Have you noticed those new places popping up all over town, called Churrasceria, Churrasco or Brazilian grills? Of course you’re always up for something new and maybe you have even tried it. But did you leave feeling like you didn’t completely understand the differences between the endless types of meat that ended up on your table, or how they were prepared?
Here’s the 101 on all things meat and Churrasco
Churrasco is a word used in Portuguese, in both Portugal and Brazil, to indicate grilled beef or meat. Most countries in South America have churrasco on their menu, although there are variations between the countries in how the meat is grilled or served.
A Churrasceria then is any place that serves grilled meat, similar to what we know to be a steakhouse. Usually though, the churrasceria will offer unlimited meat for a fixed price (wouldn’t it be amazing if steakhouses did that too?), served by waiters carrying big skewers, sliding the cuts and pieces onto diners’ tables. This style is called espeto corrido or rodizio.
The other term you may have heard is asado. Asado refers to the BBQ used to grill the meat in parts of South America (Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay). Brazil and other countries use a churrasco BBQ or smaller churrasqueira to grill the meat. An asado has a metal grill on top with the embers below. A churrasco doesn’t have a metal grill. Skewers of meat rest on the edges of the BBQ, directly over the embers.
So the word churrasco can refer to the BBQ or the actual meat. To make it more confusing, between the countries in South America, the word churrasco means different types of meat, ranging from boneless charcoal grilled steak to skirtsteak. The meat can be served with anything. From rice, to fries and mashed potatoes as well as fried eggs and avocado or as a sandwich depending on the country. Some countries serve Chimichurri with the steaks, which is made with vinegar, oil, oregano, garlic, parsley and sometimes red pepper flakes.
More about the meat.
Typically a churrasceria will serve chicken, lamb, pork and different sausages next to a huge range of steak variations. And that’s of course where it gets complicated – the different cuts of steak and beef are just mind boggling. So let’s take you through the main cuts and characteristics, so you can make better informed steak choices next time!
In principle all steak is sliced at a 90 degree angle to the muscle fibers of the meat. The only types of steak which are cut parallel to the muscle fibers are skirt, flank and Silverfinger steak. In general you could say that the further away the cut is from the hooves and horns, the more tender the meat should be.
Short ribs, prime ribs and rib eyes all come from the front of the cow, and are always served with the bone still attached. There is another type of rib that comes from a bit lower down, the plate, which is also more tough, and therefore typically roasted. This is where skirtsteak is usually cut. Brisket comes from a lower front part of the cow. Because of its proximity to the legs needs to be cooked longer before it is tender. The shanks are usually only stewed to make soup or stew because it is so tough.
Further to the back of the cow is the loin. The short loin is cut into T-bone, porterhouse (served with bone) and strip steaks (served without bone). Slightly less tender is the sirloin, although it generally has more flavor than the short loin cuts. Then there is the tenderloin, the most tender part of the cow which is cut into filet mignon and tournedos. Below the loin is the flank, where flank and skirt steaks are cut. Finally, at the back of the cow is the lesser known round steak, already more tough than the tenderloin. And, of course, there are differences in the names and types of cuts between countries. Above are the American cuts, the British for instance call the round the rump.
So, where can you get your churrasco fix in the UAE?
Have you started salivating at the thought of a freshly grilled, succulent, well cooked, lightly salted steak? The UAE by now has enough churrascerias to keep you satisfied for a while. Head to Chamas at the InterContinental Abu Dhabi. The Hilton in Ras al Khaimah serves a churrasco menu at their Pura Vida restaurant. In Dubai you can try Texas de Brazil at Mall of the Emirates, Toro Toro at Grosvenor House, Fogueira at Ramada Plaza Jumeirah Beach, Pachanga at the Walk in JBR, Chamas Churrascaria at the Crowne Plaza and of course Frevo at the Fairmont on the Palm.
Remember, there is only one right way to eat a steak – with greed in your heart and a smile on your face (Soumeet Lanka).