Have you ever heard of “Picanha”?
If no, I understand. It is not a common name worldwide but worth this read.
The Brazilians as many other Latin Americans hold the picanha dear to their heart. It is a hefty bunch of beef seasoned with Brazillian style. It is grilled to instill intense flavors into each strand of meat. If you’re a fanatic of grilled meats, then this dish is one to love. Familiarity for well-seasoned steak cooked to perfection will welcome this meal.
Stemming from a culture inspired by excellent aromas, there’s so much to love about the picanha. It is a piece of meat especially cut and prepared in a way to portray the Brazilian culture.
At homes, churrascarias, and special occasions, you’re likely to find this stunning piece of meat served in various delicious ways.
Yet, many restaurants in the USA, UK, and across Europe would serve this dish as a unique offering. Although pricier than regular cuts of steak, the picanha is worth the investment for a good fill.
What Is Picanha
You may know this cut of beef as the sirloin cap in the US and the rump cap in the UK. Yet, called the Picanha in Brazil, Portugal, Spain, and other parts of Latin America. The Venezuelans call it “Punta Transeca” and “Tapa de Cuadril” in Argentina and Uruguay.
It comes from the rear of the bovine above the butt, which sits on it a fat cap. Although being the priciest cut of meat, you will find many Brazilians opting for this piece as their best choice.
This premium credit lends itself to its texture, flavor, and generous sit of fat that adds a worth of aroma when cooked.
In Brasil is prepared cutting the tip of the silverside, in this way you will obtain slices that are thick enough to bend on themselves leaving the fat part outside. The slices composed in this way will then be put on a spit for cooking.
The Brazilian technique would like the skewer to be kept straight not too close from the flame, so that the heat of the fire cook the meat. Then, once the external part has browned, the meat is brought to the table and sliced until it is still undercooked, at which point the spit is placed beck near the fire.
You may not find a full piece of picanha in US stores because of its separation into rump, loin, and round. My best advice for a combined set is to visit the butchery and explain yourself to getting a full cut. You can also check for some Brasilian Restaurants or Churrascheria in your area.
Picanha BBQ (Taste and Flavour)
Picanha tastes like sirloin, yet, juicier and more tender with an intense aroma. The meat itself contains little fat but has a hefty chunk of fat on one side of the meat. This fat renders on the beef while cooking to give off its unique flavor.
Picanha often follows a simple cooking process, mostly grilling but cooked right to ensure that the meat isn’t tough when done.
Should you eat the fatty part or only the meat?
The flavor of picanha rests in the fatty top cover on the beef. Why would you lose out that flavor?
I found that some visitors to the churrascaria where I frequented ate the meat only. What a loss!
The fat remains on top of the meat after cooking to add more flavor. So, eating little bit of fat along with the beef is where success lies. It’s your best bet to experience the pure fragrance of picanha.
It is okay to cut off the fat, but trust me, you’ll be missing out on a whole worth of goodness.
Meanwhile, there’s one little trick to enjoying picanha better. Have it with a glass of good red wine!
Brazilian Picanha (Origin and History)
Picanha originates from Brazil but lends its name from the Iberian Peninsula.
The name stemmed from the pole that the farmers used to herd cattle in the Iberian Peninsula during colonization. They also branded cows with this tool called the ‘picana.’
Later, Spanish and Portuguese migrants would introduce this name to Brazil over a century ago. The name ‘picanha’ refers to the branded area of the cattle, thus, the current name for the cuisine.
There are different types of this beef cut in and outside Brazil, so it may be difficult to recognize the right Picanha, here I will try to explain clearly what to look for.
Finding the right cut
Different types of picanha look similar when having a tasty bite at a churrascaria.
Yet, for self-preparation, you should consider these tips for the right flavor and taste.
Check the weight
Every single piece of picanha, despite its origin, should weigh no more than two and a half pounds.
A higher weight makes it the “coxão duro” (silverside), which is a lump of tougher meat close to the picanha cut.
The fat’s measurement
The fatty part does many good to the aroma of the meat; hence, it should be of the right thickness.
