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September 05, 2000
For Whom the Veal Grills

MERA (Oleiros, La Coruna), Espana (JNS) _ Jose ``El Chuleteiro创 Fernandez Veiras is surely the greatest churrasqueiro alive in Spain today.

Others may claim greater showmanship in front of the parrillada, hail from the fincas of Extremadura, or pride themselves on their repetoire.

``El Chuleteiro,创 however, has an innate understanding of churrasco, the art of grilling ``que suena,创磑r in English, resonates, in the hearts of Spaniards as much as futbol (soccer), seafood, political discussions, and bad television

With a style reminiscent of Joao ``Frango创 Carbon, ``El Chuleteiro创 could reign over the chop houses of Madrid, commanding the salary of a renown bullfighter. He chooses, however, to deliberately practice his art at his own small restaurant, ``A Lanchi馻,创 in the small Galician town of Mera, across the bay from the city of La Coru馻.

While the region is primarily known for its excellent shellfish, it is also home to the country磗 finest grass-fed, free-range veal and excellent hogs. Unlike American veal calves, which are kept in pens for six months and fed milk, vitamins and hormones, Galician calves live longer and are raised alongside their mothers on small grassy plots in the hilly, green region, usually raised on family-run farms.

Churrasco can be an ecstatic, almost religious, experience or a tragedy for the churrasqueiro and the customer, as anyone who has been subjected to ``La Rosa Negra,创 or black-and-pink chicken, can attest.

Properly done, it磗 a three-part act consisting of the lume da le馻, a flaming wood fire, which creates the brasas, or glowing coals, which in turn, cooks the meat, creating the carne asado.

The meat must leave the grill, or parrillada, golden brown on the outside and slightly pink on the inside _ whether it is veal or pork. Chicken should be cooked through, but remain moist. All should be liberally salted to bring out the meat磗 natural flavor. Sauces, marinades and rubs are only used by those trying to disguise inferior meat.

The meat must become intimate with the coals and bask in their glow. Flame, however, is fatal to churrasqueiros themselves and to their reputations.

Ignacio ``Nacho创 Solomillo was one who succumbed to the llamas, or flames. A spectacular regional churrascero, as they are called in some regions, he made a name for himself in Madrid in the 20s, developing the now famous `pasadoble style in which the meat is turned only once, thus passing just twice over the coals. Nacho knew instinctively when to turn the meat, sensing with his tongs how each piece tightened as it cooked.

His career unraveled during a dinner for a group of nobles in 1924. He overextended himself, agreeing to their request to serve more than he knew his grill could accommodate.

All went well at first as the pork ribs and veal chops, chuletos, were placed over the coals. Flames, however, erupted as grease began to drip and he had no place to move the meat as the grill was full. As the meat began to blacken, he worked furiously until a support collapsed, plunging the meat into the coals and burning Nacho as he tried to save the dinner and his reputation.

Broken, he moved to the United States, where it is rumored that he invented the corn chip after opening a Mexican restaurant.

``El Chuleteiro创 uses the pasadoble style, which he says he learned from Nacho磗 son, ``Nachito,创 a competent churrasqueiro who never achieved his father磗 greatness.

``El Chuleteiro,创 does not use the traditional team of handlers _ carniceros, camareros, and the like _ using one waiter and one prep chef. He buys the meat himself, insisting on regionally produced livestock and designs and maintains his own grill.

``There are many grills and styles all over Spain, and there are many bad ones. But you will not find another like this,创 he says.

The parrillada is a simple, elegant design _ v-shaped stainless steel angle iron pieces about three feet long set about a half inch apart into two cross members which have v-shapped notches to accept the angle iron and form the grill.

Any grease from the meat is caught in the hollow of the v-shape and funneled away because the grill is tilted by means of chains that suspend it from the brick chimney above.

Churrasco, to be sure, is not the only means of grilling. Many swear by method used around Malaga in the south, where discarded rowboats are placed on sawhorses, filled with sand and bonfires are built on the sand. Skewers of whole fish, or whole red peppers, or cubes of meat are then stabbed into the sand alongside the fire, allowing the food to cook by the radiant heat of the coals and not the flames.

Others prefer sardines, which grow to more than six inches in Galicia, carefully tended over a flaming wood fire.

None, however, compare to the mastery of wood, heat and meat of ``El Chuleteiro.创

If you go, seat yourself quickly and don磘 order too much. Good churrasco should be enjoyed and not forced upon yourself.

``Ainda sta fallando? Boteche ali, xa sta feito!创 he says as we discuss his art at the bar, asking us in the regional dialect, Gallego, if we are still talking and telling us to ``put yourselves over there. It磗 ready!创

Posted by Alex at September 05, 2000 04:49 AM
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