Organ Grind: A South American Food Journal Part 4, Beef Heart of Darkness
Grill master working the heat
As the latter part of the above title flat-footedly implies, this weeks article has me journeying into savage, humid environs redolent of the morally queasy atmosphere of Joseph Conrad’s most famous novel. Instead of the Belgian Congo, however, I find myself in Peru’s Amazon Basin. I have to come clean, though. My point of penetration is quite tame by Amazon standards: the town of La Merced, which is only eight hours ENE of Lima, Peru’s noxious, hideously sprawling capital. For this tremulous and soft denizen of the temperate and dry S.F. Bay Area the town of La Merced serves as a species of airlock, transitioning me seamlessly from the dry comforts of the coastal metropolis from whence I came to (one hopes) a state of harmony with the nameless, unspeakable depths of moist depravity that might await deeper in directions east and north.
Referring again to the title of this article: the organ meat referenced therein and its elision with mentioned-literary masterpiece´s title provides the culinary subject for today’s article: the cornerstone of Peruvian street food, the beef heart anticucho. If you’re not familiar with that term, it refers to a variety of meats or vegetables skewered and cooked over coals. It’s nothing new, culinary-wise; cultures the world over have their own version. The anticucho of beef heart is reminiscent of the Japanese take on skewered meat, Kushiyaki. Like the Japanese, the Peruvians are fond of skewering odd organ meats and grilling them over charcoal, giving the meat that ineffable smoky flavor evoking summer days rolling around in itchy green grass. Common to both traditions is the usage of a light marinade brushed on the meat beforehand, serving to accent the flavor of the meat without drowning it out.
The end result: Vascular heaven
At Anticucheria La Carabana, the meat is brushed with a house-made sauce of vinegar, oil, black pepper and garlic. I suspect the presence of soy sauce in there as well, but the dark, sinewy young woman manning the grill (who pulled double duty as my waitress) denied this. Whatever the ingredients, it’s still the best anticucho I’ve had, a perfect balance of cardiovascular game and charcoal smoke, not chewy but putting up just the right amount of resistance. The place is easy enough to find, being just a block off the main square towards the Jesus hill (every town in Latin America invariably has their own Jesus depicted in white stone topping a conspicuous promontory). Beer is unavailable for sale at La Carabana but they don’t bat a lash if you enter the joint with a six pack of beer bought across the street swinging from your belt.
Anticucheria La Carabana
[La Merced, Peru]