21 August 2010

Picadillo. With cinnamon and raisins.

Picadillo is one of the most versatile ragús in South American cooking. You can simply eat it with rice, preferably accompanied by a fried banana. Or use it as a filling for empanadas or pastel de papas - which is best described as the Argentine version of Shepard's Pie. But more on that in another post, first we are going to make the Picadillo.


1 cup carrots, finely diced (2-3 carrots)
1 cup onions, finely diced (2-3 onions)
1 cup bell peppers, finely diced (1-2 small peppers)
2-3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
750 g / 1.5 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine (or Martini rosso)
2-3 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried chili flakes
1 tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon coriander
salt and pepper
1 cup green olives, chopped
1/2 cup raisins

Dice up all the vegetables, I like 5 mm / 1/4 inch cubes. No need to measure them exactly, just make sure you have roughly the same amount of onions, carrots and peppers.

Heat up a big pan (or heavy pot), then pour in some oil and start frying the ground beef.

Don't dump in everything at once or the pan will cool down instantly and you'll be cooking the meat instead of frying it. Which is not good, as many of the juices will come out, making the meat tough and the water will prevent browning. And in my opinion, the brown stuff is what makes the sauces taste so good. Seems I'm not alone, as there's even a scientific name for it: Maillard reaction, meaning the caramelization of of sugars and proteins by high heat.

So just put in a quarter to a third, wait till it is all cooked through and then add the next batch. Then let that cook together and add the last third...

Once the meat is cooked through and has some nice browned spots, add the vegetables and let them fry together.

Let it cook for some minutes more, depending how much time you have and how patient you are. Just make sure there are some browned bits. That may sound a bit obsessive... I admit it, I'm obsessed with Maillard reaction.

Make a little room in the middle and add the tomato paste, let that also fry for a bit. Again, sugars will caramelize and add some subtle flavors. Then add the wine and scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. The will dissolve and make everything very tasty. Then add some water, just short of covering it.

Now add all the spices: oregano, chilies, paprika, salt and pepper. And yes, you heard right: cinnamon and ground coriander. At first, it seems very weird to add cinnamon to a savory dish, but believe me it will blend perfectly with the other spices...

Then add the olives and the raisins and let it all cook on low for 30 minutes minimum. Why yes, raisins. They're traditional. No point in arguing about that.

Give it a taste, maybe add some lemon juice and more salt and serve. 


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