The etymology of the word “picadillo” comes from the Spanish “picar” which means “chopped.” It’s basically a no-nonsense dish made out of chopped ingredients and ground meat.
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It’s also one of those Mexican comfort foods that you just can’t seem to get enough of.
Picadillo is yummy, easy to make and versatile. Every family in Mexico has its own unique twist on the dish; my own abuela added a dash of chili powder or dried peppers to her picadillo for an extra spicy kick, while my health conscious tía sometimes used ground turkey or tofu instead of the usual beef.
But no matter what your version of picadillo is, what’s important is that you make the dish your own.
The recipe below is for a “basic” version of picadillo– you can add or omit ingredients as you wish. We also included a few variation ideas that you can try out yourself.
Mexican Picadillo (Basic Recipe)
1 tbsp olive oil (or any other cooking oil)
1 lb lean ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 or 3 large tomatoes, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped
2 potatoes, cut into chunks
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1/4 cup raisins
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 red bell pepper diced
1/3 cup cilantro
1 cup water
1. Heat up your cooking oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil’s been heated up, brown the ground beef until all the pink color’s gone.
Break up the beef thoroughly with the back of a wooden spoon to ensure even cooking. Don’t remove the liquid that will render from the beef- this will add more flavor to your picadillo.
2. Add the chopped onion and garlic. Cook for a couple of minutes more or until the onion is transparent.
3. Add the chopped tomatoes. Stir everything until the potatoes are cooked and the tomatoes release their juices. This can take about five minutes.
4. Add the other veggies (raisins, frozen peas, bell pepper)into the skillet.
5. Pour in one cup of water. Put a lid on the skillet and let the picadillo simmer until all of the potatoes have been cooked and the tomatoes have thickened the sauce.
6. Take the skillet out of the heat. Add the chopped cilantro, stir, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
You can put your own spin on the recipe by adding in or substituting ingredients as per your own tastes.
Here are a few variation ideas:
1. You can use tomato sauce instead of the chopped tomatoes as a quick subsitute (especially if you’re running low on time). Both seasoned and unseasoned tomato sauces will work well for this dish.
2. Don’t restrict yourself to ground beef. You can also use ground pork, ground chicken, ground turkey or even ground tofu (which would make the dish vegetarian).
3. You can also try adding in a bouillon cube as you add in the water for extra flavor. Or you can also add in beef or chicken stock.
4. Don’t be afraid to add your favorite spices to the dish. Aside from cilantro, you can also add in ground cumin and oregano. Try also adding a splash of lime juice to add a bit of acidity to the dish.
5. If you want a spicy kick to your picadillo. add in chili powder or chopped and seeded jalapeno peppers.
Notes on cooking
1. Using a bouillon cube? Take it easy on the salt then. Sometimes the cube will provide more than enough salt to season the dish.
2. Frozen peas work better than canned ones for this dish. If you’re going to use canned peas, make sure to wash them under running water to remove excess salt.
3. Should your picadillo dry out before the potatoes and carrots are cooked, add in a couple of tablespoons of water so that everything stays moist.
4. If you’re eating the picadillo with tacos or tortillas, chop the potatoes and carrots into smaller, finer pieces. Make the pieces chunkier and larger if you’re eating the picadillo with rice.
There you have it!
Remember, picadillo can be served on rice, tacos, tostadas, tortillas– or just about any carbohydrate that you desire. This dish is a must-learn in every home cook’s repertoire.