entirely indigenous method of conserving meat, characteristic of dry and burning climates, has since spread, developed greatly, and has become one of the most fruitful industries of the country.[1]


Road from Valparaiso to Santiago – Claudio Gay 1854[2]

This charqui (“jerky,” from the Quechuan for dry meat) became a staple of the Chilean diet.  (see Charquicán, tomaticán and other “—cáns”).  To make charqui the beef carcass is dissected into boneless pieces following the muscle structure. Expedition artist, Edmond Smith, Captain's clerk in the U.S. Navy on the U.S. Astronomical Expedition to the Southern Hemisphere, describes the process as he saw it in the 1850s.[3]



Each of the pieces was named and both the names and the tradition of boneless cuts continue in today’s Chile.   The chart below shows the major Chilean beef cuts.


By contrast, most American and European cuts of beef include bones, as shown below, and as a result there is simply no direct Chilean equivalent for many American and European cuts, and visa versa



Other differences between Chilean beef and American and European beef stem from the nature of the Chilean livestock industry.  Beef production in Chile is highly variable and much production is in the hands of small producers.  Average herd size is only 41 animals (compared to 200 in Argentina), and most of the beef comes from dairy breeds like Holsteins or from Holstein/Herford crosses  as many dairy operators “freshen” their milk cows by insemination with Herford semen to produce better beef animals. Additionally, beef is grass-fed rather than being fattened on corn in feed lots, as in the US.  This produces leaner beef, but since it is the “marbling” of fat within the muscle tissue that makes beef tender, it also means tougher beef. And finally, the grading system is based on the animal’s age, so that critics claim that identically graded carcasses (the top grade is “V” followed by “A”) may be of very different quality.[4]  

Never the less, beef continues to be Chileans’ favorite (and most expensive) meat, though it is now third in consumption at 22.1 Kg (48.6 lbs.) per year behind pork and chicken and is declining.[5]
  


Of course there is better (or at least more tender) Chilean beef available.  Certified Angus beef and other quality feed-lot beef is available for about twice the price of standard beef (presently loin cuts are selling for around $10 US/lb) and there is also “Premium Quality Kobe Style Wagyu Beef, Naturally Raised in Chile”  for around $60 a kilo for the best cuts; cuts said to sell for $300 a kilo in Japan and $200 in the US.[6]

Beef from Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and the US is also commonly available in supermarkets at about the same prices as Chilean beef, but whether this is better beef is a matter of opinion.[7]  Chileans surveyed in 2004 preferred Chilean beef over imported beef, even when the imported beef sold for 15% less, and only 7% of the sample considered imported beef better; an admirable (if misplaced) example of culinary patriotism.[8]

So, how do you know what Chilean cuts of beef to buy? 

For BBQ, Chilean asado, as roasts:  lomo vetado (rib eye) or lomo liso (short loin/sirloin) are good choices.  Lomo vetado is fatter and produces a juicer roast (essential for those poor souls who prefer well done); lomo liso is leaner and is apt to be dry if cooked beyond medium-medium rare.  Sobrecostilla and asado carnicero from the shoulder or chuck are also good on the grill, full of flavor, though tougher, as is asado de tira, short ribs.  All are best cooked no more than medium.




For grilling, American Style, as steaks:  lomo vetado (rib eye), lomo liso (short loin & sirloin) and filete (tenderloin), cut into steaks.  Entrtecot (T-bone steak) is common on restaurant menus, and is occasionally available in supermarkets. Entraña (“skirt  steak”) is a tender thin cut that can be grilled quickly.





Filete

For braising and stews: The Chilean favorite is plateada (“rib cap”), but any of the shoulder cuts (huachalomo, choclillo, malaya, posta paleta, asado Americano [Imported US chuck roast] etc.) or the leaner and dryer round/rump cuts (posta negra, posta rosado, asiento picana, ganso, pollo ganso [eye of round], etc.) are suitable.  Expect to simmer 2 to 2 ½ hours.  Brisket is tapapecho.

For soups, cazuela, etc.:  Cuts with bone like osobuco (shin), asado de tira (short ribs), or any of the cuts for braising, above.











Links:
TÉCNICAS DEL BUEN ASADOR provides Chilean names for cuts of beef, along with photos of the cuts and cooking recommendations, in Spanish.  For a computer translation, with some imaginative literal translations, see English version.
Beef Cuts is a chart put out by the Argentine government which gives names of beef cuts in Argentina, Spain, Brazil, Chile, Portugal, USA/UK, France, Germany/ Switzerland, and Italy.

