How to Grill Steak: 3 Important Things to Know
Parilla La Cabrera, the Argentine steak restaurant of EDSA Shangri-La, wants to teach us how to grill steak the right way, but its owners signed non-disclosure agreements that prevent them from divulging their secrets. So owners and steak lovers Carlo Calma Lorenzana and Bobby Tenchavez figured out a way to reveal just a bit of their grilling magic, because when your grilled steak is so good, you really want to share how it's made.
How to Source Beef
The meticulous process begins with sourcing the beef. Tenchavez points out they have more than one supplier because the quality of beef can be inconsistent. “You really cannot expect to get the same quality every time,” he explains. “These are animals, and each one is unique.” For their steak, they pick through the imported prime cuts from their suppliers and stock the freezers of La Cabrera only with the best.
Why and How to Grill Steak
There are 101 ways to prepare a steak: You can pan-fry your steak, slide your steak into the oven, do a bit or both, or you can just grill your steak. Grilling, as professional chefs and even amateur cooks know, is a skill acquired through years of practice and needs technical know-how. With steak, that exposure to direct flame gives it an extra special edge.
At La Cabrera, it's the grilling of the steak that makes it different. La Cabrera (or Argentina, rather) is famously known for its unconventional cuts. It takes pride in its entraña (skirt steak), cuadril (coullotte/picanha steak), and asado del centro (short ribs), which are packed with brawny and meaty flavor. When left to an inexperienced cook, who does not know how to tame the volatility of grilling, these butcher cuts can become tough and inedible.
While the secret to La Cabrera’s cooking style is under lock and key, executive chef Agustin Figueroa shares the three most important things to keep in mind when grilling steak at home.
Salt is the only thing the restaurant uses to season its steak, and Figueroa is very particular about its texture. “It needs to be very dry,” he instructs. Meat needs salt to enhance its flavors. Salt that is moist will not penetrate the meat well. Lorenzana is proud to share that their salt is not any of that fancy stuff. “We use salt from Pangasinan,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with the imported salt, like fleur de sel or Himalayan. But, if we can use local, then why not? We’re happy to promote our local products. Gaston (Riveira, chef patron of La Cabrera Buenos Aires) gave it his seal of approval.”
The custom-built parilla in the open kitchen is truly the heart of La Cabrera’s operation. Most of the flavor imparted to its steak comes from the smoke that emanates from the grill. It uses a combination of charcoal and wood from local fruit trees.
A mastery of heat and cooking time is something an asador learns from years of practice: just grilling steak over and over again. You want that beautiful, even crust—that Maillard reaction that gives browned food that distinct flavor.
Lorenzana recalls a French guest that requested a blue-rare done steak. “He was so impressed when the steak came out with this brown crust,” Lorenzana narrates, “and the inside was cold and red as it should be. He was wondering how Agustin did it, but the guest came back a second time and again he got his blue-rare with that deep brown crust.” Having full control over that heat is the key to having that gorgeously appetizing outer layer with the preferred doneness.
Vague as it might seem, watching Figueroa’s brown eyes glow and soften when he recalls memories of cooking with his abuela strikes this point home. There is pride in his voice when he narrates how his father effortlessly grilled steak on his parilla, le it to attend to other things, then come back when he knew the meat was ready. Then, his father asked guests for their preferred doneness, and sure enough he would have the perfect slab for each one. “For me, he is still the best asador,” he exclaims with a grin, eyes moist with that memory.
So take that love—for your family, your friends, heck, even for that beautifully marbled slab of meat—and grill with it. Grill steak knowing that you are feeding it to people you care enough about to cook over a raging pit of fire. Then perhaps, when you are gone, people will still talk about your steak, and their eyes will glisten.
Parilla La Cabrera Manila has two branches: 6750 Ayala Avenue, Makati City and at Edsa Shangri-La Hotel, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.