Messy, Smoky Churrasca Sandwiches Are the Chilean Sandwich I Love the Best

published Jun 26, 2021
summer
Churrasca con Chanchito, Pebre y Mayo al Ajo (The Ultimate Chilean Grilled Sandwich)

This grilled churrasca sandwich is inspired by traditional Chilean flavors and ingredients: spicy marinated pork, pebre (a fresh tomato salsa), and homemade garlic mayonnaise.

Serves6

Makes12 small sandwiches

Prep1 hour 30 minutes

Cook30 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

About 10 years ago, my husband and I made a trip to Río Hurtado, a narrow valley in the north of Chile, right below the Andes. We went to visit Clemita, the woman who helped my in-laws raise their children, and who is still a dear friend. She was spending the summer on her family land, a lineage of semi-nomad goat keepers who annually walk the goats to the other side of the mountains looking for fresh pastures, then come back with loads of strongly flavored goat cheese. During our stay, we were fed the sweetest tomatoes I’ve ever tried, figs, prickly pears, fresh eggs, grilled young goats, and, of course, tons of cheese. 

One morning, Clemita suggested we walk a few hours towards the Andes to see tricahue nests — a small, endemic, endangered parrot nobody would imagine lived in such a dry, remote place. We walked a few hours under the unforgiving midday sun, as she said, “This is way far than I remember.” But we kept going, reapplying sunscreen and listening to goat stories, until we found the place. It was truly beautiful, but there was no sign of birds. Disappointed, we walked back along a thin stream, and just when our stomachs started to rumble we found the shadow of an old acacia tree. Clemita asked us to collect sticks and then she lit a fire. A small grill grate and a plastic bag filled with dough appeared out of nowhere. 

With her hands, Clemita formed flat little buns and grilled them over the fire, while we shared hot, sweet tea from a thermos. The smoky, spicy flavor from the wood we gathered and the intense taste of those perfectly charred little flatbreads is seared in my memory. We were replenished and refreshed, because the tea made us sweat even more. We waited until the sun went down to walk back, laughing about our failed adventure. That was my first time eating churrascas. 

Churrasca is an unofficial kind of bread in a country that eats bread three times a day and has more than 150 varieties, thanks to the French and German immigrants who arrived in the 1800s. Churrascas are mostly made by home cooks in the countryside or the coastal towns, or sold in small food markets as a to-go food, prepared mostly by women who cook them over lump charcoal on portable grills. 

I’ve seen and done a lot of grilling (I’m the co-author of a grilling cookbook), but I’ve very seldomly seen churrascas made along with grilled meats. In Chile, grilling is a masculine endeavor, and apparently dough-making doesn’t fit with the classic male grilling role here. To me, dough is a feminine power. Churrasca-making doesn’t need the intense fire of grilling, but rather the slow and steady fire that can warm up a home and help you take care of so many with very little. Flour, water, baking soda, salt, and a bit of whatever fat is lying around is enough to make a nourishing piece of food. Then, any piece of leftover roast, the drying corner of a cheese block, or the spare half tomato can make up a filling: A sandwich is made, and a meal is born. 

Credit: Photo: Tara Donne; Food Styling: Anna Stockwell

Lately, churrasca is making a comeback. With a renewed interest in traditional Chilean food, old, forgotten recipes now have a place in upscale sandwich restaurants (we have many of them). And churrascas aren’t only showing up in the countryside — they are also increasingly popular in food markets all across the country. Humble churrascas are also affordable, which is especially appealing given the economic hardship of the last couple of years. 

In the dry north where I traveled with my husband, churrascas are sold with goat cheese. On the coast, a friend of mine recently found ones in a fish market topped with uni and salsa verde (onion, cilantro, and lemon salsa): a real luxury! In central Chile, food stalls offer churrasca sandwiches made with a variety of cooked meats and traditional pork-based cold cuts, along with mashed avocado, tomatoes, melted buttery yellow cheese, and homemade mayonnaise. 

How to Make a Chilean Churrasca Sandwich at Home

The sandwich I created for Kitchn is my own take on a churrasca sandwich. It’s inspired by traditional Chilean flavors and ingredients: spicy marinated pork, pebre (a fresh tomato salsa), and homemade garlic mayonnaise.

The pork tenderloin is marinated in an intensely seasoned, mildly spicy marinade traditionally used for grilled pork ribs. Pebre is the quintessential Chilean salsa, which you’ll find at every grilling party and at mom-and-pop restaurants, where it’s served with fresh bread as a starter. And the mayo? We like to put mayo on everything and, well, garlic mayo is always better than regular mayo. 

Churrasca bread does not absorb a lot of juice, so this sandwich is messy, as any proper Chilean sandwich should be. If you need to use several napkins when you’re eating this sandwich, you’re doing it right. 

This sandwich takes some time to make, but it’s well worth it. We might not be able to travel as freely as we like right now, but making this sandwich is a way to get a true taste of Chile. For the full experience, before you start eating take a moment, close your eyes, and imagine a flock of tricahues crossing the deep, blue Andes sky. 

Churrasca con Chanchito, Pebre y Mayo al Ajo (The Ultimate Chilean Grilled Sandwich)

This grilled churrasca sandwich is inspired by traditional Chilean flavors and ingredients: spicy marinated pork, pebre (a fresh tomato salsa), and homemade garlic mayonnaise.