Aim for about one centimeter of thickness else, the cow’s rearing and feeding happened in an unfit manner.
The fat’s color
You should expect a white or light yellow color for the fat cap.
A deeper yellow color implies that the animal was likely old, thus a lump of tougher meat.
The names could be tricky, but there is slight differences.
A regular picanha, as known in Latin America, comes from different breeds of cattle. Such kinds apply to picanha sourced in the USA and UK too.
The meaty part contains very little fat but instead has its fat concentrate located on top of the beef. Thus, it is tougher than wagyu beef and will need perfect doneness to tenderize the meat.
The regular picanha comes from Latin America, Europe, USA, and the UK, that is, requiring a visit to the butchery for a full cut if in the US or UK. It is the priciest of most parts of beef because of its weighty composition. Yet, its price does not beat the wagyu picanha.
Now, hats off for the wagyu picanha!
This cut of beef resembling the regular picanha is a more tender, more expensive, and tastier version.
The meat is less intense with more fat marbling, which gives off a richer fragrance than regular picanha. It is a lump of better quality meat, which melts in your mouth.
It originates from Japan with its name “wagyu,” meaning Wa (origin-Japanese) and Gyu (beef in Japanese).
The cattle go through a more delicate rearing process, which results in its high cost. Special care and feeding is a requisition for these cattle and raised for three years. Other breeds of cattle for regular picanha will take only fifteen months.
Picanha Vs Ribeye
Would you say picanha is the queen of beef and rib-eye the king of beef?
Well, this is an argument battled between different parts of America and Europe.
Both cuts are premium sharing characteristics to their fat content and tenderness. They cook in about the same time.
While a typical picanha cooks excellently with salt only, a rib-eye may accommodate some salt, black pepper, and garlic powder to build that flavor. Meanwhile, this approach is for basic testing. You may season both cuts of meat as you desire.
Having done a taste test with some chefs friends using the same approach, here is my verdict:
I love the big flavors that the picanha carries, which comes from the hefty fat that renders on the meat as it cooks. The texture turns out tender but falls back on the top fat for its aroma. I suggest again eating the slices of beef with little of fat for the most satisfaction.
Meanwhile, the rib-eye would have better fat marbling in the meat, which almost melts into the strands while cooking. It turned out tender like the picanha and served well with some fried rice.
In comparison, I will choose the picanha over the rib-eye. It is more flavorful, tender, and sometimes cheaper.
Sorry, the queen of beef wins the throne!
Picanha Recipe (Marinade)
Sprinkling a generous amount of kosher salt on a piece of picanha and grilling is the best way to cook this piece of meat.
Yet, if you’ll like to intensify the aroma and taste a lot more, below is my winning marinade recipe.
This marinade features Brazil in one seasoning using its sofrito. I combine it with some mustard and lemon pepper to diversify the aroma for a US and UK touch too.
2 ½ lb picanha
Kosher salt to taste
Lemon pepper to taste
2 tbsp Brazillian sofrito
½ tsp dried parsley
¼ tsp dried mustard
Slice the meat into four pieces in the same direction as the fiber.
Season both sides with salt and lemon pepper.
Mix the Brazillian sofrito, parsley, and mustard. Spread the marinade on both sides of the steak and sit for 10 to 15 minutes.
Proceed to grill at 350°F to your preferred doneness.
Exclusive recipe for thefoodwonder.com
With that said, are you thrilled to visit Brazil or make your picanha at home?
It is a straightforward dish to make yet setting off memories of deliciousness for many days.
The picanha pairs with a wide range of dishes; rice, burgers, chimichurri, meat platters, and many more.
I enjoyed a fair share of this dish in different barbecues while in some Churrascheria, with flavors and tastes that differed across restaurants.
Your location may not have picanha at all or could be far off from you.
So, my best advice is to find yourself a Churrascheria, Brazilian Restaurant or mine good recipe and perfect the taste of your desire.
Remember the essentials, that is, to choose the right weight, fat thickness, color, and origin. These tips will help you make a tasty picanha that you will love.
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