Memories of Brazil – C is for Churrasco

1935377_169881451004_4115535_nChurrasco is the Brazilian kind of barbecue. Grilling meat seems to be such a favourite around here that most houses that have any sort of ‘mod cons’ come equipped with their own outdoor churrasco station. Private houses. Embassies. Pre-schools. They all have one.

For a churrasco, the meat does not lie down on a grill but is speared onto blades which are turned over an open fire. Also, the meats are previously rubbed with a special coarse salt mixture, which contains other mineral salts, such as saltpeter (potassium nitrate), besides the regular sodium chloride, acting as meat tenderizers (if you try this at home, check the ingredients: some brands contain flavour enhancers on top of that. If you can’t find saltpeter just use coarse sea salt, in generous amounts – and scrape it off before eating).

Beef is the main favourite of the churrasco, but the opening round will always be hearts. Yes, hearts. Chicken hearts, replete with cartilage sticking out at the top. I found them rather tasty, but then, I like organ meat. This fine tradition of meat roasting comes from the days of the gauchos or cowboys who accompanied their cattle herds on the wide open grasslands of South America, roasting their evening meals over the embers of an open fire, with salts their only available seasoning. Nowadays, this custom still exists in two ways. There is the churrasco that you do at home, and then there are the churrascerías, the restaurants where they specialize in grilled meats. At these restaurants here in Brazil, they do something called the churrasco rodizio, roughly translated: the Churrasco Merry-Go-Round. There is a central buffet with all kinds of salads, pickles, vegetables, as well as potatoes, rice and beans. Some places also offer fish and cold meats at the buffets. If you ever go to one of these restaurants, a word of warning: go easy on the buffet. Even if it is delicious. Because what happens is that you choose something from the salad bar and then, as you sit at your table, they start bringing by these skewers with the freshly grilled meats, one by one, cutting a slice off for you right there at the table. Some hearts? Sausage? Spicy sausage? Chicken? Lamb? Beef shoulder? Beef flank? Beef tenderloin? And they just keep on coming. Oh but you haven’t tried this, Madam, this is particularly juicy and grilled to perfection, won’t you just have a little? I heard that some establishments have pity and provide their guests with a little card, red on one side and green on the other. As long as you have the green side up, they will keep on coming, but you can use the red side to gain some respite and room for digestion. I think these are the ones in the city centre where they are used to feeble-hearted foreigners. Not the one we went to. The waiters looked positively disheartened as I gave up at Round 8 or so. And then hopefully wheeled around the dessert trolley…


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