Go into an American or an English butcher and ask for picanha and you’re liable to get blank stares. Turn to your Portuguese-English dictionary and look up the word picanha and you’ll find a blank spot. No translation at all! This omission is not due to the fact that your dictionary is flawed or that Brazilian cows are built differently than American cows. Instead, Brazilian butchers divide up the cow in different ways than American or English butchers do.
So what is picanha? How do we translate Brazilian cuts of beef into American or English cuts of beef? The answer to that question is surprisingly hard to answer.
In my quest to unravel this meat mystery I sped straight for the information super highway only to find a bewildering array of conflicting answers. My first stop, Wikipedia, assured the reader that picanha is actually the “rump cover” and is part of the top sirloin. Picanha, the article explains, is one of the most valuable cuts of the cow and for that reason is divided into three separate cuts in the US because of pricing issues. (To Wikipedia’s credit, there was a big sign on the side explaining that none of the article had been verified and so was open to challenge.)
This explanation seemed reasonable enough and yet I went to look elsewhere just to make sure. It was then that I found myself in a maze of contradictory culinary messages and sign posts so confusing that I couldn’t find my way out.
BBQ Butcher, for example, confidently—even vehemently—explained that picanha actually comes from the bottom sirloin, which is made up of three different cuts: “1)Ball Tip 2) Flap Meat and 3) the Tri-Tip. DO NOT let them sell you Sirloin Tip or London Broil, which are both from the Round, not the Sirloin. Or any other cut of meat…a Tri-Tip is a Tri-Tip.”
Top sirloin? Bottom sirloin? Which one is it?
Someone named tanya c on Ask Yahoo! timidly suggested that picanha is not sirloin at all, but actually is part of the Round—or rear—of the cow. However, no one seemed to give any credence to tanya c.
British Beef Cuts
Confused, I decided to take the matter up with John Rodnei of Companhia da Carne in Campeche. He explained that picanha is actually from the Round section (tanya c was right!!!) and that the correct name for it is actually the rump roast, though in the U.S. the fat is usually cut off the top. “In England,” Rodnei said, “it’s the top part of the Silverside and Topside sections.”
John Rodnei also handed me a useful chart that shows the equivalents of all the cuts of beef from Brazil, England, the USA, Germany and other countries all together. So here it is. Next time you find yourself confused at the butcher’s, just take a look at this chart and all will become clear! Translation of Beef Cuts Various Languages
Companhia da Carne, where you can buy some of the best meat on the island, can be found at Rod. Luis Antonio Gonzaga, 2255, just across from La Pedrita. Tel. 3226 7031.
Any questions? Talk to John Rodnei, he’ll help sort you out.