The strip roast, a "invention" Argentinian: the curious story of how this cut of beef originated

A series of events generated the fortuitous appearance of this protagonist of the roasts, which was the waste of the meat that was exported

Ladislao Martínez Castro and Braulio Costa were neighbors in San Isidro, where they had their farms, and they maintained a very good relationship. The first, born in 1792; the second in 1794. Coincidentally, both died in May 1855.

That year, her children, who were good friends and the same age, signed a deal. Ladislao, the namesake of his late father, rented Eduardo and Luis Costa a field that was part of their inheritance, located about seventy-five kilometers north of Buenos Aires, on the banks of the Paraná River, in an area known as Rincón de Campaign.

That is what the papers say but, according to family traditions, the arrangement had been made by Braulio Costa and Ladislao Martínez. And here comes the story of Ladislao Jr., who some years later sold the lands to the Costa. But before firing him, let’s add that he also negotiated with the railway company the transfer of a piece of land in San Isidro where the station that bears his name was built.

The Costas devoted themselves to the development of the estancia in Campana, sowing, raising sheep and also some cattle.. Eduardo left the agricultural administration in the hands of Luis and returned to Buenos Aires with the aim of making a career in politics. He was a friend of Bartolomé Miter and also a determined follower of his public activity. When he assumed the presidency in 1862, Eduardo Costa was appointed Minister of Justice and Public Instruction. Meanwhile, his younger brother was engaged in rural tasks.

The Paraguayan War came and Campana became a logistical point. Luis Costa did not miss the opportunity, assuming the role of meat supplier of the army, which he would send from the port, going up the river. To carry out this action, the necessary machinery was provided and the slaughterhouse which he inaugurated was a model of his time. The Costas were always one step ahead when it came to equipment.

First transfer of frozen meat

The River Plate Fresh Meat was a meat processing plant that exported meat to England

After the war, they continued with the activity of bovine and bovine production. And we can say that they were in the right place and time. Because the arrival of the steamship Le Frigorifique from France, at the end of December 1876, with the historic first successful transfer of frozen meat, opened the doors to a foreign trade of great proportions and benefits that Argentina would take advantage of.

Before, only leather and fat were exported. From this event, meat was added, frozen in order to preserve it. This new scenario marked the end of the saladeros (where the old preservation procedure was carried out, covering the meat with salt – for internal consumption – and the leather and fat were processed) and the emergence of the refrigerator.

Time to introduce Englishman George Wilkinson Drabble. He arrived at the Río de la Plata at the age of twenty-six, towards the end of the Rosas government, and participated in businesses related to banks and railways. In fact, he was the one who convinced the English that they should invest capital in local trains.

He realized early on the commercial advantages that the meat export. So he made a first test: he sent live cattle, more precisely three specimens of the Hereford breed and three Shorthorn.

The animals were slaughtered at the destination and the English capitalists were delighted with the quality of the meat and its taste. Diners assumed that Drabble had made a very thorough selection of the cows. However, the pioneer clarified that they had only gone to the field and pointed out, of each species, three specimens of good weight. Actually, the secret lay in the excellent pastures that consumed the cattle. The business was in sight.

Drabble created in 1882 the company The River Plate Fresh Meat, a refrigerator that, as its name implies, would be in charge of freezing meat, properly cut, and exporting it to England. The following year the first shipment was dispatched.

The Fresh Meat butchers appeared in London, with great success for the quality of the product they offered. In a short time the refrigerators in Argentina multiplied and they dedicated themselves to invade England. The curious thing is that those locals and their clients were necessary participants in the definition of cuts of beef.

This is how the famous strip roast was born

In lean seasons, every inch of meat was used

Just as Luis Costa had provided himself with modern tools, George Drabble and his sons took advantage of the technological advances applicable to the fractionation of meat. First was the use of saws, which replaced the knives and axes used by the peasant. In the 1910s, the electric saw was already available. These two elements allowed the ribs to be cut into smaller bones and thus was born – standing up, gentlemen – the famous strip roast, a cross section of the ribs, every six or eight centimeters.

We owe to the chain of events mentioned the fortuitous appearance of this protagonist of the roasts that, let us clarify, was the waste of the meat that was exported. England bought cuts without any bone.

As the historian of Campana, Claudio Valerio (who investigated the details and claims the name of “Capital of the Asado de Tira” for his city) clearly explains, in the first refrigerators, this waste was consumed by the employees themselves in the places of work and also at home. The spread of the delicacy was directly proportional to the increase in exports. It’s more, there was an overabundance of ribs and it was not strange to see several floating in the river, as if they were camalotes.

But what about ribs before the 1880s? Nobody ate them? Yes, of course, in lean seasons, every inch of meat was used. The rack It was food for soldiers in the field, in critical situations. The cases of two armies that suffered from a lack of resources are known: that of Belgrano stationed in Tucumán and the Liberator in Lima. Precisely, from the magnificent capital of Peru, we rescued the recipe for “roast ribs” that Eulalia Deheza —daughter of the brave warrior of Independence Román Antonio Deheza— sent to Juana Manuela Gorriti so that it could be published in Eclectic Cuisine, the work of 1890. Here we share it:

Rib roast:

Cut a square piece through the beef rib [rectangular], of the dimension that is needed. Wash it with cold water, and after rinsing it, toss it in a bowl of broth seasoned with plenty of salt and a pinch of minced garlic and onion. It is then allowed to drain and spread on the grill, on the side of the bones, over a very live fire.

When the bones have been roasted, another bed of coals, equally alive, is ready, on which the grill is moved, promptly turning the piece back to the meat side, which, already almost cooked through the ribs, with five more minutes of fire, it is about to be served over a liquid tomato sauce, seasoned with oil, vinegar, pepper, salt and slices of green chili peppers.

Eulalia Deheza de Carreño’s recipe offers us another perspective on ribs, making the most of it in a different way, far from the strip roast, Campana’s flagship cut.

To end, In 1901 it was discovered that it was not necessary to freeze the meat, but that it was enough to refrigerate it, as long as it was consumed during the forty days following the slaughter..

Then came the chilled beef, very wide, that captivated even more the British palate. In Argentina it was said that export meat, which the English ate, was never going to be admitted among consumers indoors. For this reason, they called Francisco Lapietra’s venture a pointless adventure, when on September 14, 1935, he opened the La Cabaña restaurant on Entre Ríos Avenue, four blocks from the Congress Palace.

Its thick steaks became famous and “export meat” found its place in the local market, when strip roast had already been on the plate of Argentines for some fifty glorious years.

By Daniel Balmaceda

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