Turn your kitchen into a south-of-the-border taco bar with this simple and versatile Carne Picada recipe. Provecho!

Carne Picada Tacos

 For those of us who spend our days cooking and crafting recipes, generally obsessed with food, inspiration can be found just about anywhere.

Maybe you tried something at a restaurant you want to recreate at home, maybe you have fond memories of a dish your grandmother used to make, or maybe a late night of binge-watching old Friends episodes made you crave some homemade fried chicken.

Sometimes, though, it’s an ingredient that sparks your creativity, something unique you found at your go-to grocery store or a specialty store you visited on a trip (I’m not the only one who has “visit local market” on their list of vacation to-do’s, right?). That’s the case with this recipe.

It was one serendipitous visit to a local Hispanic market that introduced me to Carne Picada.

If you love Mexican and Tex-Mex food like I do, and you don’t speak Spanish, you’ve probably naturally absorbed some new words from your favorite restaurant’s menu, words like pollo, carnitas, nopalitos, and my favorite – queso. 🙂

If you’re in a meaty mood, you’re already familiar with “carne,” but here are some differences between my Carne Picada recipe and other beefy options to keep in mind:

Carne Picada vs. Carne Guisada: Both are small pieces of beef, but picada is sliced into thin strips and guisada has larger pieces similar to stew beef, slow-cooked and swimming in a cumin-laced gravy.

Carne Picada vs. Carne Asada: Both of these are more like traditional steak, but “Asada” will be grilled, served as a whole steak or sliced for fajitas. Picada will be cooked into something a little saucier. Carne asada is also a more common dish with lots of recipes to choose from. Don’t bother looking for a Carne Picada recipe Food Network or other popular food sites might offer to your recipe quest.

What is carne picada in English? Well, it can mean “minced” or “ground” meat, though what I found at the market and what you’ll likely find is more like very thin strips – shavings, somewhere between a coarse ground beef and thin slices of steak.

Carne pica actually means “spicy” beef, so let’s go with spicy minced beef. 🙂 The slices usually come from a flavorful cut like chuck, though more inexpensive cuts may be used.

In addition to natural beefy goodness, the biggest advantage to using the Carne Picada cut is that it cooks up extremely quickly even though it’s from a low-and-slow roast like chuck, so getting dinner on the table is a snap. Because it has tons of surface area, it also means more space to absorb whatever inspired seasonings you decide to use. Flavor, flavor, flavor.

This Carne Picada recipe is definitely Mexican-inspired and makes a great filling for tacos or enchiladas, or even fantastic Carne Picada fajitas (though you’ll need to pan fry them for fajitas since grilling might be a challenge.

For my recipe, you’ll use a dry marinade of smoky spices – cumin, coriander, oregano – and the extra special addition of ancho chili powder.

Ancho is the name for dried poblano peppers, a dark, smoky, but relatively mild chili often found in fajitas or stuffed as the classic chili relleno. The chili powder on your pantry shelf is probably a blend of spices that includes additional heat in the form of cayenne pepper.

Ancho chili powder is just a wonderful concentrate of all the flavor and natural heat of the chili itself without the other stuff to get in the way.

After an hour or so, the seasoned beef gets browned in batches then mixed with tomatoes (I do recommend breaking these apart with your hands for the best texture), onions, and jalapenos to make a really versatile filling that can be stuffed into your favorite tortilla (or my homemade Sopes) and eaten as-is or with your favorite taco toppings.

Really just a little chopped cilantro and some crumbled queso fresco are all you need.

If you want something more substantial, you can stuff seasoned whole pinto or refried beans and the filling inside a large tortilla, along with some cheese, to make da Burritos Steak Ranchero recipe.

Leftovers are also really amazing served the next morning with a favorite breakfast staple to make a Carne Picada with potatoes recipe (or picadillo) – a really hearty, homey hash.  I recommend adding an over-easy or poached egg on top, along with some sliced avocado, for an epic way to start your day.

Hopefully you’ll be as inspired by the flavor and versatility of Carne Picada as I was . . . a little “south-of-the-border” culinary adventure is only a grocery store away!

Carne Picada

 RECIPE NOTES:

Find it: This recipe is really so simple, with easy-to-find ingredients, the only exception possibly being the meat itself. While this particular cut isn’t necessarily a familiar one in most states, a local Hispanic market is always a good bet, and I’ve even found it at Walmart.

If you come up empty handed, though, buy a small chuck roast or London broil and have your butcher shave it for you, or partially freeze it at home and slice the thinnest pieces you can.

If you don’t like the heat: Definitely DON’T stay out of the kitchen! Just omit the jalapeno.

If you do like things a little on the spicy side, substitute a chopped chipotle pepper (or two, depending on how hot you like it). Chipotles, found canned in Adobo sauce, are a wonderful smoked jalapeno that adds even more flavor – and heat – to the filling.

Not in a Mexican Mood: If you don’t have salsa running through your veins like I do, you can make a Carne Picada stir fry using your favorite Asian marinade and vegetables.

Honestly, you can really substitute it in just about any recipes with small-ish pieces of beef – make an extra-beefy chili; brown it, then make a Carne Picada slow cooker version of Beef Stroganoff to serve over noodles; heck it even makes a mean Philly-cheese steak (with or without Cheez Whiz, though that’s a debate for another post 😉 ).

Freeze It: This filling is so versatile that I often double the filling and store extras in the freezer for an effortless taco night. It’s a great way to make sure you’re spending time mixing up a pitcher of margaritas instead of tending to the stovetop!

Carne Picada