Brazilian Cowboy Cooking Styles


The broad grassy stretches of the pampas of southern Brazil have fostered a ranch-hand cooking style, churrasco, that casts a tall shadow over conventional backyard grilling. Meat on sword-sized skewers sizzles over a fire pit, and then is brought to the table in a style called "rodizio" (roughly, rotation). This gaucho cuisine is popular in both Argentina and Brazil, with subtle variations between the two.

Churrasco Origins

  • Churrasco developed as European settlers pioneered ranching in southern Brazil in the early 1900s. Meat roasted over a charcoal or wood fire was an easy, nourishing meal for cowhands, and this simple barbecue style spread throughout the country and beyond. Beef, and presumably game, composed the early menu, which has expanded to include pork, lamb, chicken and sausage. Cowboys originally dug fire pits in the ground to prevent fires from being extinguished by pampas winds, and Brazilian homes may have fire pits of brick or stone. Churrascios, or Brazilian barbecue restaurants, grill meat over charcoal and occasionally gas.

Churrasco Meats

  • Meats are threaded and cooked on sword-length skewers, which give this cooking style its name. While many cuts are traditional, including chicken hearts or linguica, a pepper-seasoned sausage, picanha, or beef rump-cap, is a highly popular mid-20th-century addition. Loin cuts of beef are customarily seasoned only with coarse salt, as is lamb. Pork loin cuts and chicken parts are often marinated in salt, lime juice and olive oil, then coated with grated Parmesan cheese. As each variety of meat is done, skewers are carried among diners, who choose what they would like cut for their plates. In early days, each gaucho carried his own knife and cooking blade.

Traditional Side Dishes

  • Although many "traditional" sides on the menus of modern churrasco restaurants may contain many ingredients totally unfamiliar to cowboy cooks, several popular sides would be easily prepared over a fire. Beans stewed with shredded meat, called "feijoada"; toasted manioc flour, or "farafa"; roasted potatoes; and sauteed collards with bacon, or "couve," are traditional hot dishes. A wide assortment of vegetables, from potatoes and yucca to avocado and hearts of palm, are served hot or cold while meat is cooking. Caipirinha, a drink made from traditional sugar cane alcohol and seasoned with lime, is a classic accompaniment to a churrasco meal.

Chimichurri Vs. Molho de Campanha

  • Although both forms of churrasco share many common ingredients and cooking techniques, Argentine dishes are topped with chimichurri. Both sauces have a vinegar tang, but Argentine chimichurri is made with chopped parsley, cilantro and oregano in equal amounts, along with a generous quantity of minced garlic. Its Brazilian counterpart, molho de campanha, which resembles Mexican pico de gallo, relies on a balance of finely chopped tomato, onion, green pepper, parsley, vinegar and oil for its distinctive flavor.

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