Picadillo de Pobre
Poor Man’s Hashed Meat
All Mexicans are familiar with picadillo, which is something like our version of hash but infinitely more versatile. The most elegant kind, a favorite filling or topping for all kinds of chiles, tacos or antojitos, features chopped or ground pork or beef (sometimes shredded cooked meat or chicken) with wonderful Mediterranean-inspired accents like olives, almonds, raisins, cumin, canela, and cloves. This
“poor man’s” versions is based on a recipe from the Restorán Caperucita in San Andrés Tuxtla The reason for the name is obvious: the meat is thriftily stretched with diced potato and chayote, while luxurious ingredients like the olives, almonds, and “sweet” spices are left out. The main seasoning comes from everyday fresh herbs that people in the region grow or cheaply buy at market as hierbas de guisar (stewing herbs): oregano, parsley, mint, and cilantro. (See more on hierbas de guisar, page 000)). Some cooks color the dish with achiote paste, an authentic regional touch that I have mixed feelings about because it tends to dull the other flavors. Use or omit it as you prefer. Most picadillos are cooked fairly dry, but picadillo de pobre should remain a little soupy.
Be sure to use best-quality beef without annoying gristly bits, which stand out like sore thumbs in hand-chopped meat.
Makes 4 servings
1 pound beef chuck, trimmed
1 large Red Bliss or other waxy potato
1 large chayote
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium-sized white onion, chopped fine
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 large ripe tomato (or 2 medium-sized), chopped fine
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried Mexican oregano
1 Ping-Pong-sized ball of fresh masa or 2 tablespoons masa harina
1 cup chicken stock, preferably homemade (see page 000)
6 large sprigs fresh mint (leaves only), chopped fine
6 cilantro sprigs, chopped fine
3 large Mediterranean oregano sprigs (leaves only), chopped fine
6 Italian parsley sprigs, chopped fine
2 teaspoons Pasta de Achiote (see page 000), optional
With a large, heavy, sharp knife or Chinese cleaver, cut the meat into chunks and chop fairly fine, not quite as fine as ground meat. The pieces should still be visible as tiny dice. Set aside.
Peel the potato; peel and pit the chayote. Cut into fine (1/4-inch) dice, place in a medium-sized saucepan, and add water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat the oil to rippling over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the tomato and cook another 5 minutes to evaporate most of the juices. Stir in the chopped meat, cumin, pepper, and dried oregano. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes, or until the beef has changed color. Stir in the diced potato and chayote with the herbs. Dissolve the masa in the stock along with the optional achiote paste and add to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or until the liquid has formed a medium-thick gravy.