The picanha is a cut from the top of the rump also known, in the UK, as a rump cap. The whole picanha is a triangular shaped joint with a crescent of meat and a layer of fat across the top. The joint from our native breed cattle tends to range from around 1kg up to around 3kg depending on the size and breed. It’s location at the top of the animal means that it is not an overworked muscle making it beautifully tender when cooked correctly.
Picanha is massively popular in Brazil and Argentina where fans of steak, cook it over open flame, allowing the fat to baste the meat as it cooks.
Take your whole picanha and determine which way the grain (muscle fibres) run. You should be able to see this by turning the joint fat side down on your cutting board. This will also make it easier to slice into steaks. Cut the steaks in the same direction as the grain. This is the opposite to how you would cut other steaks. Once the steak is cooked and rested your guests will be cutting across the grain for a wonderful tender, tasty mouthful.
Unless you’re cutting into steaks, there’s really not very much preparation required for a picanha joint. If it’s come in a vacuum pack, take it out of the bag at least a couple of hours before you want to use it, there may be some membrane on the bottom of the joint that can be removed easily. Pat it dry, place it in the fridge or a cool room and let the air circulate. The beef has its own robust flavour so just a simple seasoning with some sea salt should be enough.
Place seasoned steaks in a preheated, heavy-based frying pan fat side down to render some fat, before searing at a high heat on both sides. Once you’ve got that Maillard reaction and a crust has formed on both sides, turn down the heat and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side for medium rare.
To cook on an outdoor grill or BBQ, make sure it is preheated and as clean as possible. To help ensure the steaks don’t stick, take some fat or oil and rub it on the bars. Place the steaks on the outside of the grill away from direct heat. Close the lid and cook the picanha steaks at 120°C for 5-6 minutes, then flip them. After another 5-6 min’s, move the steaks to the hottest part of the grill and sear on both sides. Check the internal temperature with a meat thermometer, you're looking for about 54°C for medium rare.
Preheat the oven to 180°C and put a heavy based cast iron pan on high heat. Score the fat cap diagonally and rub with sea salt. Sear the whole picanha, fat side down, to allow the fat to be released into the pan. Drain out some of the fat (but don’t throw it away) and continue to render the fat until the outside is browned and crisp. Turn over the meat and baste it with the reserved fat.
Transfer the joint to the oven and cook it until the internal temperature reaches 50°C (around 30 minutes). Remove the picanha joint from the oven and let it rest for 10-15 minutes. Once rested, carve it into steaks, then slice each steak against the grain and serve.
In Brazil the picanha is cut into steaks that are pushed onto a big skewer. This is then cooked over flaming charcoal.
Don't overcook picanha it will be seriously tough.
When cutting steaks from a whole picanha cut with the grain. That way when your guests slice their steak that will get a beautifully tender mouthful.
Goes well with a nice full bodied red - Malbec or Shiraz?