Carne Asada

Here’s another one from the California Rancho Cooking cookbook: carne asada. Jacqueline Higuera McMahon explains that in Mexico carne asada refers to a particular steak sliced thinly with the grain, whereas on California ranchos, it referred to grilled meats in general.

Despite the length of the recipe, it is really quite simple: whirl the herbs, spices and garlic in a food processor; rub onto meat; pour olive oil and red wine vinegar over the meat and marinate.

Jacqueline Higuera McMahon provides detailed instructions for cooking the meat over a charcoal fire, so if you’re using a gas grill, ignore that part. I’ve also included her recipe for sarsa, which is “sort of the same things [as salsa] but sarsa is meant to be chunkier and calls for milder green chiles.” At the rancho, McMahon says, barbecued meats were never served without it.

Carne Asada

4 pounds flank steak, tri-tip, or 5 pounds butterflied lamb
8 garlic cloves
1 tablespoon sea salt
¼ c. minced parsley
3 tablespoons dried oregano
1 to 2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
¼ c. fresh rosemary needles (optional)
2 tablespoons to ½ c. red wine vinegar, depending on amount of meat
2 tablespoons to ¼ c. fruity olive oil, depending on amount of meat

Sarsa, for serving (see below)

Preparing the Rub and Marinating the Meat

At least 3 hours before barbequing, trim off any excess fat from the meat to prevent flare-ups. Prepare the dry marinade by placing the garlic, salt, parsley, oregano, red pepper, and black pepper on a board and mincing into a rough paste. You can also do this in a food processor. If you are cooking lamb, add the rosemary needles.

Rub the seasoning paste over all the surfaces of the meat. Place the meat in bowls or crocks and sprinkle with wine vinegar and olive oil. If you are preparing only 2 pounds or less of meat, use the smaller amount of vinegar and olive oil. Refrigerate the meat while marinating anywhere from 2 hours to overnight.

Preparing the Fire and Grilling the Meat

At least 1 hour before barbeque time, start the fire with crumpled newspapers, small bits of kindling like dry branches, grapevine cuttings, or good hardwood charcoal. Do not use liquid starter. Place your choice of wood over the embers of the kindling. We often use almond wood because of its steady heat. Do not use a resinous wood like pine. Allow the fire to burn down to white, glowing embers.

Remove the meat from the refrigerator at least 30 minutes before barbequing. Do not barbecue ice-cold meat. Place the meat over the hotter part of the fire first to sear and seal in the juices. Then raise the grate or remove the meat to spread out the coals. Return the meat to the medium-hot grill. Brush on more marinade halfway through cooking. Do not drizzle marinade onto the embers; the oil will cause fare-ups. Turn the meat about every 8 minutes. Drizzle water on any flare-up with a soaking wet rag. A plant mister is cute but sprays over to much area.

After removing the carne asada from the grill, allow it to rest 10 minutes, then cut into thin slices against the grain and place on a platter. Accompany with salsas such as Red Chile Sarsa and/or fresh tomato Sarsa, which is my favorite.

Serves 10 to 12 with side dishes.


4 large tomatoes
4 green Anaheim chiles
1 sweet red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 to 2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon wine vinegar
2 teaspoons fruity olive oil
¼ c. finely snipped cilantro
1 sprig of oregano

Char the tomatoes over a gas flame or on a grill. Char the chiles until blackened in the same way. Place the chiles under a damp cloth or paper towels to steam for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, pull off the tomato skins, cut the tomatoes in half, and remove the seeds. Dice the tomatoes. Use a paper towel to rub off the blackened skins from the chiles. Slit the chiles open and pull out the seeds, reserving some of them. Dice the chiles and add to the tomatoes. Add the onion, garlic, salt, vineagr, olive oil, and cilantro. Add enought reserved chile seeds to lend authority to the sarsa. Immerse the oregano sprig in the sarsa and set in a cool place until the barbecue is ready.

All recipes and instructions are from Jacqueline Higuera McMahan’s California Rancho Cooking (Sasquatch Books, 2001).

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