I’m a steak connoisseur. I consider myself a meat master. But I have a confession to make: I don’t eat much picanha.
I really first came to know of picanha through some back-and-forth with a chef I met at Meatopia and later began to follow on Instagram. Chef Andre Lima De Luca has one of the most meat-centric and absolutely breathtaking feeds on all of Instagram. Seriously… Check it out HERE. I’ll be using some of his photos throughout this post as well, just to give you a “flavor” of how great the feed actually is. In fact, the main photo you see at the header of this article is one of his shots.
Okay so you may be asking: What kind of self-described “Carnivore Connoisseur” can go about his days in ignorance of this cut of meat, only having eaten it sporadically? Well, my response is threefold. Number one, it’s not very common in these parts, so that’s the biggest reason. Second, I don’t travel all that much to the southern hemisphere of the Americas, like Brazil, where it is much more commonly prepared. Last, I’m unaware of places in the area to get it myself to cook it, nor do I know of too many restaurants that serve it. I guess all three of those reasons are really all the same reason: lack of ample availability.
The cut itself, as you will learn below, is commonly butchered in a different manner here in the states. As such, you will need to get to a good butcher or specialty shop (perhaps Brazilian or Latin American) where they know how to slice and dice it just right.
Anyway, picanha has been coming up a lot lately in the meat world of NYC, both in food conversation and in photos of those that I follow and give a shit about. I have a feeling it will soon be here in a big way.
So let me tell you a little bit about this steak, about which I actually don’t know very much, as I have only ever tasted it a few times in its “picanha” format…
In the U.S., picanha is referred to as the rump cover, rump cap or coulotte. Others call it the top sirloin cap, as it is connected to a large cap of fat that sits on top of the meat. Here, the fat is almost always removed prior to cooking, and butchers usually split this up into cuts like the rump, the round and the loin.
However, in South America, particularly in Brazil, where picanha is a most prized cut of beef, the fat is left on while cooking, in order to lock in juiciness and impart additional flavor into the meat.
Here’s a look at a Brazilian beef chart, which shows the anatomy of the steak cut at #8 (top right, just above the asshole, by the tail).
As you can see from the US beef chart, things are vastly less nuanced in that area. In fact it is pretty fucking different all over the place.
TEXTURE AND FLAVOR
The texture and flavor is similar to that of your ordinary sirloin here in the US, only with more intense flavors from the rendering of fat during the cooking processes outlined below.
What I’ve seen most commonly done is that the meat is left in a large roast-sized slab, seared on the outside and then cooked low and slow over open flame with the fat side up, so that the fat melts down into the flesh of the sirloin. Here is a shot of two hunks with the fat side down:
After it comes up to rare, it is split out into slices. Then it kisses the grill for just a bit longer on it’s side to get to medium rare.
But let’s take some advice from Chef Andre Lima De Luca on how to best prepare this delicious hunk of flesh, directly from him:
“One friend was asking me about the best way to grill picanha. In my opinion there is not THE best way, but some. My favorite, the way that i’ve been doing for years, is sealing the whole piece , and slicing it in strips before grill it again until medium or medium rare. This shot was taken before the final grilling.”
Here it is on the cutting board, after final grilling. Some is ready for serving (left), and some is still post-hunk first-sliced (right).
And another close up of the final product:
That’s some pretty amazing looking beef!
As it turns out, my favorite piece of meat at Fogo de Chao, a Brazilian churrascaria joint here in NYC, is picanha “top sirloin.” Here’s a shot of it from my last visit there:
Give it a shot. I guarantee you will enjoy.