But we're just going to go ahead and say it: This holiday weekend, we want meat. Blistered-from-the-grill, perfectly charred meat that you can slap on a serving board and let everyone dig in with their fingers until they get delightfully messy from the juices.
So we're looking south—way south—to the churrasco, a broad term that could take any number of directions, all of them heavy on the meaty goodness, of Latin America.
"Some believe that a churrasco is a specific cut of meat; however, it is a term used by many in Latin America, including myself being Argentinean, as a way to describe all grilled meats," Fernando Trocca, chef of Sucre in Buenos Aires, tells us. "It is iconic, because it often represents a time that brings together our cultural traditions."
Nano Crespo, executive chef of Quinto La Huella in Miami, explains further, "The churrasco tradition was created by the gauchos, which are the natives from the south of Brazil, and Argentineans and Uruguayans, who live close to the south border of Brazil."
If you've ever been to one of those restaurants where the servers slice meat off of large skewers, you've witnessed one version of churrasco in action. And here's the beauty: With a mixed grill like this, it's a meaty free-for-all. Want steak? Throw some on. Feeling like chicken tonight? Go cluckin' crazy. Our not-so-traditional take (see the recipe) mixes Brazilian and Argentine traditions, with skewered beef joining marinated tiger prawns and linguiça sausage (popular in Brazil) on the grill. Once carved, the meats are topped with a bright grilled scallion chimichurri inspired by the herby Argentine sauce.
In addition to inspiration for a killer recipe, we picked up a few key tips from our churrasco experts.
Beef things up. While there's no specific cut of beef for churrasco, we go traditional with picanha, a term for top sirloin that is cut into thick steaks, curved into a C shape and skewered. Our chef experts couldn't stress enough the importance of good meat. "My number one tip would be to source the best-quality meat," Trocca emphasizes. "The meat should always have a little bit of fat (but not too much) and a pinch of salt and pepper."
Grill talk. The beauty of our recipe is that all the components grill for the same amount of time. However, it's important to keep track of hot spots. "Don't take your eyes off the grill," Sandro Lorenzi, master carver at Churrascaria Plataforma in NYC, warns. "The worst thing can happen to a churrasco chef is to burn the meat."
Start all the components on the hottest part of the grill to get a nice sear. Trocca recommends getting the grill very hot 30 minutes before you start grilling. Once you have some color, smaller items like the sausage or prawns should be moved to a cooler area, so you don't burn or overcook them.
Get sauced. We serve our churrasco with a grilled scallion chimichurri, a play on the classic Argentine sauce of chopped fresh herbs with olive oil, garlic and chile. Chopped grilled scallions add smokiness and oniony flavors to the bright sauce.
While our Argentine chefs also serve their churrasco with chimichurri, Lorenzi tells us that in Brazil, it's traditional to serve the dish with molho à campanha, which is a vinegar-based sauce of onion, tomato, green pepper, chives and olive oil. Either way, a little sauce will go miles with a big board laden with grilled meats.
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