Churrasco – A Brasilian barbecue menu

 Fifth (and my favorite) in a series of archived food columns.

 I recently spent almost two months in Brazil on business, which provided a wonderful opportunity to experience a very different cuisine close-up. Most of what I saw was pretty simple to make, and took advantage of the abundant (and cheap!) fresh fruits and veggies. There were quite a few dishes I liked well enough to bring home for the family, and I’ll share five of them with you here.

 The city of São Paulo is stuffed with restaurants called churrascarias, which serve churrasco — a style of barbecue descended from the gauchos (cowboys) of the pampas (a prairie covering the south of Argentina and Brazil).  Brazilian barbecue doesn’t use sauces — instead the meat is marinated, then grilled on spits over open flame. As the meat browns, the servers whisk the spit off the flame and bring it to your table, where they slice off thin portions of the crispy browned exterior directly onto your plate. When they’ve run out of crispy brown exterior, the spit is returned to the flame to grill again. These places are very popular, because it makes for a leisurely dining experience – you have some meat, socialize a while, have another serving, and continue for the rest of the evening. Plus this way you get a high proportion of crispy brown exterior, which I consider the entire point of grilling.

 My coworkers at Unisys São Paulo always brought me to the churrascaria Fogo de Chãu, a very famous place that recently started expanding into the US. They’ve just opened a branch in Minneapolis, which I intend to visit as soon as possible…

 Recipes follow:

  • Marinade for Churrasco

  • Feijoada (Brasilian Tangy Black Beans)

  • Pão de queijo (Cheese Breads)

  • Creme de Abacate (Avocado Cream – yes, really)

  • Brigadeiro (caramel candy)

Marinade/Baste for Churrasco

When I recreated a Brazilian menu for a home barbecue party, I chose the Minas-style marinade from Doris Botafogo’s Art of Brazilian Cookery. Marinate 2 pounds of meat overnight in a mixture of:

  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 teaspoons salt
  • 1 clove garlic, mashed (but of course more is always good)

Then grill as normal. I used boneless country-style pork ribs (which turned out absolutely divine), but you can choose any other cut suitable for grilling.

Feijoada is a delicious dish of seasoned, slow-cooked beans. It was brought over with the Portuguese colonists and can be considered the national dish of Brazil — it is frequently served as a side dish at the churrascarias. Like most dishes that evolved from the peasant tradition, this dish was meant to use up the cheap cuts of pork that no one else wants, like feet, ears, tails, etc. (The Portuguese restaurant in Rio took pity on my obvious foreignness and offered to remove the feet from the serving dish before bringing our order to the table.) I usually substitute smoked sausage and country-style spareribs for the recognizable parts.

 I’ve been making this version for years from a recipe in Frances Moore Lappé’s “Diet for a Small Planet”, and I was delighted to find out that it was pretty authentic. You can leave it entirely vegetarian, or add the meat of your choice*. I advise choosing an organic orange, as the peels of conventionally-grown ones can concentrate a lot of pesticides – but don’t leave it out, as it really brightens up the flavor of the beans. I’ve substituted several tablespoons of orange juice with great success.

 Feijoada (Tangy Black Beans)                                            

  • 68 servings Oil for sautéing
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 tsp vinegar (omit if using wine)
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 orange, washed but unpeeled, halved
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tomato, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 tsp cilantro (optional) 
  • 1 carrot, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup black beans (uncooked) 
  • ½ sweet potato, diced (optional)
  • 3 cups stock (can substitute ½ wine)
  • *1 lb smoked pork sausage, sliced
  • *1 lb pork meant for braising, such as country-stylespareribs 

Heat oil in a large heavy pot and sauté onion, garlic, green onion, green pepper, tomato and cilantro until onion is translucent. Add beans, stock, bay leaf, pepper and vinegar. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 minutes. Take off stove and let sit, covered, for 1 hour. Add remaining ingredients and simmer with lid ajar for 2-3 hours more, until beans are tender. Remove a ladleful of beans, mash them and return them to the pot to thicken the mixture. Serve with rice. You can also do this in a pressure cooker or slow cooker. I often let the beans soak overnight in the crock from the slow cooker, then add the remaining ingredients and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Just make sure to add the salt after soaking, so the beans can soften properly. 

A churrascaria wouldn’t be complete without pão de queijo, literally “cheese bread”. You can find these everywhere – there is a chain restaurant called “House of Cheese Bread” in every mall, and even in the Walmart we visited. They have a really great, unique flavor, which I was surprised to find comes from the type of flour used to make them. This recipe comes from

Pão de Queijo (Cheese Bread) 

  • 2 lbs manioc flour (sold as “tapioca flour” in the States, under the Bob’s Red Mill label)
  • 1 lb mashed potatoes, cooked with no salt or oil, at room temp.
  • 2 Tbl. margarine
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3.5 oz grated parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups (500 ml) milk. 

Preheat oven to 350°F.In a large bowl, mix all ingredients except the milk. Then add the milk slowly while you stir until you get a soft dough. Form the dough into 1 inch balls – you should get about 50. Place them spaced 1-2” apart on an unbuttered cookie sheet and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

You can freeze the unbaked balls for about two months – place them on a cookie sheet and freeze, then store them in a plastic container with plastic film between the layers to make removal easier. Do not thaw before baking – just take directly from freezer to oven.

 And dessert… the most common dessert I saw was just cut-up fresh fruit, sometimes with a crème anglaise sauce. There were also quite a few puddings and custards (as I mentioned in an earlier post on Passionfruit.) Most capital-d Desserts tended to be incredibly sweet, so were therefore served in very small portions. I remember something that I thought was a custard topped with whipped cream and chocolate sauce – it turned out instead to be flan topped with marshmallow crème and dark chocolate ganache. It was so rich I could barely finish it. 

 The first dessert recipe, tasty but probably valuable primarily for shock value, is Creme de Abacate – an avocado pudding. This version is also from Doris Botafogo.

 Creme de Abacate (Avocado Cream)

  • 3 ripe avocados

  • 6 tablespoons sugar

  • juice of 1 lemon

Scoop the flesh from the avocados and puree in a blender with the remaining ingredients. Divide into six custard cups and chill thoroughly before serving.  You may also want to try using only 3 tablespoons of sugar and adding 1 cup of vanilla ice cream to the blender.


 This next recipe is for Brigadeiro, a chocolate version of doce de leite. This will probably be more comfortable with the American idea of sweets. It’s used as an ice cream topping, for drizzling on dessert pizzas at the ubiquitous rodizios, or even (made thicker) cut into squares and eaten as candy.

Brigadeiro (Chocolate Fudge) 

  • 1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 Tbls margarine
  • 3 Tbls cocoa powder 

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir continuously until the mixture thickens enough to show the pan bottom during stirring. Pour the mixture in a greased dish and let it cool to room temperature. Take small amounts of the mixture with a teaspoon and make 1 ½ inch balls – it’s much easier if you grease your hands first.  (If the balls flatten out, it means that you did not cook the mixture long enough. Cook additional five minutes, again stirring continuously. Take a small sample and dip it in a glass of cold water. If you’ve cooked enough, this sample should hold the shape after cooling down in the water.) Roll balls in chocolate sprinkles to decorate. (This is pretty much mandatory for traditional Brazilian presentation, no matter how you’re using the brigadeiro.) This makes about 40 candies.

To make doce de leite (the brazilian name for dulce de leche), simply omit the cocoa powder.

I hope you enjoy these recipes as much as I did!

2 thoughts on “Churrasco – A Brasilian barbecue menu

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