Picanha is a popular Brazilian steak known for its tender and flavorful meat. The sous vide cooking method is ideal for this cut as it yields an exceptionally tender steak with a magnificent texture. By cooking the steak to an exact temperature in a precisely temperature-controlled water bath, the meat remains tender and juicy while only needing a quick sear to finish. The results are a perfectly cooked and mostly hands-off picanha with little effort and fail-proof execution.
Introduction to Picanha Steak
Picanha is a flavorful Brazilian cut of beef from the top of the cow's rump cap prized for its generous marbling and thick fat cap. The tender yet slightly firm steak has a unique marbling pattern and is considered the most savory, succulent cut by Brazilian churrascaria chefs. When prepared properly, picanha delivers a melt-in-your-mouth tenderness with magnificent crispy fat contrast.
The Benefits of Using Sous Vide Method for Picanha
The sous vide cooking method allows the picanha steak to remain exceptionally tender thanks to the precise and low-temperature cooking, while still maintaining the slight chewiness that provides desirable texture to this prized cut. Sous vide enables an exact control of the water bath temperature so the meat can cook to a perfect medium rare from edge to edge. Lastly, the lengthy sous vide process renders the fat cap slowly over time, culminating in a fantastically thick and crispy layer of salty, fatty goodness that provides the ideal counterpoint to the super tender interior meat.
Ingredients & Equipment Needed
- Picanha (Sirloin Cap) - Whole with fat cap still on. Available online from Snake River Farms and Crowd Cow.
- Coarse Salt - In Brazil, they use coarse rock salt, but my preference is to use Diamond kosher salt because of how easily it dissolves and is absorbed into the meat.
- Immersion Circulator (sous vide cooker)
- Vacuum sealer or ziplock freezer plastic bags
- Cast iron skillet or a carbon steel skillet for searing the steak after sous vide.
How to Sous Vide Picanha Step-by-Step Instructions
- Leave the picanha roast whole or slice into 1.5 to 2-inch steaks, slicing the steaks with the grain.
- Dry picanha and score fat cap in cross-hatch pattern (if leaving whole). Season all sides with plenty of kosher salt. Optionally dry brine in the fridge overnight for even more flavor.
- Seal the seasoned picanha using a vacuum sealer or the water displacement method if using ziplock freezer bags.
- Cook in a 130°-133°F water bath (for medium-rare) for 3 to 24 hours. The longer it cooks, them more "tender" the texture will be.
- Remove the sealed picanha from the water bath. Chill if not eating right away or let rest at room temp for 10-15 minutes if serving immediately.
- Unwrap the picanha and pat it extremely dry with paper towels.
- Sear in a ripping hot skillet or grill for 1-2 minutes per side until crust forms.
- Slice against the grain and finish with coarse salt.
The final searing step for sous vide picanha is vital for developing a flavorful, texturally pleasing crust without overcooking the interior. There are several effective searing methods:
- Cast Iron Skillet - An extremely hot skillet easily achieves a crispy brown crust and allows cooking the fat cap evenly with good control.
- Grill - High heat from grilling imparts a lovely smokiness and chars the meat deeply for a bolder flavor. Ideal for fat dripping away.
- Charcoal Chimney Starter - Probably the hottest method, a chimney starer with grill grates placed directly over the top will rapidly create a crust on the steak in just 30 seconds to one minute.
- Butane Torch - Directly applying the concentrated torch flame gives precise control for spot-searing and melting the fat cap beautifully.
How Long to Sous Vide Picanha
For individual picanha steaks, cook 3 to 5 hours.
For whole picanha roast, cook for 12 to 24 hours. The extended time allows connective tissue to break down completely and marbling to fully melt into the meat, creating unprecedented tenderness and moisture while maintaining perfect medium-rare doneness.
Sous Vide vs Grilled Picanha
The traditional preparation for picanha is to cook over an open grill, rotisserie style, allowing the fat cap to slowly render while imparting smoky charcoal flavor. This method connects to the Brazilian roots of churrasco culture.
However, sous vide offers superior convenience and reliability. It requires no constant monitoring or rotating, just simple sealing followed by brief searing at the end. The sous vide results also excel with guarantee of edge-to-edge medium rare doneness, supreme tenderness achieved from lengthened low-temp cook, and wonderfully thick and crispy fat cap, though some smoky charcoal nuance is lost.
So while grilled picanha aligns with tradition, picanha steak cooked sous vide triumphs on convenience and foolproof execution.
Another great option is to combine sous vide and barbecue, where you first cook the meat sous vide, chill it, then warm it up in the smoker before searing it. You get amazing texture and that smoke flavor we crave.
What to Serve it With
The rich beefiness of picanha pairs wonderfully with starchy sides that soak up the tasty meat juices. Crispy roasted or smashed fingerling potatoes are an easy choice that also adds textural contrast. Buttery carrots or tender broccolini brighten the plate with hits of sweetness and green colors. Simple options like fries or creamy mashed potatoes are classic pairings as well. And no picanha would be complete without a spoonful of vibrant herby chimichurri sauce, the quintessential accompaniment in Brazilian steak culture.
And the leftovers are delicious in a steak sandwich.
More Recipes You'll Love
Sous Vide Picanha (Coulotte Steak) Recipe
- 2 to 3 lb picanha individual steaks or whole. with fat cap see note #1
- kosher salt
- neutral cooking oil (such as avocado, grapeseed, canola oil or beef tallow for searing)
- Leave the picanha whole or slice into 1.5 to 2 inch steaks if desired. Important: IF slicing into steaks, slice with the grain.
- Pat picanha dry and score fat cap in a crisscross pattern. Generously season all sides with kosher salt. For enhanced flavor, optionally dry brine uncovered in the refrigerator overnight.
- Vacuum seal the seasoned picanha using a vacuum sealer or the water displacement method with a zip-lock bag.
- Heat water bath to 130°F-133°F for medium-rare doneness. Add sealed picanha and cook for minimum of 3 hours (steaks) up to 24 hours (whole roast) for ultimate tenderness.
- Remove the picanha from the water bath. If not eating right away, chill completely by submerging sealed bag in an ice bath and refrigerating. If eating immediately, let the sealed bag rest at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before proceeding.
- Remove the picanha from packaging and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.
- Heat aheavy-bottomed skillet or grill over high heat. When it starts to smoke, add a little neutral oil to the skillet, if using.
- Sear the picanha for about 90 seconds to 2 minutes on the fat cap side, and about 45 to 60 seconds on the other sides, or until golden brown.
- Slice against the grain and enjoy with a sprinkle of coarse finishing salt.
- Searing Tip: Searing the picanha over high heat will produce lots of smoke. If possible, sear outdoors. If searing indoors, turn your stove's overhead vent fan to the highest setting before putting the meat in the skillet and open any doors/windows to help ventilation.
Medium-Rare: 133° F
Medium: 140° F