By Monica Trentini
One of Brazil’s most famous culinary traditions is the weekend churrasco. Unlike an American BBQ, a churrasco is composed mainly of top quality meats with very few extras.” Churrascos can start anytime and go on into the night, with people coming and going throughout. Read on for pointers on having a successful “Gaucho-style” churrasco at your home.
In order to create an authentic experience for you, I have interviewed the Trentini brothers from Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul – the hot-spot for the best churrasco of all time. As William is my husband, and Hardy, my brother-in-law, I can give a first-hand un-biased recommendation for their churrasco preparing skills. Actually, William is more of a “churrasqueiro”, but Hardy makes a mean caipirinha and his girl friend Cyntia comes in with the Molho de Campagna and the Farofa (read on for recipes.) I try to help by making salads to complement their efforts at the grill. After a successful churrasco, no one will even eat a cookie!
All right, so what do you need to buy in order to prepare for the event? Let’s start with the meat. A general rule of thumb is to buy approximately 500 grams for each man and 300 for each woman. The basic meats William buys for a standard churrasco are linguia, picanha, lombo and chicken.
Picanha tends to be everyone’s favorite. William recommends you always buy the smallest picanhas possible. The maximum weight of a picanha is 1.2 kg. Anything larger includes a different part of the cow – coxão mole. Smaller picanhas also tend to be softer. A true Gaucho, William admits to foregoing all the extras at churrascos he has cooked and eating one kilo of picanha all by himself! One of the benefits of being the churrasqueiro is that you will always have your choice of what is being served. If you end up buying too much picanha (for fear William might show up) you can always bake whole picanhas later in the oven. (see recipes)
As for the linguia, there are different types. There are Calabreza, Toscana, chicken and others. There is no real secret to buying linguia. Trust your eye and the validity on the package. William’s personal preference is Toscana, which is a mild sausage. “Apimentado” means spicy, so check for that on the packaging!
When choosing a lombo, buy one that is whole. Many times, they will be in the frozen section of the supermarket, or you can get a fresh “lombo inteiro” at your local butcher. William buys his “sem tempero” (without seasoning.)
When William buys chicken to grill, he usually buys it on the bone, since it is more flavorful and juicy this way.
Please read recipes to find seasonings and meat preparation pointers.
As for the other ingredients, you will need to decide what else you would like to serve. According to Hardy, the churrasco came about because the Gachos (cowboys in southern Brazil and Argentina) had a very limited diet. While they were camping, they ate mainly meat and drank chimarrão, a strong tea that they shared by passing the cuia, adding boiling water when necessary. When they had leftovers from the churrasco, they would make arroz carreteiro (see recipes.) In other words, extras are really optional, but most choose to serve them anyway.
Foreigners sometimes refer to Farofa as sawdust. It is dry and gritty, but it adds flavor to the meat and contains some of the meat drippings. Farofa also goes well with rice. Most dab their meat into it before eating it, or pick it up with their fork with rice and meat. Eating it plain might not be such a pleasant experience.
Another accompaniment you might like is Molho de Campanha. It is similar to a Mexican salsa, only it is not usually hot and spicy and the recipe does not call for cilantro, only parsley. Molho de Campagna is always served chunky, never beaten or blended. It goes well with sausage and the other meats.
As for salads, I have two easy recipes for you to try, but any green salad will do.
Another “extra” at a churrasco is the caipirinha (directly translated as “the little farm girl”) One essential part of the caipirinha is the lime selection. Picking out the best ones will make your caipirinhas even better. Hardy says limes with thin skins are best. He rolls them applying pressure to release the juices. After washing them, he cuts them in half and then in quarters. At this point, Hardy cuts most of the peel off before cutting once again and adding the limes to the cup. If the limes have a large white core, he cuts it out. After he has enough limes cut, (approximately 1 1/2 limes per drink) he adds 2 heaping tablespoons of sugar per 8 oz. Drink. Next, he mashes the limes and sugar together until mixed and adds cachaa and ice. Hardy says crushed ice is preferable since it cools the drink faster and dilutes the alcohol a little more. Nega Ful and Esprito de Minas are some higher quality cachaas, and 51 and Velho Barreiro are easily found in the supermarket and perfectly fine choices. There is a place called “Barbolla” in Morumbi (Ruas dos 3 Irmãos, 460, phone 3722-0792), and another called Cachaaria Paulista in Pinheiros (Rua Mourato Coelho, 593, phone 3815-4556). Both have numerous types of cachaa. These cachaas are not all for caipirinhas. Many are sipping cachaas, which have different tastes depending on their barrels and brewing techniques. Some of them can be quite expensive.
