The great sous vide hack: picanha

June 15, 2010, 9:47 p.m. | by Adriano Petrich | Categories: Brazil picanha sous vide

The great sous vide hack: picanha

Sous Vide Primer

It is about temperature and proteins. Different proteins denature at different temperatures and here is the catch. Some of them won’t denature at lower temps.

Eggs for instance. The two more common proteins in it are Ovalbumin(54%) and Ovotransferrin (12%) the first starts to denature at 180°F/80C the second at 140°F/60C.

So if you ignore the rest of the egg, you can heat as long as you want the egg at 60C and it will not fully solidify.

But why would you want to cook an egg for 12 hours when my mom can make the exactly same great texture egg just counting two minutes after the water starts to boil?

Short answer: Because we can.

Long answer and possibly a yo mama joke: Forget the eggs I’m talking about meat: The most succulent piece of meat you might ever have. (I said possibly)

The hardware

To do a sous vide the only tool you need is a temperature controlled circulator bath with 1/10 degree precision in the range of US$ 2000 to US$ 3000 or a US$ 30 digital thermometer and a beer cooler.

No pressure! Your choice!

The ideia came from here

It is said over the webs that the thermometer has to be an instant read, mine isn’t, but from what I figure, what is really important is that the thermometer be accurate.

My aim is to get the piece of meat medium rare at 130°F/54C

My hot tap water leaves the faucet at 131°F/55C since that is to close to my final temperature I will heat a small portion of water in the stove to get the inital temperature in the 140°F/60C range before adding the meat.

The Meat

Picanha is again a Brazilian cut of meat. As far as I know it is getting popularized everywhere. It is called in the US Rump Cover or part of the top sirloin

It is a very marbleized meat with a huge cover of fat. Health issues a part, the fat cover is important during cooking(especially if barbecuing), as it will melt and make the meat more tender.

After it is ready some people will eat the fat some won’t. It is a cultural phenomena, the south of Brazil (known for their great barbecuing-fu) will look crossed if you don’t eat it. On the other hand, the more cosmopolitan Sao Paulo (where the health trend has settled) some people will think it is odd that you are eating the fat but probably will not be verbal about it.

I asked my butcher to vacuum pack the meat. Keep in mind that sous vide can be done with a zip bag, it was just the “If you have you have to use it” mentality speaking.

Wait for it

You have to wait until the temperature of the meat is in equilibrium with the water.

How long does it take? Here is a trick to know it: Just guess!

I’ve left it in for two and a half hours and the internal temp was 125F/52C it could have been a little higher but once you open the bag there’s not much come back.

Here is where good insulation saves your day. I had to reheat the water only once every 45 minutes.

The second time that I did it I started with the temperature a bit higher (150F/65C before adding the meat) and the results were better.

A word of advice. Do not cook anything for over 4 hours if your temperature is lower than 131F/55C because it is a bacterial heaven.

The ugliest piece of meat you’ve ever handled

It is cooked all the way in, but it is also dead.

No crust, no golden brown and delicious. Just a slab of meat that feels a little jello-ish and is ugly on the outside.

For a few seconds you will feel that you’ve failed. Fear not!

Maillard reaction to the rescue

In 1910 Louis-Camille Maillard was trying to reproduce biological protein synthesis, instead of ribosomes reading messengerRNA and decoding that with amino acids what he got was a reaction between an amino acid and a reducing sugar in presence of heat that generates: GOLDEN BROWNESS AND DELICIOUSNESS

Funny to think that before 1910 as much as you tried to BBQ meat or put your bread in toasters it would cook but not brown.

If there was someone that deserved a reaction named after him, it was this one. (Shame on you Kirchhoff and your laws)

So to get the Maillard reaction to do its business we need heat. Intense heat because I don’t want to cook the meat.

I’ve tried both pan and oven searing and they work great.

The end result

A juicy tender meat that is beyond believe.

Why is sets this meat apart from your uncle Bob’s picanha that is just as wonderful and doesn’t have to rest for two hours in beer cooler?

Short answer: Doneness

Long answer: In order to get medium rare in the middle of a large slab of meat uncle Bob’s picanha has a gradient from well done to medium rare. This piece also has that gradient but it is a few millimeters thick instead of centimeters. (notice the left upper side of the picture)

Resting and serving

Does it need resting like regular meats after cooking?

I don’t know. I did rest mine and didn’t get much runaway juice.


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