Stop the insanity

No, this is not another high volume, blind ambition driven self help program designed to jump start our true potential as hard driving individualists. This is a recipe/article about how to sous vide process and then finish a particular cut of meat. There is, however, some controversy.

People argue ad infinitum about what qualifies as a picahna, what it should look like, how it should be cut, how it should be cooked, how it should be served, and even whether it is tough or tender. The debate extends to its actual spelling, either picahna or picanha. Some fanatic picahna-ites even insist that the cut is not available outside of Brazil, as if South American butchers possessed secret knowledge of butchery or that the cattle raised on the Pampas were somehow genetically distinct and anatomically unique. I do not settle disputes. I just cook.

At the other end of the spectrum, people frequently ask if a culotte/coulotte steak is the same thing as a skirt steak. Good humor aside, I think I can settle that debate. It is not.

You can do this!

Another complicating factor is that regardless of what we call it, this cut of meat does not usually appear as such in butcher cases at the market. It is more often sold without specific reference, bundled along with the other muscles in the top sirloin grouping. This means you almost have to buy the whole top sirloin and fabricate the picahna/culotte yourself. We explain exactly how to do this in the article You don’t have to be a butcher. The technical butcher’s nomenclature is 184D.

Based on the assumption that you have actually acquired this particular sub-primal, and with no consideration of any of the other mitigating factors whatsoever, we will point out that the most accurate but least romantic term for this cut of meat is “top sirloin flap” or “cap.” Steers are like airplanes; they have lots of flaps, but this flap is specific to the top sirloin.

We explain its exact location and other details in an article/commentary linked HERE.

Weights and measures

This culotte/picahna weighed just over 2 lbs/1 Kg, which is fairly typical. It is not as tender as other “steaks/roasts,” would that there was a legal definition of either of those terms. As far as I can tell, a steak is a piece of meat somewhat smaller than a roast. Beyond that, I guess either one could be just about anything, tough or tender.

We processed this top sirloin flap “whole,” at
128 F/53 C for 12 hours.

128 F/53 C will tenderize by converting collagen to gelatin, but very very slowly. Even though there are safe temperatures that are lower, 128 F/53 C is just about the lowest temperature that can be used to tenderize over time. As always, there is no “moment,” no stop watch driven instant whereupon the meat must be immediately removed from the bath. It could stay in the bath for 18 hours and the difference would be barely noticeable, if at all so.

While I waited, I made Top Sirloin Espagnole, to utilize for sauces applied to the presentations displayed later.

After processing, the meat was removed from the tank, removed from the pouch and patted dry. The juices were collected and processed as explained HERE and reserved for another application.

For those with some experience in sous vide processing, you may notice that the color of the surface did not “blanch” the way a lot of cuts do. This is characteristic of this cut. I have not been able to find an actual scientific explanation of why this is. Subject to the error inherent in anecdotal observation, the cut appears to have a higher than normal level of myoglobin.

Note: myoglobin is the protein responsible for providing oxygen to muscle tissue. It is not blood, and it does not course through veins. It’s appearance is governed by the presence of iron, which is also contained in hemoglobin.

Logic is not always what it’s cracked up to be

One would expect high levels of myoglobin to occur in muscles that are heavily worked, but this does not seem to correspond to my personal experience either. Brisket and eye of round muscles are very tough and work very hard, but their myoglobin levels are much lower than this muscle, “as far as I can tell.” Some things are what they are, and we may not even really need to know why it is the way it is. It’s just that way.

There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that the very tip of the picahna/coulotte is not as tender as the rest of the muscle. This is another complicating factor about meat in general–the tenderness of the same muscle may vary depending on which section you are testing. I have found this claim to be true in the case of the point of the picahna. One good fix for this is to use the point as the “handle” when carving and then reserving for later retherming. Some creativity may be required. They can also be pounded out and used for THIS.

The processed flap was cut into four steaks, approximately 8 oz/225 g each. By now the meat had cooled to 70 F/21 C so there was no need to further shock before refrigerating. I took the very first cut, which, as you can see, has an almost triangular profile because of its taper. I seasoned it and seared it in a cast iron broiler pan with grates.

I reduced 2 oz/60 ml of the Top Sirloin Espagnole, by half and then incorporated 1.5 oz/45 ml of cold butter into the reduction. This forms an emulsion to create a sauce that I pooled on the plate:

The cylindrical steak is cut into four equal sections with the tips removed as a benefit to the staff for purposes of tenderness evaluation. Grilled broccoli, tempura onion rings, and a few crispy potato shards complete the parsley free presentation.

Below: as always, sous vide insures the uniform appearance of doneness.

Coming down the stretch

Finishing and serving simply yet properly will make the most of your sous vide processed protein. Sous vide technology itself says nothing about what to do with proteins after they have been processed. If you have come this far, you know that sous vide processed foods are generally not eaten “out of the bag.”

Above: iceberg wedge salad with grilled culotte and blue cheese.

Members of the FACEBOOK SOUS VIDE GROUP that I built frequently ask me about sauces and presentation. If you scout around this website, we do explain how to make the basic mother sauces, almost none of which implement sous vide processing themselves. I did a few different presentations of the top sirloin flap to serve as examples. All of them involve either searing or grilling the steaks that I cut as shown in this article.

Above: something as simple as a baked potato (or half of one!) with a grilled broccoli spear and mushroom bring a sense of style without dominating the plate. The sauce is sous vide Hollandaise.

Mixing and matching different sauces can create effect. My colleagues tell me that my presentations are too involved, something I strive against with varying degrees of success.

Broccoli, baby bok choy, mushrooms, mapled sweet potato gaufrettes, roasted onions, heirloom tomatoes, like I said, sometimes I kind of go over the top.

Norm King