Tender, juicy and bursting with flavour, this Grilled Picanha with Charred Sweet Potatoes and Chimichurri will be a hit at your next cookout or camping trip.
What is Picanha?
Also known as sirloin cap or coulotte, picanha is a flavourful, affordable and relatively tender cut of beef. It’s most popular in South American cultures, particularly in Brazil and Argentina, but has more recently found its way into North American butcher shops and even some major grocery stores.
You can imagine my surprise when I found some picanha at a random grocery store on the outskirts of Oradea, Romania. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take some home and grill it over a wood fire at my in-laws’ cottage.
Although the meat is not as tender as other cuts of steak, such as a ribeye, filet mignon or striploin, picanha has a delicious, beefy flavour and distinctive fat cap that adds an incredible amount of juiciness to the steak. It is easily one of my favourite steaks to cook and eat.
What To Look For When Buying Picanha
Not all pieces of picanha are equal in quality and selecting a good one will make or break your cooking and eating experience. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re at the butcher:
- Appearance: Picanha (AKA top sirloin cap-on, rump steak, coulotte) are typically triangular in shape. Look for picanha that has an even thickness throughout so that everything cooks evenly. Ideally, the picanha will have a fat cap that is 3/4-inches thick. If it is thicker, you can always trim it down a bit. You can’t add any fat back so trim a bit at a time if you have to.
- Thickness: I recommend buying picanha as a whole piece, rather than individually sliced steaks so that you can control the thickness of each cut. If you can only find pre-cut picanha steaks, look for ones that are at are around 1.5 to 2 inches thick. This thickness ensures that the picanha will have a chance to develop a deep crust on the grill before the centre has cooked through.
- Fat Cap: The fat cap on picanha is a crucial component of its flavour. Choose cuts with a thick, firm, creamy white fat cap that evenly covers the entire top of the meat. This fat cap will render and partially baste the meat as it cooks, keeping it flavourful and juicy.
Keep it Simple with the Seasoning:
Traditionally, picanha is seasoned with nothing more than coarse salt so that the natural flavours of the beef shine through. If you do want to season the picanha with a spice rub, try to use something that will go well with the flavours in the chimichurri.
What To Serve with the Grilled Picanha
Chimichurri is one of my absolute favourite condiments to serve with grilled picanha and it works wonders on vegetables too. This time I made some charred sweet potatoes as well as some grilled zucchini and red peppers.
Making a homemade batch is super easy and requires just a few readily available ingredients. I like to use equal parts good-quality, extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar, shallot for texture, garlic for a punch of flavour, equal parts fresh parsley and cilantro, dry oregano, crushed chilis for a bit of heat, and a pinch of smoked paprika for colour and smokey flavour. I also love to add some finely chopped fresh mint to the chimichurri, but this time I didn’t have any.
If you have a copy of my cookbook, you’ll find a very similar recipe for chimichurri. The difference in the book is that I start by first dissolving some salt in a bit of hot water. This helps to loosen the texture of the chimichurri so that it isn’t too oily, and dilutes the vinegar a bit so that it doesn’t overpower the flavour of the meat. I go back and forth between adding water to my chimichurri and not. It depends on what I’m serving it with and who’s coming to dinner.
Blended or Hand-Chopped?
Sure, you can put all of your chimichurri ingredients into a food processor and pulse it together, but then you just have a big machine to wash. Plus, you’ll lose out on what makes chimichurri so special – the texture!
I would much prefer to take the extra little bit of time to finely chop all of the ingredients by hand. The flavour and texture will be infinitely better and it’s a great way to brush up on your knife skills.
Grilled Picanha with Charred Sweet Potatoes and Chimichurri
For the Chimichurri:
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup red-wine vinegar
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1 small shallot finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt plus more to taste
- 1/2 tsp smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
For the Picanha and Sweet Potatoes:
- 4 medium sweet potatoes
- 2 large zucchini sliced into ¼-inch discs
- 2 large red shepherd peppers substitute any bell pepper, sliced in half, seeds removed
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt and freshly-cracked black pepper to taste
- 2 pounds picanha AKA top sirloin cap-on
For the Chimichurri:
- In a bowl, combine all of the ingredients and mix well to incorporate. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt, pepper and vinegar as desired. Cover and set aside at room temperature until ready to serve.
For the Picanha and Sweet Potatoes:
- If using a Traeger, preheat your grill to 500F. If using a charcoal or gas grill, set up a direct, high heat.
- Place the sweet potatoes on the hottest part of the grill and cook, turning regularly, until completely charred and fork-tender, around 45 minutes depending on their size. Transfer to a bowl and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Drizzle the zucchini with olive oil and lightly season both sides with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the zucchini to the grill and cook until grill marks form, around 4 minutes. Flip and cook the other side until grill marks form and the centre is tender, around 4 more minutes. Transfer to a platter and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Place the red peppers on the grill, skin-side down, and cook until completely charred, around 6 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and cover to steam for 5 minutes to make peeling the skin easier. Using the back of a knife or your hands, peel away the charred skin from the peppers. Alternatively, you can grill the peppers whole and deseed after cooking. Transfer the peppers to the platter with the zucchini and cover with foil to keep warm.
- Slice the picanha into 1.5” steaks, with the grain. Generously season both sides with salt and grill over direct heat until grill marks form, around 4 minutes. Flip and cook the other side until grill marks form and the thickest part of the steaks registers 135F for a medium centre. Transfer the steaks to a board and let them rest 8 minutes before slicing against the grain. Serve the picanha with the chimichurri and grilled vegetables.