Kip Thomson thought he knew a lot about barbecue. Born in Iowa, he was reared on the beef for which the Midwest is famous, much of it grilled. But it wasn't until he married a Brazilian named Sheila that he came to know churrasco -- or Brazilian barbecue.
In so doing, he learned how to raise the commonplace cookout to the level of art.
Churrasco (pronounced shoo-RAS-koo) is a method of cooking, but it's also a way of life. It originated in Brazil's cattle country, Rio Grande do Sul.
The cooking equipment was simple: an open fire, a sword for skewering meats, and a razor-sharp knife for carving them. The seasonings were even simpler: coarse sea salt and fresh air (for churrascos were always held outdoors). It was macho fare, staunchly carnivorous, and it took a whole continent by storm.
As it would in Brazil, the Thomsons's churrasco, which takes place in the Boston suburb of Newton, begins with caipirinhas, or daiquiris, made from a potent cane liquor called cachaca. "The secret to the caipirinha is to extract the aromatic oils in the skin of the lime," explains Kip, pounding fresh limes with a pestle in a mortar. Cachaca can be found in liquor stores catering to a Brazilian or Portuguese clientele. If unavailable, you can use rum or even vodka.
But the focal point of churrasco is the meat. White meats, like the chicken and pork, have been marinating overnight in a pungent paste of garlic, salt and lime juice. The red meats are seasoned solely with salt, to be savored in all their sanguine glory.
In Brazil the meats would be grilled over hardwood charcoal. The heat would be controlled by raising and lowering the spits. The Thomsons take advantage of Yankee ingenuity, using a gas grill with adjustable burners. The chicken, short ribs, and pork loin are cooked over a relatively low heat to slowly melt their fat. Steaks and sirloin tips are grilled over high heat to sear in the juices.
Below are the fixings for an authentic Brazilian churrasco. Put on your favorite samba music and open bottles of icy Antarctica or Xingu beer. American barbecue never tasted so good.
CAIPIRINHA (Brazilian Daiquiri)
12 to 15 large juicy limes
1 1/2 to 2 cups sugar, or to taste
3 cups cachaca, or to taste
8 cups crushed ice
Roll the limes on a cutting board to loosen the juices. Cut each lime into 1/4-inch slices and place them in mortar or a sturdy pitcher and crush. Add the sugar and pound the limes with a pestle or potato masher, extracting as much juice as possible.
Stir in the cachaca and ice. Correct the sweetness, adding more sugar or lime juice if necessary. Serve at once.
Per serving: 238 calories, .5 gm protein, 31 gm carbohydrates, .1 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 1 mg sodium.
SALADA DE PALMITOS E TOMATES (Tomato and Hearts of Palm Salad)
3 14-ounce cans hearts of palm
4 large ripe juicy beefsteak tomatoes
FOR THE VINAIGRETTE SAUCE:
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
Drain the hearts of palm and cut into 1/2-inch round slices. Stem the tomatoes and thinly slice.
To prepare dressing, place mustard in a bowl and whisk in vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Whisk in oil in a thin stream. The sauce should emulsify. Correct seasoning, adding salt, pepper or lemon juice, to taste.
Arrange tomatoes around the edge of a platter. Arrange hearts of palm in center. Just before serving, spoon vinaigrette over salad and sprinkle with parsley.
Per serving: 133 calories, 3 gm protein, 12 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 75 mg sodium.
MANDIOCA FRITA (Fried Yucca)
3 pounds yucca (manioc root)
2 teaspoons salt
Juice of 1 lime
1 quart canola or safflower oil for frying
Onion or garlic salt
Cut the yucca into 1 1/2-inch rounds. Peel each round and cut into 1/2-inch wedges.
Place yucca in water to cover with salt and lime juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until yucca is tender enough to be easily pierced with a toothpick. Do not overcook. Rinse the yucca under cold water and drain. Remove any fibers using a fork.
Just before serving, heat at least 3 inches of oil to 375 degrees in a deep-fat fryer or electric skillet. Fry yucca in several batches, without crowding, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until golden. Blot yucca on paper towels. Sprinkle with garlic salt and serve at once.
Per serving: 217 calories, 4 gm protein, 31 gm carbohydrates, 10 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 364 mg sodium.
(12 servings for hungry Brazilians and probably a slightly larger number of Americans)
3 pounds pork tenderloin
Spice rub for pork (see below)
3 pounds chourico (chorizo) or linguica sausage
12 chicken legs (thighs and drumsticks)
6 beef short ribs (have your butcher cut them in half)
1/2 cup coarse sea salt
3 pounds sirloin tips
3 pounds steak (sirloin is fine), cut at least 1-inch thick
The night before, trim any fat or sinew off the pork tenderloin. Spread the spice rub on the pork and marinate overnight.