Prep time 1 hour 30 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

Makes 12 small sandwiches

Serves 6

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the pork:

  • 3

    medium cloves garlic

  • 3/4 cup

    white wine or apple cider vinegar

  • 1 tablespoon

    JB Chileno or other mild hot sauce

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon

    paprika

  • 1 teaspoon

    dried oregano

  • 1 teaspoon

    Chilean merkén chile or red pepper flakes

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 pounds

    pork tenderloin

For the salsa:

  • 1

    small white onion

  • 4

    medium tomatoes (about 1 pound total)

  • 1

    medium jalapeño or yellow hot pepper

  • 1

    small clove garlic

  • 1/3 cup

    finely chopped cilantro leaves and stems

  • 2 tablespoons

    JB Chileno or other mild hot sauce

  • 2 tablespoons

    white wine or apple cider vinegar

  • Extra-virgin olive oil

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the churrasca buns:

  • 4 cups

    all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    baking powder

  • 1 1/2 cups

    warm water

  • 1/2 cup

    melted, warm unsalted butter or pork lard

For the garlic mayo:

  • 2

    large eggs

  • 2 tablespoons

    freshly squeezed lemon juice

  • 2

    small cloves garlic

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 1/2 cups

    canola or vegetable oil

Instructions

Marinate the pork:

  1. Finely grate 3 garlic cloves and place in a large zip-top plastic bag. Add 3/4 cup white wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon hot sauce, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, 1 teaspoon chile flakes, and a few generous grinds black pepper. Massage the bag to combine.

  2. Add 2 pounds pork tenderloin to the bag and massage it for a minute until the marinade is evenly distributed. Seal the bag and marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 or up to 6 hours. Meanwhile, make the salsa.

Make the salsa:

  1. Dice 1 small white onion (about 1 cup). Place in a small bowl and add enough cold water to cover. Let soak while you prepare the remaining ingredients.

  2. Prepare the following, placing them in the same medium bowl as you complete them: Halve and core 4 medium tomatoes, scrape out the seeds, and dice. Trim, halve, and remove the seeds and membranes from 1 medium jalapeño, then dice. Finely grate 1 small garlic clove. Finely chop until you have 1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems.

  3. Drain the onion and add to the bowl. Add 2 tablespoons hot sauce, 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, season very well with kosher salt and black pepper, and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil. Stir to combine. Taste and season with more salt and pepper as needed. Let sit at room temperature for the flavors to meld, at least 30 minutes before serving. Meanwhile, make the dough.

Make the dough:

  1. Place 4 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon baking powder in a large bowl and stir to combine. Add 1 1/2 cups warm water and 1/2 cup warm melted lard and quickly stir with a wooden spoon until a dough ball forms.

  2. Transfer to a generously floured surface and knead for a minute or so, only until the dough becomes smooth and uniform. Do not overwork. If the dough is too sticky, sprinkle with more flour until it no longer clings to your fingers. Lightly flour the dough and return it to the bowl. Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the mayo and heat the grill.

Make the garlic mayo:

  1. Place 2 large eggs in a stand blender and let sit until room temperature (see Recipe Notes for immersion blender instructions). Add 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, 2 small garlic cloves, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and blend until combined. With the blender on high speed, slowly pour in 1 1/2 cups canola oil and blend until emulsified and thickened. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use.

Heat the grill:

  1. For a gas grill, heat half the burners for medium-high heat (about 400º) and half the burners for medium-low heat (about 300ºF). For a charcoal grill, push the lit coals to one half of the grill for 2-zone grilling. Meanwhile, let the pork sit out at room temperature at least 30 minutes. Shape the buns.

Form the churrasca buns:

  1. Divide the dough into 12 pieces (about 2 1/2 ounces each). Shape each piece into a ball, then flatten with your fingers into a patty about 4 inches wide and 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick. It’s okay if they’re not perfectly round or evenly thick; churrascas are traditionally very rustic. Let rest on a lightly floured surface, covered with a kitchen towel, until ready to grill.

Grill the churrascas and pork:

  1. When the grill is ready, scrape the grill grates clean if needed. Oil the grill with paper towels dipped in vegetable oil. Working in 2 or 3 batches if needed, arrange the churrascas on the hotter side of the grill about 1 inch apart. Grill uncovered until they are evenly toasted and grill marks appear, 4 to 7 minutes per side. They will puff up a little, but not much. Move to the cooler side of the grill and cook until the churrascas are cooked through, 2 to 5 more minutes per side. You can keep them warm in a low oven or briefly reheat them on the grill before serving.

  2. Remove the pork from the marinade and place on the hotter side of the grill. Cover and grill, flipping the pork every 5 minutes, until charred in spots on the outside and just cooked and barely pink on the inside, an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should register 140 to 145ºF, 18 to 20 minutes total.

  3. Transfer to a clean cutting board, loosely cover with aluminium foil, and let rest for a few minutes, until ready to assemble the sandwiches.

Assemble the sandwiches:

  1. Using a serrated knife, carefully split the churrasca buns in half horizontally. Slice the pork tenderloins crosswise about 1/4-inch thick.

  2. Place a generous layer of pork slices (4 to 5) on the bottom buns. Top each with 2 tablespoons of the salsa. Spread 2 tablespoons of the garlic mayo on each top bun. Close the sandwiches with the top buns.

Recipe Notes

Using an immersion blender: If making the garlic mayo with an immersion blender, place the eggs in a tall jar or container; then add the oil. Insert the blender into the jar so it is touching the bottom. Blend on high speed, slowly going up while blending, until emulsified. Add the lemon, garlic, and salt, and blend until combined.

Make ahead: The pork can be marinated up to 6 hours in advance. The salsa and mayo can be made up to 1 day in advance. Refrigerate in separate containers.