          Whole Foods Market Chilean Grass Fed Beef Program - It's not exactly the same beef you get at your local Chilean supermarket, but it's an interesting development.






[1] Gay, Claudia 1862 Agricultura Vol 1, p. 20. Chile: Museo de Historia Natural de Santiago. Online at http://www.memoriachilena.cl//temas/documento_detalle.asp?id=MC0002687 
[2] Gay, Claudio. 1854.  Atlas de la historia física y política de Chile / por Claudio Gay. París : En la Impr. de E. Thunot,  On line at  http://www.memoriachilena.cl/temas/documento_detalle2.asp?id=MC0001981
[3] Smith, Edmond Reuel   The Araucanians or, Notes of a tour among the Indian tribes of southern Chili.  New York, Harper. P. 100 on line at http://www.archive.org/details/araucaniansnote00smitrich
[4] Azzopardi, Tom.  2004 Putting meat on the FTA’s bones. bUSesschile November 2004 - Nº219. On line at http://www.businesschile.cl/imprimir.php?w=old&lan=en&id=40;  Dresdner, J. 2004. La industria bovina en Chile: enfrentando las desventajas comparativas.   Ciencia e investigación agraria: revista latinoamericana de ciencias de la agriculturaVol. 31, Nº. 1, 2004 , p. 51-65.  On line at http://www.rcia.puc.cl/Espanol/pdf/31-1/ensayo.pdf; Long, Bob. 1996.  Beef logic: The beef industry in Chile. Angus Journal Sept. 1996.  On line at http://www.angusjournal.com/ArticlePDF/0996_BeefLogic.pdf
[5]Anonymous. 2009. Chilean production of wine and meat increases.  Communications Office National Statistics Institute, September 15, 2009 On like at http://www.ine.cl/canales/sala_prensa/noticias/2009/septiembre/not150909_eng.php?lang=eng
[6] Harison, Sophie. n.d.  Breeding Wagyu Cattle in Chile. bUSiness Chile. On line at

[7] Lasmallen. 2008. Carne Nacional??... Sííí, Por Favor!!!  La Buena Vida. On line at http://www.labuenavida.cl/content/view/226288/Carne-Nacional-Siii-por-favor.html
[8] Schnettler, B., O. Manquilef & H. Miranda. 2004. Atributos valorados en la selección de carne bovina por el consumidor de supermercados de Temuco, IX región de Chile. Ciencia E Investigacion Agraria, Vol 31 No 2 Mayo - Agosto 2004. p.91-100. On line at http://dialnet.unirioja.es/servlet/articulo?codigo=2174054

21 comments:

  1. You're crazy!! :) Feedlot beef, US style, is horrible, horrible, horrible. Grass fed beef is so much better, leaner and more tender. Grass fed beef is what they produce in Argentina and it's amazing (although due to increased soya production and ridiculous government policy, Argentine feedlot production has gone from 0 to 25% in just 10 years- very sad to see). Grass fed beef from the south of Chile also rivals Argentine beef...

    Feedlot cattle can't digest their food, need more antibiotics and hormones. Free range, grass fed beef will always be better.

    Although everyone has different tastes!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Matt,

    Chilean grass fed beef is certainly better in terms of sustainability and with less fat and no (ah, well… “fewer”) antibiotics, it is healthier. But it’s also tougher… especially when it comes from Holsteins. Argentinean (and Canadian) grass fed beef is (pardon the expression) a horse of a different color. As you say “everyone has different tastes!”

    best wishes

    Jim

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  3. Yeah, I agree that in general grass fed Chilean beef isn't as good as Argentine- I lived there for 3 years and ate it nearly daily (never had Canadian, is it that good?). Still I've had some really incredible beef in Chile, the best from a butcher in Osorno. Here in Santa Cruz there's some really decent stuff around as well, very tender. But there's also some pretty tough meat around. It's definitely more hit and miss here, though I've found La Fama, a local supermarket to be quite reliable. I'll take any grass fed beef over feedlot though.

    The lamb in Colchagua is also amazing. Marchigue Spring Lamb is far superior to anything I've ever had from Patagonia and comes very close to being as good as a fresh Welsh Spring lamb, which is really saying something!

    Really do like this blog, by the way. I don't check in all that often but always find it interesting when I do. Saludos!

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  4. Ah, lamb. My favorite meat. The poor Santiaguenos don't know what they're missing. But that's for another post.

    And, thanks, Matt.

