There are so many variations of picadillo. This is the way that was made for me by my Mexican co-workers, particularly Rico, Edgar, and Gabe, back when I was a cook. It is ground beef with chunks of diced potato, a little tomato, and chilies, simmered until tender. I generally say carnitas is my favorite taco filling, but this picadillo might actually be it. I’m terribly nostalgic for it and find it so comforting. Plus it’s simple to make.
Picadillo doesn’t have to be served as tacos, but as cooks, that was always how we ate it. Three to four picadillo tacos, smothered in salsa, and sprinkled with cilantro and onions, are the taco equivalent of a giant hug. Let’s face it; we’re in quarantine. We all need more hugs right now.
If you’re an omnivore, chances are you already have everything to make the picadillo at home. It’s also very substitution friendly. Make it as you see fit! I season mine simply with oregano and chilies, but if you want to add cumin or taco seasoning to yours, I won’t judge.
My amigos I worked with also taught me how to make this salsa. They jovially called it “salsa de Mayan”, as I do here. The salsa is thin and has a light smokey flavor from charring the chilies, and is perfect for pouring on tacos. It is also very simple! You can make the salsa while your picadillo is simmering or you can make it ahead of time.
For the picadillo:
- 1lb ground beef
- 1 T avocado oil (optional)
- 1 small white or yellow onion, small diced, about one cup (Save extra for taco garnish!)
- 1-2 roma tomatoes, small diced
- 3 small potatoes, medium diced, about 1.5-2 cups
- 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
- 4 arbol chilies*
- 1.5-2 cups water or stock
- Kosher salt, to taste
- Black pepper, to taste
For the salsa:
- 4 roma tomatoes
- 1 white or yellow onion
- 1 jalapeño (or habañero if you would like it spicier)
- 4-8 arbol chilies, depending on your spice preference
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 small handful of cilantro
- Juice of two ripe and juicy limes
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4tsp-1 tsp Kosher salt
To prepare the picadillo:
- Preheat large skillet over medium heat. Brown the ground beef, breaking it up with a spatula.
- When the meat is browned, and a lot of the fat has rendered, lower the heat to medium-low. If there is a good amount of fat in the pan, skip adding extra oil. Otherwise add the avocado oil.
- Add the onion, garlic, and tomatoes. Sweat until the onion and garlic are translucent. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add the chilies, breaking up a couple arbol chilies, and leaving a couple whole. Stir.
- Add the potato and oregano, crushing the oregano as you add it. Cover with the water or stock.
- Let simmer for about half hour until potatoes are cooked. Most of the liquid should be evaporated for tacos, but you can leave it looser for serving with rice or veggies. If the pan gets too dry add more water or stock and continue cooking.
- Adjust seasoning and serve.
For the salsa:
- Preheat grill. Peel and cut onion in half. Wash tomatoes and jalapeño.
- Peel garlic cloves and wrap in small envelope of foil. Wrap arbol chilies in small envelope of foil.
- Grill onion, tomatoes, jalapeño, garlic, and chilies over high heat.
- The chilies will be done the fastest. You want them to be blackened, but not completely toast. Everything else will take a bit, about 5-8 minutes depending on the heat of your grill. Flip halfway.
- Remove the tomatoes when they have grill marks, and start to burst on both sides. The jalapeño, garlic, and onion should be softened and have good color.
- Allow to rest at room temperature at least 10 minutes before pureeing.
- Puree all grilled ingredients in a blender with lime juice. Add salt gradually to taste. If it seems to thick, add the water. Puree until smooth. Add the cilantro and puree until the cilantro is chopped up.
- You can use whatever kind of chilies you prefer for the picadillo. Sometimes my friends added habañero or jalapeño to theirs. Even chili powder or crushed red pepper works in a pinch!
- If you don’t have fresh tomatoes for the picadillo add a couple tablespoons of tomato paste.
- If you don’t want to grill your vegetables for the salsa, preheat a cast iron skillet. Toast the chilies, then remove and set aside. Sear the remaining vegetables, and then broil them for about five minutes.