Brazilian Spit-Roasted Beef Tenderloin

Filet Mignon No Espeto

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Nothing says magnanimity at a barbecue like a whole beef tenderloin smokily charred on the grill. And if you think it’s good grilled using the direct method, wait until you try it spit roasted. In the best Brazilian steak house style, you would bring the tenderloin to the table on the spit and carve it right onto everyone’s plate, providing each guest with a miniature set of tongs to grab the beef as you’re carving it. Each paper-thin slice would be crusty on the outside, sanguine and moist inside, and tender enough to cut with the side of a fork. The drawback to this method of serving is that you, the grill master, will need to make several trips between the rotisserie and the table to recook the tenderloin after each carving, so you can always serve an end cut. It’s far easier to remove the whole tenderloin from the spit, then carve it crosswise into slices. In either case, the beef is seasoned with nothing more than coarse salt and served with nothing more elaborate than a simple tomato-onion salsa. Here’s how they do it at Grimpa, the celebrated churrascaria (grill house) in Curitiba, Brazil.

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Ingredients

For the Tomato-Onion Salsa

  • 1 large luscious, red ripe tomato
  • ½ sweet white onion, peeled and cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 1 small or ½ large yellow bell pepper, cut into ¼-inch dice
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or cilantro
  • ½ cup vegetable oil, or extra-virgin olive oil, or a combination of the two
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice or red wine vinegar, or more to taste
  • Coarse salt (kosher or sea) and Freshly ground black pepper

For the Beef Tenderloin

  • 1 beef tenderloin, trimmed (3 to 4 pounds; see Note)
  • About 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)
  • About ¼ cup rock salt or very coarse sea salt
  • Cracked black peppercorns

Method

Advance Preparation

None

  1. Make the tomato-onion salsa: Not more than 1 hour before serving, remove the stem ends from the tomato, then cut the tomato into ¼-inch dice. Combine the diced tomato, onion, bell pepper, parsley, ½ cup of oil, and the lime juice in an attractive nonreactive serving bowl and toss to mix. Season with salt and black pepper to taste and more lime juice as necessary; the salsa should be highly seasoned.
  2. Set up the grill for spit roasting, following the manufacturer’s instructions, and preheat the grill to high.
  3. Thread the tenderloin lengthwise onto the rotisserie spit. Start by weaving the narrow “tail” back and forth onto the skewer, then skewer the spit directly through the center of the “head” end. Bunch up the tail end of the tenderloin slightly; this will not only make it fit on the spit but make it thicker so the meat cooks evenly. Place the tenderloin on a baking sheet and, if desired, lightly brush it on all sides with the olive oil (this isn’t often done in Brazil, but it helps the salt adhere to the meat and gives you an extra layer of flavor). Season the tenderloin very generously on all sides with the salt and some cracked peppercorns; Brazilians like their meat salty.
  4. When ready to cook, attach the spit to the grill and turn on the motor. Spit roast the tenderloin until crusty and brown on the outside and cooked to taste, about 25 to 30 minutes for rare; 35 to 40 minutes for medium-rare. Use an instant-read meat thermometer to test for doneness, inserting it deep into the thickest part of the meat but not touching the metal spit. When cooked to rare the internal temperature will be about 125°F; medium-rare will be about 145°F.
  5. To serve the tenderloin Brazilian style, bring the spit to the table. Holding it vertically over a plate to catch any drippings and using a large, sharp knife, carve the meat in downward strokes into thin slices, inviting each eater to grab a slice with tongs. If you reach a core of meat that’s too rare, return the spit to the rotisserie to continue cooking.

    To serve the tenderloin North American style, place it on a cutting board, remove the spit, and let the meat rest for 5 minutes, loosely tented with aluminum foil. Slice the tenderloin crosswise into ½-inch-thick slices (or whatever thickness you desire).

  6. Serve the tomato-onion salsa alongside the tenderloin.

Variation

Italian Spit-Roasted Beef Tenderloin

For a killer Italian version of this dish, thread the tenderloin onto the rotisserie spit, brush it with olive oil and season it with salt and cracked peppercorns as described in Step 3. Sprinkle 3 minced cloves of garlic and 3 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh rosemary or sage or a mixture of the two over the tenderloin. Drizzle a little more oil on top and pat the seasonings onto the meat. Spit roast the tenderloin as described in Step 4. After you carve the tenderloin, drizzle a little of the best extra-virgin olive oil you can buy over it. Benissimo!

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