Anyone who likes meat will definitely love a good churrasco. Hardy claims the churrascaria is the largest growing new type of restaurant in the US. While you are here, don’t miss going to some of the famous churrascarias here in São Paulo. Our favorite churrascaria is called “Caminhos do Sul.” It is on Regis Bittencourt, 3 kilometers past the last exit for Embu das Artes on the right. Try the “Filet Mignon na Manteiga.” It is my personal favorite.
If you are really up for making it yourself, you need to start by approaching the grill. Most grills in Brazil require charcoal. William buys one bag of charcoal for a 3-4 picanha party, but it is always wise to have extra. There are many ways to light the coals and keep them burning well. One way is to fill a stale pãozinho with alcohol, place it in the coals and light it. There are also many choices of starters at the supermarket. Most supermarkets have a grilling section with all the bells and whistles to choose from. The important part is to light the coals and let them burn for a while before you start grilling. When the coals are red and the flames are low, you can add the meat. Generally, most start with the sausage (linguia). As the fat of the sausage drips, it will feed the fire. William places lombo and picanha on medium heat, and the chicken and sausage on the hotter places. As the linguia and the picanha are ready, William takes them off the grill and cuts bite-sized pieces for people to pick up with their fingers or toothpicks for the more civilized guests. Everyone who knows what to do (the “diretoria”) stands around the grill and socializes with the churrasqueiro. This way, they are guaranteed the hottest and best choices of meat. People come with plates to partake of the chicken and lombo, and larger pieces of linguia and picanha. Then they gravitate towards the salads and other fixings. If people stand around with plates or balance them on their laps, this is known as eating ” Americana.” Brazilians prefer eating with a table in front of them; not set formally, but a place to rest their plates while they eat. No matter what you are serving, always have knives and forks available. Brazilians even eat cupcakes with forks.
Grill it and after it is cut, you can sprinkle lime juice on it for added flavor.
Cover with minced garlic and lightly salt. Squeeze lime juice on it and let it sit for 1-2 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Towards the end of grilling, cover the top with parmesan cheese. Allow this to melt a little before slicing thinly and serving.
Coat picanha steaks with rock salt before grilling.
Cutting picanha steaks and slicing:
Leave the fat on the picanha. Cut steaks across to the tip.(6-7 2 inch steaks) After grilling, slice steaks thinly so each piece has a small strip of fat.
Salt and pepper chicken pieces. Add olive oil, oregano and lime. Let sit for 1-2 hours before grilling.
In a frying pan, melt butter, fry onion and garlic. Add beaten eggs and cook. Optional: Add bacon pieces, olives, banana, and/or hot peppers. Add farinha de mandioca (Manioc Flour), or Farofa Pronta by Yoki. Saute. (Yoki makes a great Pão de Queijo mix as well, by the way.)
Molho de Campagna
Dice tomatoes, Onions, Parsley and Green, Yellow, and/or Red Peppers. Add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. This is standard fare. People cover their meat with it.
Saute onions and olive oil. Add leftover picanha or sausage cut into very small pieces. Fry it a little bit. Add rice and salt to taste. Add water and boil until the rice is cooked.
Mix fresh mozzarella and cut up sun dried tomatoes with olive oil. Toss in rcula. Add balsamic vinegar. Toss and serve.
Mix green beans (cooked and cooled, or straight from the can with a little juice) with sliced hearts of palm. Sliced tomatoes optional. Season with olive oil and vinegar or lime.
Your favorite potato salad is always welcome.
Broiled Picanha: Place the whole picanha fat side up in a pre-heated hot oven (about 400 degrees farenheit, 200 Celcius) Bake for 45 minutes. Turn picanha over and cover with rock salt. Put it back in the oven and continue baking for about 30 minutes or until ready.
Read on. in What’s Cooking in Rio
See page 224 for more information on Sausage (Linguia)
See page 190 for general information on beef.
See page 220 for more cuts of meat and their translations.
Linguia . Sausage
Picanha.Tip of Sirloin
Farofa.Fried Manioc Flour
Monica Trentini was born in Boston, Massachusetts, and was raised in Belo Horizonte and Rio de Janeiro. She lives in São Paulo with her Brazilian husband and two children. She has a cookie business, making and selling baked cookies, cookie dough and festive pizza-size cookies. If you would like more information, or if you have any comments on the article, please contact Monica Trentini at 3739-2599, 8111-5920 or email@example.com“