When my Japanese family migrated to Brazil with millions of others, they yearned to eat the food they were accustomed to, but they lacked familiar ingredients in their new adopted home – so Nikkei cuisine was born, out of necessity, with Japanese inspired dishes being created at home, using the local ingredients they could find at the time.
One of these ingredients was beef picanha – but what exactly is it?
The picanha beef cut comes from the cap lying above the top sirloin and rump areas; it is a triangular cut and just like the British rump, it has a beautiful layer of fat. It is not a muscle that moves much during the animal’s life, and so it remains tender. The picanha’s thick blanket of fat lends the meat flavour and succulence while protecting it from human error that may occur during grilling. And because it is little known in Europe, picanha is still relatively cheap.
Picanha symbolizes the authentic Brazilian churrasco where it is grilled encased in a thick layer of rock salt and nothing else. Growing up in my Nikkei home in São Paulo, we tended to use rather less rock salt, but basted the meat in a mixture of soy sauce, lime, garlic and olive oil during grilling.
I am thrilled to discover excellent quality Irish picanha available in the UK, and share this Nikkei Beef Picanha recipe with you so you will not need to travel far to taste picanha. This is a favourite recipe of mine and one I serve often for friends and at my own #NikkkeiSupperClub. As well as being super easy to prepare, it is perfect for the Summer months and once you have tried picanha, I think you will be hooked!
For a chance to win a Weber Barbecue and try this recipe out in your own garden, please enter the ‘Summer Beef Encounters’ competition in collaboration with Irish Beef by clicking here and vote for my Nikkei Beef Picanha recipe, please! Good luck!
Nikkei Beef Picanha
with Yuzu, Soy and Chilli Dressing
Ingredients (serves 8):
• 1.3kg Irish beef picanha, whole piece
• 50g rock sea salt (do not use table or cooking salt or flakes)
• 120ml soy sauce
• 60ml extra-virgin olive oil
• 60ml yuzu juice (substitute with lime or lemon)
• 6 garlic cloves, crushed
• 1 long red chilli, de-seeded and finely diced (keep ½ for decoration)
• Edible flowers like wild garlic, to decorate
• Micro coriander, to decorate
• ½ long red chilli, de-seeded and finely diced, to decorate (see above)
1. Score the fatty blanket on the picanha by making criss-cross cuts into the thick layer of fat covering one side. Cut the piece of picanha into 4 to 5 thick pieces of about 250g to 300g each about 5cm thick, keeping the fat covering the upper surface of each steak.
2. Place the steaks on a tray and cover them thoroughly in the rock sea salt, this will help to seal in the juices of the meat. Table or cooking salt is too fine and more of it will be needed to do the same job resulting in a very salty barbecued picanha, so do stick to rock salt for this recipe. In addition, rock salt does not penetrate nearly as much as finer salts, giving a delicious and lightly salty crust to the meat. If your salt tolerance is low, you may prefer not to salt the beef and only use the dressing to season it as it is served.
3. Now make the soy & yuzu or lime dressing by mixing together the soy sauce, olive oil, yuzu or lime juice, crushed garlic cloves and ½ of diced red chilli – ½ of this dressing will be used for basting the meat while on the grill and the other ½ will be used as a dipping sauce to serve with the slices of beef.
4. BBQ Method – Get your barbecue hot and ready for the picanha, and generously brush the grill plates with oil. Grill the picanha pieces fat-side up for a few minutes until a little juice leaks out of the steaks. Turn the steaks onto their sides to grill for a few minutes more on each side. Using a brush, baste the meat with the reserved ½ of soy and yuzu lime dressing every time your turn the steaks. Finally grill fat-side down, moving the steaks away from the hottest part of the fire to avoid over-cooking and to reduce the chance of the fire flaring up from the dripping fat. Grill to your desired doneness, it should take anything from 15 to 25 minutes depending on the thickness of the steaks and how fierce the fire in your barbecue is. I use the ‘finger poke method’ to know when the meat is done – I like my picanha rather pink, so the meat should feel bouncy but firm cooked for about 15 to 20 minutes in total. Alternatively, you can take one steak out of the grill and cut a small piece of it from its thickest part to check for doneness.
5. Kitchen Grill Method – If you don’t have a barbecue you can still cook the picanha under a hot grill in your kitchen. Place the steaks over a rack within a roasting tin, this is important as the picanha’s fat will drip into it and not in your oven. Grill the steaks for 7 minutes flesh side up, then turn them over and grill fat side up, preferably on a lower rack or at the bottom of the oven, for another 8 to 12 minutes, basting the beef with the reserved ½ of soy and yuzu lime dressing for 2 minutes before the end of cooking time. If using the kitchen grill, a meat thermometer read is more accurate than on the barbecue – the internal temperature of the meat should be 60°C for rare, 63°C for medium rare, 71°C for medium and 77°C for well-done. If you don’t have a meat thermometer, use the finger poke method described above.
6. Let the picanha rest for 5 minutes before serving. Brush off the excess salt. The meat should be sliced thinly and served with the reserved soy and yuzu/lime dressing. In this way, guests can choose the slices they want, some will prefer more rare, others more well-done so everyone is happy!