Even though summer is officially gone, we still will have weeks of pleasant warm weather waiting just ahead. It certainly is way too early to pack up the barbecue grill, so to encourage you to keep it fired up, we have a dinner in mind that is easy and fun to make. It's one of Chef Jerry Pellegrino's favorites, that great grilled meat dish, churrasco.
In Central and South America churrasco is actually a very broad catch-all term for grilled, boneless meat. The incarnation I know best, after spending many vacations in Puerto Rico, is the one with flank steak, served with chimichurri sauce, white rice and stewed black beans. And the great thing is, all of the ingredients for this dinner can be purchased locally.
Let's start with the churrasco itself. The preferred cuts are the flank steak,
that long, thin, narrow strip of meat that comes from the lower belly of the cow, or the skirt steak, which is the diaphragm of the animal. These muscles get a lot of work, so there is some inherent toughness to it, as well as intense beefy flavor.
Our own Liberty Delight Farm will sell you a couple pounds of flank steak or skirt steak which comes to you wrapped in a roll. The flank steak will unroll to just about a perfect size: roughly 16" by 7" and about 3/4" thick. The skirt steak will be much longer, a bit thinner, and covered with a silvery membrane that needs to be cut off. Cut the skirt steak into convenient lengths.
Both of these cuts benefit from a good marinade, so whip one up, but please, do not use olive oil despite what the recipe says.
The one thing you will want to do is hit the steaks heavily with salt and pepper. And in this case, the more pepper the better.
Get your grill going as hot as you can. If you can burn wood on your grill, do it because the extra flavor will send you over the moon.
Lay the steak across the grill at the hottest point, and then don't touch it for 3-4 minutes.
Then you can flip it over and let it cook for another 3 minutes, or less, because you want it to be rare deep inside. To check for doneness, bend the steak. If it bends easily, it 's very rare, and could use more cooking. If it is stiff as a board you've gone to far. Just keep in mind these steaks cook very quickly.
Remove the steak, let it rest for a few minutes and then serve it. And to do that you'll want to cut across the grain with a very sharp knife. And the thinner the slices, the tastier and more tender the meat will be.
In Argentina, the classic condiment for churrasco is the parsley-based sauce chimichuri. This is so easy to make at home. You start with a bunch of very fresh parsley which you will want to chop as finely as you can. After that it is a matter of blending the parsley with olive oil, garlic, vinegar, oregano and red pepper flakes. I added a pinch of brown sugar that really set off the flavors nicely. Make this a day ahead for best effect.
The other part of this meal, the black bean stew, should also be made a day ahead, preferably in a slow cooker. If you use fresh black beans, like the kind farmer Tom McCarthy sells in the Baltimore farmers markets, you will need to soak them overnight before you use them. Canned black beans are easier, but still require long cooking.
You'll be mixing sautéed onions and green peppers with the beans, as well as a number of spices. I like to put it all in a crock pot which I run on high for two hours, and then dial back to low for another 8. I keep the pot warm overnight then fire it up the last hour before dinner.
To serve, pour the black beans over white rice, and lay the thin slices of churrasco on the side, with the chimichurri sauce ready to drizzle over the meat. I would serve it with a hearty Spanish red, like a Rioja Riserva, and stand back to watch my dinner guests gobble it all down.