One hour before you are ready to serve, build the fire. The coals should be banked quite thick on one side, more sparsely on the other. If using a gas grill, preheat one side to high; the other, to medium.
Prick each sausage 3 to 4 times with a needle or a cake tester. Grill sausage over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until cooked, turning 3 to 4 times. Extinguish any flare-ups with a few squirts from a water pistol. Cut sausage into 1-inch pieces and skewer with toothpicks. Arrange on a platter and serve as an hors d'oeuvre.
Grill chicken over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes per side, or until cooked. Place the chicken at the edge of the grill to keep warm.
Meanwhile, thickly sprinkle the short ribs with 1/3 of the salt and press it into meat. Grill ribs over medium heat, bone side up, for 12 to 15 minutes. Turn ribs and grill on other side for 10 to 12 minutes or until cooked. Stand ribs on end and hit with the side of a knife to knock off excess salt. Place ribs at the edge of the grill to keep warm.
Meanwhile, place the pork tenderloin over medium heat and grill for 4 to 6 minutes per side, or until cooked. Move to edge of grill to keep warm.
Meanwhile, thickly sprinkle the sirloin tips with half of the remaining salt and press it into the meat. Place the tips over medium high heat and grill for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until cooked. Hit the tips with the knife to knock off the excess salt. Place at the edge of the grill to keep warm.
Finally, thickly sprinkle the steak with remaining salt and press it into meat. Grill steak over high heat for 3 to 4 minutes per side, or until cooked. Hit the steak with a knife to knock off excess salt.
Cut each type of meat into individual servings and arrange on a large platter. Serve at once with farofa and molho de companha (see below).
Per serving: 1244 calories, 144 gm protein, 3 gm carbohydrates, 68 gm fat, 25 gm saturated fat, 465 mg cholesterol, 4181 mg sodium.
SPICE RUB FOR PORK
(Enough for 12 servings)
2 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Juice of 2 limes
Mince garlic and scallion; mash with salt. Stir in pepper and lime juice.
Per 12 servings: 5 calories, .1 gm protein, 1 gm carbohydrates, 0 gm fat, 0 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 178 mg sodium.
FAROFA (Toasted Manioc Flour)
Farofa is one of the more unusual Brazilian garnishes, consisting of saute'ed manioc flour. Manioc flour can be found in Brazilian and Portuguese grocery stores. If unavailable, bread crumbs can be substituted, although the flavor won't be the same.
6 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 small onion
3 cups manioc flour
Melt the butter in a large skillet. Finely chop the onion and saute' for 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden brown. Add the flour and saute', stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes or until fragrant and golden brown.
Per serving: 212 calories, 4 gm protein, 37 gm carbohydrates, 6 gm fat, 4 gm saturated fat, 15 mg cholesterol, 74 mg sodium.
MOLHO DA COMPANHA (Country Hot Sauce)
(Makes 3 cups)
2 medium onions
2 large ripe tomatoes
1 green bell pepper
2 to 4 malagueta chilies or other hot peppers
1/2 cup water
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar (or to taste)
Juice of 3 to 4 limes
Salt and pepper to taste
Finely chop onions. Seed and finely chop tomatoes. Core and finely chop pepper. Mince malagueta chilies.
Combine all ingredients and stir to mix, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Per 1/2-cup serving: 120 calories, 1 gm protein, 10 gm carbohydrates, 9 gm fat, 1 gm saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 6 mg sodium.
PUDIM DE LEITE (Brazilian Flan)
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 14-ounce cans sweetened condensed milk
3 cups whole milk
Fill a roasting pan with 1 inch of water and put it in the oven. Preheat to 325 degrees.
Sprinkle sugar in the ring mold and place directly over a high heat. Keep turning mold until sugar melts to a golden brown caramel, spooning it up the sides of the mold. Be careful: it's a short jump from caramel to burnt sugar. Also don't let the molten sugar touch your skin or it will result in a memorable burn. Let the pan cool.
Combine sweetened condensed milk, whole milk and eggs in a blender. Whip until smooth. Pour this mixture into ring mold. Place in roasting pan with the water, which should go half way up the side of the mold. (Add boiling water if necessary.) Bake for 1 hour, or until set. (An inserted skewer will come out clean.) Let cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
Just before serving, run a knife tip around inside of the mold. Place a deep platter over the mold and invert; it should slide out easily. If not, give the mold a firm shake. Spoon the caramel sauce on top and serve.
Per serving: 379 calories, 10 gm protein, 63 gm carbohydrates, 11 gm fat, 6 gm saturated fat, 168 mg cholesterol, 149 mg sodium.
Steven Raichlen is a freelance food writer and has a cooking school at the Snowvillage Inn in Snowville, N.H.