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  5. Excellent article. Muy bueno. As a chilean living in USA, also for me is complicated when my father -in-law wants something specific as Lomo vetado, there I go just choosing whatever is best. These are good tips. Muchas gracias.
    Edison

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  6. Thanks Edison, glad it is useful. And I hope your Chilean family is OK, after the teremoto.

    Jim

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  7. I have heard that there is an issue with deforestation of rainforests in Chile's south to create beef cattle grazing pastures. Do you know anything about this?

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  8. Debbie,

    Deforestation is certainly an issue, but the major cause is logging. Take a look at "Chile: Erosion of native forests continues" on line at http://www.converge.org.nz/lac/articles/news990821a.htm

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  9. Wondering if after the loggers come through they make grasslands for animal grazing. Then the beef industrial would be a (secondary) player in the deforestation.

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  10. Certainly might be, but the logging companies seem to replant with non native pines and eucalyptus after destroying the native forests. Google “deforestation chile” and you may find out.

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  11. Thank you Jim! I had no idea how to translate the names to English. I am a Chilean living in Ireland and I had such a hard time finding what I wanted lol.
    oh, by the way. I don't know if you have farmer friends in Chile. The best meat will come from the local farmers no questions asked. I have family there and the best cows, ducks and pork I ever tasted were cooked there in the fields. I am so lucky hahaha. I can't comment on lamb, I don't eat that since I was a kid, after I helped kill one. :( I hope you enjoy my country because I really miss it.
    Ellie from Ireland

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  12. You are very welcome Ellie. I'm glad you found it useful. And I do enjoy your country....though unfortunately I don't know any farmers.

    Best wishes - Jim

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  13. Thanks Jim for this website! It is really good. I am half chilean, half british, currently living in the UK and decided to do a nice bbq for some friends but suddenly realized I had no idea how to buy meat in London!! I had always eaten wonderful chilean meat, filete or lomo vetado, absolutely great for a bbq. I had no idea how to translate this to english and this website made me understand the differences.
    I guess it wont taste the same...
    Anyway Ill give it a go and let you know if i can get anything close to lomo here in London.
    All the best for you, and please keep enjoying the wonderful culinary delights of chile, probably the best of the world.

    Best wishes,

    Isabel G

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  14. Thanks for the kind words, Isabel.

    The British beef will be delicious, but different from the grass fed beef of Chile. But if you find Argentinean beef in the UK it will be similar. Best wishes on your asado.

    Saludos - Jim

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  15. This post is absolutely awesome. I'm a New Yorker from Brooklyn and a die-hard carnivore. Living in Santiago, Chile to bootstrap a startup and, I gotta say, the "fail fast, fail often" principle isn't as much fun when it comes to randomly testing out Chilean beef.

    I love this post so much :)

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  16. Thanks Jacklyn,

    Glad it helped. I imagine the trial and error method gave you some pretty chewy repasts.


    And take a look at Jacklyn's blog:

    "live, work, and laugh off cue …living in Santiago and finally putting 6 years of spanish to work"

    Jim

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  17. Dear Jim,

    The alternative choices you suggest for preparing something close to the plateada are arguably not appropriate. For several reasons: lack of enough fat layer on one side, thickness, texture, etc. Perhaps brisket or "tapapecho" could work. Am I will try that. I am Chilean, living in California for over forty years.

    Kind regards,

    Sergio

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  18. Sergio,

    You are right of course that none of those cuts will come out like plateada, but for the poor gringos in Chile who want to make pot roast, beef stew or other braised beef dishes, these are the cuts to buy. And for Chilenos in the US, I agree that brisket comes pretty close.

    Saludos

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  19. found this post most enlightening thanks and look forward to reading your other posts. As an Aussie on my 3rd 'tour of duty' here I finally have some insight into the various beef cuts available!

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  20. Hi
    This is a great post, what do you think is the best replacement for Chilean Lomo vetado, or generally, beef for asado, I buy a couple of times the whole muscle of beef HALF PRICE in sainsburys, which is like a epiphany for a Chilean in London, they are called tender loin, silver side silver loin or something like that, never remember the one I buy the previous time.

    Saludos

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  21. Hummm... don't know for sure Felipe. Lomo vetado is rib eye, but Chilean beef is grass fed and has less fat that American and probably British beef. Tender loin is fliete but I don't know what silver side or silver loin might be. Plateada?

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Sorry, no more anonymous posts. I was getting too much spam. Email me (see my profile) if you would like to comment and have no account. Jim