If all of the ingredients and flavor combinations present in Brazilian food make your mouth water, consider stocking up on some pantry essentials that will help you delve into creating the cuisine at home. While much of the dishes are based on fresh fish, meat, and vegetable, there are some staple ingredients that are relatively easy to get your hands on. Click through to start building your Brazilian pantry.
What would you think if you were invited to a Summer barbecue that had nary a hot dog, hamburger, steak, chicken drumstick, or charred portobello mushroom cap in sight? You'd probably be surprised, as I was a few weeks ago, when I found myself at an idyllic midday cookout on T-Lazy-7 Ranch in Aspen, CO. The open-flame affair, which was hosted by wine label Terrazas de los Andes, focused on the art of the asado, or Argentine tradition of barbecue. Everything, from the selection of meat cuts to the wood-fueled flame, was unlike any grilling I'd done before, yet nothing was too complicated to re-create at home. Keep reading for a glimpse of the South American grilling tradition and tips on how to re-create it yourself.
You don't know it yet, but you're about to get acquainted with your new favorite guilty pleasure: sopaipillas. If you're not familiar with this Southwestern and South American snack, it begins with a simple dough that's fried until crisp on the outside and full of soft layers on the inside. The best part about these snacks? Their pockets and crevices are perfect for storing toppings both sweet and savory. Watch as host Brandi Milloy shows you how to make sopaipillas, print out our recipe, and get snacking.
We've got a partnership with the recipe, equipment, and product testing gurus at America's Test Kitchen. They'll be sharing some of their time-tested recipes and technical expertise with us weekly. Today, they're looking to South America for inspiration on smoky, crisp-crusted meat.
In Argentina, large 2-pound steaks are grilled low and slow over hardwood logs, not charcoal (and never over gas), which imbues them with a smokiness that is subtler and more complex that the typical “barbecue” flavor one comes to expect of grilled meat here in the States. With the piquant parsley, garlic, and olive oil sauce known as chimichurri served alongside, it’s a world favorite. We wanted to duplicate the Argentinean method with American supermarket steaks and a kettle grill.
For our choice of steak, we selected well-marbled New York strip steak for its big beefy flavor and meaty chew. To mimic a wood fire, we added unsoaked wood chunks to the perimeter of our grill fire. Setting the lid down on the grill for the first few minutes of cooking helped to quickly trap smoke flavor. To get a deep brown char on the meat without overcooking it, we used two strategies. First, we rubbed the meat with a mixture of salt and cornstarch. Salt seasons the meat and draws out moisture, as does cornstarch. Then we moved the steaks into the freezer for 30 minutes. The inside of a freezer is so dry that it often robs unprotected food of its moisture. In this instance, this was a good thing. Par-frozen steaks browned within moments of hitting the grill. Even better, these partially frozen steaks could stand about five more minutes of fire, adding up to more char and more flavor. To finish, garlicky chimichurri sauce cut through the rich, unctuous qualities of our great grilled steak.
Here's how we produced our own brand of smoky charred churrasco—even without the aid of a wood-burning Argentine grill.
Use the Right Rub
Rubbing the steaks with cornstarch and salt seasons the meat and expedites crust formation by drying the meat’s exterior; cornstarch also enhances browning.
Get two more simple tips — plus a standout Argentine steak and chimichurri recipe — when you keep reading.
To make a savory snack, top piping-hot sopaipillas with shredded cheese, avocado, and salsa. For a dinner option, add taco meat like shredded chicken or braised beef (as pictured). But you can also think beyond Mexican flavors; I even paired sopaipillas with leftover Burmese spicy lamb and diced tomatoes, and it was a righteous decision. The bread is dense and slightly sweet, therefore it neutralizes hot flavors and soaks up the pan juices.If you have room for dessert, drizzle honey or agave atop the sopaipilla and dust it with powdered sugar for an eye-catching treat. The crevices catch all the amazing gooey syrup, and the sweet sopaipilla tastes sort of like a beignet.
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons shortening
1/2 package (1/8 ounce) active dry yeast
1 cup water, warmed
1/4 cup milk, warmed
Vegetable oil, for frying
- In a small bowl, add yeast to warm water and let sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Rub shortening into flour mixture using your fingertips.
- Stir warm milk into yeasted water. Then pour over flour mixture. Stir until a smooth, wet dough forms.
- On a floured surface, knead out dough (adding water or flour as needed for consistency that is slightly wetter than pizza dough). Roll into a ball, and use a dough cutter to divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a ball, then stretch and pat out, until each piece of dough is 1/4-inch thick.
- Place a large, thick skillet with a flat bottom atop a stove. Fill pan 1/3 full with a high-heat vegetable oil and heat on medium-high until it shimmers (about 325°F to 350°F). Add sopaipilla dough to pan (1 to 3 pieces, depending on how large the skillet is), and fry 1-2 minutes on each side, until golden brown. Drain on paper towels, then serve immediately.
Makes 8 sopaipillas.
- Breads, Tortillas/Pitas
- South American
The cornmeal flatbreads known as arepas are native to the countries of Colombia and Venezuela (although they are also found elsewhere, such as in Panama). They're made of ground corn, water, and salt, either grilled, baked, or fried, and then stuffed with a filling.
Arepa fillings vary widely depending on region and circumstance, but may include chicken and avocado, cheese and pulled meat, beans, plantains, or eggs. Have you ever tried arepas?
Source: Flickr User arnold | inuyaki
A week later, I'm still waxing poetic about the dish and its bold, robust flavor; if you've ever had Chinese drunken chicken, this steak possesses the same booziness factor. Ask your butcher to give you the flattest, thinnest hanger steak he has; it'll make for a more even-cooking, attractive piece of meat. For a different steak dinner, keep on reading.
In honor of National Sauce Month, I'm tempted to make my own. Have you ever had ají?