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What is Picadillo, and How to Make This Tasty Dish

So what is Picadillo anyway? Long ago native Mexicans used wild boar, turkey, dove, quail, and pheasant in their cooking, but it was the Spanish that introduced cattle, sheep, goats, and pigs. How we think of traditional Mexican cooking is really a combination of techniques used by both native inhabitants and the Spanish. Here you can enjoy the cooking of Mexico without having to travel there.

What is Picadillo?

What is picadillo? This picture shows the Mexican dish of ground beef, onions, peppers, raisins, and tomatoes.
This photo answers the question: what is Picadillo?

Picadillo is a dish made from ground beef which can be used as a main meal or used as a main ingredient in numerous dishes. Here I will share with you my recipe that I have adapted from one found in Taste of Mexico by Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz.


ingredients to make picadillo: peppers, apples, diced tomatoes
Peppers, apples, diced tomatoes
diced onions cooking to make picadillo
diced onions cooking
  • 2 tablespoons corn oil
  • 2 pounds ground beef
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 2 finely chopped onions
  • 1 apple
  • 2 10 oz. cans Rotel or 1 14 1/2 ounce can fire roasted tomatoes
  • 1 large fresh chopped jalepeno
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • tortilla chips
  • cilantro


ground beef and onion cooking in a pan to make picadillo
ground beef cooking with the onions
  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Then add the beef and onion. Garlic can become bitter when overcooked so I add this when the beef is already browned and the onion is soft.
  2. After that add the remaining ingredients except the cilantro and chips. Continue cooking for about 20 minutes while stirring occasionally.
  3. When it is finished, serve on a platter or bowl with chips and garnish with cilantro if you like.

This can be made hotter if you like by adding additional jalepenos or by using a hotter pepper such as a habenero. On the other hand, if you don’t do spicy you can leave out the jalepeno altogether and use the fire roasted tomatoes instead of Rotel. Of course part of the fun of cooking is tailoring the recipes to your tastes.

Here are some fun items for serving your Mexican food that you can buy through these sponsored links:

Now that we have answered the question of “What is picadillo?” It is time to tell you ways to use it.

How Can I Use Picadillo?

Here are several ways to use picadillo. I like to make a large batch by doubling the recipe above and then freezing the leftovers to use in these meals at a future date.


chimichangas made from picadillo
Cooked Chimichangas
meat in a tortilla as prep for making chimichangas
meat in tortilla
pepperjack cheese placed on top of picadillo t make a chimichanga
pepper jack on top
folded chimichangas cooking in a pan
folded chimichangas


  • 1/2 recipe picadillo
  • 14 flour tortillas
  • oil for frying


  1. Begin by placing 4 tablespoons of picadillo in the center of each tortilla. Then fold in sides, top and bottom.
  2. When the chimichangas are prepared, heat a small amount of oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Once the oil is hot cook a few chimichangas at a time about 90 seconds on each side until browned.
  3. After that drain on paper towels.

Traditionally these are fried in about an inch of oil. I like to use just enough to brown the bottom while avoiding the use of too much fat. My family likes to eat these with hot sauce and some sour cream.



  • taco shells of your choice
  • picadillo
  • homemade salsa
  • shredded cheese
  • guacamole

Tacos are basically a Mexican sandwich. My family prefers hard taco shells, but you can use soft corn or flour tortillas if you like. My husband recently found taco shells with a flat bottom which makes them stand up so they are easier to eat. Fill the taco with picadillo and your choice of toppings. Additionally, tacos are a quick weeknight meal using leftover shredded chicken, pork, sausage, or refried beans.

Homemade Salsa

Salsa mainly means sauce. Typically it is made from diced tomatoes, chopped onion, garlic, cilantro, salt, and lime juice. However, I have tried so many variations, and they are all good. Now I use whatever I have on hand in place of the tomatoes. Fruits such as mango or watermelon make great salsas to accompany fish or chicken. I also use chopped cucumber in place of the tomatoes which is also delicious. My family likes spicy so I often add jalepenos. The main thing to remember is to add lime juice last. After mixing the other ingredients drain over a strainer to get rid of excess liquid. My daughter doesn’t like lumps so if I am making tomato salsa for her I often blend everything in my food processor for a smooth consistency. If you don’t have fresh fruits or vegetables on hand a few cans of Rotel work nicely.

Holy Guacamole

I like to pick up a few fresh avocados at the local market. However, they are always hard when I buy them, and then I leave them on the counter for a day or two and they are too soft to slice. So it’s guacamole to the rescue. Scoop out the avocado into a bowl. Then mash it with a fork. After that, add some salt and lime juice to taste. I also add some cayenne pepper. My family has a habit of leaving ridiculously small amount of food in the fridge. When someone leaves about two spoonfuls of salsa in the fridge I have been known to mix this in with my guacamole.

Refried beans

Another quick addition to Mexican cooking is refried beans. If you have canned kidney beans, black beans, or pinto beans you can make this. Just rinse the beans in a colander to get rid of excess gases. Then dump in a pot with some canned diced tomatoes and chopped onions and cook. As the beans cook in the juices from the canned tomatoes you will be able to mash them as you stir them. You can add chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, basically any seasonings you like.

Picadillo can also be used to make stuffed peppers or tamales.

Here are some sponsored links to use for the tequila drinks you will be serving with your picadillo.

For additional Mexican recipes and drink accompaniments check out our post on the best ceviche recipes and tequila drinks. You can buy great serving items for Tequila from the sponsored links above.

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Donna Emperador is a travel and food blogger and copywriter. Donna believes in learning about different cultures while sharing good food and cocktails. She has lived in South Florida for over 20 years and enjoys spending time exploring the road to find unique places to share with readers. She can be found on FacebookInstagram, and Pinterest.

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