The Brazilian churrasco is all about the meat selection and side dishes. Picanha is a popular choice. Picanha is a cut of meat from the upper back side of the cow, just above the tail where it sits on a fat cap.
The first step for a flavourful picanha is choosing the right meat. There are many names that picanha is known by such as top sirloin cap, rump cover, rump cap, and culotte. In North America, the cut is often divided into rump, round, and loin. Asking for picanha at a butcher shop with a good knowledge of meat cuts is a safe bet.
When choosing a cut, buy the meat with an even layer of fat. The fat provides moisture and flare to the meat. If you don’t care for fat, you can cut it off before actually eating the steak.
Ways of preparing Picanha
There are many different ways to prepare the picanha steak.
Brazilian Steakhouse Style
This is the style you see when you go to a restaurant where a man with large skewers of meat moves around from table to table, allowing diners to add as much meat to their plate as they want.
- The longest width should be laying horizontally.
- Lay the whole meat flat on the cutting board, with the fat side facing up.
- Cut strips, approximately two inches wide.
- Take a strip, fold it in a U shape and, with the support of the cutting board, pierce the middle with a skewer, being careful not to spear your fingers.
- Repeat this step with all the strips.
- Add salt to the meat and the fat. Many Brazilians often use whole pieces of unground salt.
- Place the strips over a high, hot flame.
- You will see that the meat will start to drip. You should try to keep the meat spinning for even cooking and moisture retention.
- After ten minutes, remove the meat from the barbecue and do a thin cut on both sides of the meat. Add more salt and put the meat back over the fire.
- Cook to taste.
In this style, called picanha em tiras, the meat is cut into thinner strips. One advantage of this cut is that it cooks faster and it’s easier to serve and monitor.
- Lay the whole cut of meat flat on the cutting board, with the fat side facing up.
- Cut thin strips and sprinkle rock salt.
- Place the strips over a strong fire. After five minutes, you will see that the juice will rise to the surface. That’s your cue to flip sides.
- Cook it for another five minutes and it’s ready.
- If you don’t want to eat the salt pieces, you can shake them off before serving, but it’s important to leave them on while cooking for flavor.
The Whole Cut of Meat
This method requires no previous preparation and will guarantee succulent and moist meat.
- Place the whole cut of meat, fat side facing down, over a medium fire. Leave it for four minutes to seal the fat. This will help to keep the meat juices inside the meat.
- After sealing the fat, move the meat closer to the fire, or increase the heat to high and let it cook it for four minutes.
- After four minutes, remove the meat from the barbecue and cut two-inch strips. You will see that the meat is still red inside.
- Bring the strips back to the fire for another four minutes, or until the meat juice is on the surface, and flip it. You can cook it for another four minutes, if your taste runs to more well-done meat.
- Add salt to taste.