If you shop at the Pascagoula Walmart, you’ll see a package of meat in the beef section labeled “carne picada.” The name is in Spanish, but what is it really?
It’s plain beef, cut in fine strips or very coarsely ground–depending on your point of view.
What is it good for?
It’s good for a lot of things that you would like finely cut beef in. It is typically made from cheaper cuts of beef, which means it can have gristle and fat, but if you don’t overcook it…it works great for even stir fries. I love the speedy way I can saute it with mushrooms and onions to toss with some sour cream and egg noodles for a quick beef stroganoff that is jam packed with flavor. It’s great for chili, stews and even curry too.
So why do I prefer it over stew meat?
In my opinion, the stew meat typically sold from meat counters is about four times too large, and I still have to cut it up to make it truly “bite sized.” Carne picada isn’t…it’s in a convenient thin strip that doesn’t require anything more than being separated from the other pieces in the package. No cutting, no fussing, and it cooks quicker too. The included fat and even gristle, as long is it isn’t too high of a percentage of the meat in the package, even adds additional flavor to the dish, making it much more “home cooked” tasting than using the leaner stew meat or meat prepared for stir fries.
How do I use the carne picada?
My favorite is to simply put the seasonings into a zip lock bag, including a bit of vegetable or olive oil, worcestershire, and anything else I am going to use (like garlic, pepper, etc.) and put the desired amount of carne picada into the bag with it. Squish the meat and seasonings all together, which helps make it easier to separate the individual pieces of meat from each other.
If it is being used in a stir fry or other quickly cooked dish, I simply separate the pieces as I add them to the skillet or wok, stirring as I do so, and cooking the minimum amount of time possible. For moist dishes such as chilies, stews, and curries, simply add it and cook until tender. It takes less time usually than sliced carrots do. I normally allot at least thirty minutes at a simmer to cook the meat to tender, although I will cook it for as much as an hour on occasion.
To package it in smaller portions and freeze: simply separate out the typical amount used in a recipe in a freezer bag. Adding a small amount of oil may make it easier to separate while still semi-frozen to use in recipes. Freeze for up to one month. Most of our recipes for a dinner-for-two use about 1 cup of thinly sliced meat.
Word of advice: always separate the pieces before adding to hot liquids or the skillet or it will cook together into a mass that reminds me more of a lump of hamburger meat than of strips of beef.
Shopping note: While this meat is readily available at the Pascagoula Walmart, it isn’t necessarily available at other Walmarts in the area. Lucedale and Wiggins do not carry it. Other area grocery stores also do not carry it, although many stores may be willing to cut meat for you in this manner, upon request. Ask! It’s always free to ask! If it is being cut by request, select meat yourself such as a London broil for lean meat or boneless chuck for a mixture of meat with some fat & gristle. Any inexpensive cut may be used, as long as it does not have too much fat, gristle or bone. They may also cut pork for you in this manner, and it can be used in many dishes too.
Recent Posts featuring carne picada:
August 2014 UPDATE:
This has been a very popular post, but it is also one that needs some updating. So, please read on!
While Pascagoula used to be one of the few stores that carried Carne Picada, it’s now carried in more stores. I’m not sure if it’s because of an increasing Hispanic population or if it is because it is so popular, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially since I have moved from the Pascagoula area and don’t regularly shop there.
I still like carne picada, and buy it regularly. It’s convenient, especially when cooking for one or two people because it can be repackaged and then used in amounts appropriate for the number of meals I’m making. However, I have found that often there is a LOT of gristle included in the package and that the quality can vary an equal amount, even in the same store. There is no way to predict this either–it’s not something you can visually inspect and discover. I often am not aware it has a lot of gristle until it is cooked. For that reason, do not overcook carne picada when using it in stir fries or it will seem like you made rubber band stir fry. With slow cooking and plenty of moisture, the gristle is not as noticeable either, so it always works great for chili, stews, etc. My new “favorite” is to make a steak-and-mushroom pot pie using it–it’s great!
Many recipes that are commonly made with hamburger are excellent candidates for using leaner carne picada as well. Be creative! It’s versatile as an ingredient and very convenient.
Don’t forget–check out some of the other posts using carne picada for some great inspiration.