Brazilian barbecue, or churrasco, originated in the Rio Grande do Sul, and now this delightful process is migrating abroad
Combine a firebox filled with natural coals and skewered meat basted in only a salty brine and you will discover the simple delights of basic churrasco. In Brazil, churrascarias - restaurants - are everywhere. You'll find them popping up in major cities in the U.S. as well. Many of them represent the fine traditions of earlier centuries and then gauchos, or cowboys, from whom the art of cooking developed into a national pastime.
Churrasco is very similar to American grilling. Yet very different. And skill lies not in the turning in the meat, but in the carving at tableside. This requires extreme skill as the skewered meat is transported from one table to the next. As guests indicate their preferences, a piece is sliced and placed on the plate.
The term churrasco shows some variations from country to country, but often refers to a cut of meat or even the meal itself. From a Brazilian standpoint, the "churrasqueira" references the grill that is used to cook picanha, or chunks, from the sirloin. The oven itself is outfitted like a spit with varying levels of skewers on which the meat is speared. In Argentina, churrasco refers to skirt and in Nicaragua, it is tenderloin.
Other types of foods are cooked churrasco style, including chicken, lamb (both of which are generally marinated overnight), veal, and sausages, including the Portuguese linguica. Foods are generally served with plain white rice and salsa. The trick is in choosing meats with a lot of fat. This is curved to the outside so that the dripping juices will create flavor that rises from the heat of the coals. In fact, when layering on spits, the fattier cuts are set at the higher points to drip first on the other meats. The art is in cooking it slow, however, as opposed to the high-heat direct process of American grilling. Traditionally, this also provides plenty of time to drink and be merry.
The dining part of a churrasco may extend across several hours of the day. As bits of meat are done, they're sliced off and served as nibbles. This continues throughout, rather than serving the food at one time.
A home churrasco is easy to recreate - simply use skewers. Only one type of meat goes on each. This will allow each to cook in its own time and to perfection. As each is finished, bring it off and serve. You can also serve all meats at once; just keep each piece warm and always practice safe food handling.
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