One of the many ways to embrace a place is through its cooking. For example, a meal out at a local restaurant or at a friend’s home provides a glimpse into the recipes, common ingredients, cooking style, and dining traditions of a place. Another way to embrace this local cooking is by taking it a step further and preparing a traditional dish yourself.
In Costa Rica, home cooked meals for friends and family are a major part of the culinary tradition. As Chef Gilberto Briceño tells it, when he was young there were always people around his grandmother’s home for dinner, and anyone who came to eat was family.
During the month of December in Costa Rica, time off from school for the kids and the arrival of the holidays makes for frequent dinners and time spent together, which comes with a number of different traditional foods.
One of them is picadillo de turno, an easy-to-make home cooked stew made with meats, local root vegetables, and herbs that’s made big enough for anyone who wants to come visit, and is usually served with handmade corn tortillas. Below, find a local preparation of picadillo de turno.
First and foremost, Picadillo de Turno is an approximate science, a communal dish with a little bit of this and a little bit of that, prepared from what’s in the pantry, in the garden, and fresh at the market. Preparation of the dish primarily goes through three phases: preparing the protein, stewing the root vegetables, and finally combining with rice into the final picadillo.
The first phase of a picadillo is to prepare the protein in the juices of the flavor vegetables | PC: Commons
Almost all steps of preparing Picadillo de Turno are done in a single pot. The dish is most often made with beef, but the protein be chicken, pork, fish, tofu, jack fruit, or one of any other options, which can be minced or cut into bite-sized chunks depending on preference. The chosen protein is placed in the pot with celery, garlic, sweet pepper, and onions, as well as thyme and oregano, which add flavor to the protein as it cooks.
Salt, achiote, cumin, and whole coriander seeds add further seasoning to the meat and vegetables, and the whole meal is then cooked on medium heat until prepared medium-rare.
After the protein has been prepared to medium-rare, it is set aside in a small bowl and covered for later. Then, the diced potatoes, beets, carrots, green papaya, or any other hearty vegetables are placed in the pot.
There is usually enough liquid left in the pan after the preparation of the meat to cover the vegetables. However, if this is not the case, equal parts water and seasonings (the same as before) are added to the mixture until all of the root vegetables are covered.
The mixture is then brought to a boil, before the heat is reduced to simmer until the root vegetables are tender. At the same time, a pot of rice is prepared, aiming for about a one to one ratio between rice and stew.
The picadillo de turno is then mixed with rice, and often served on a fresh-grilled tortillas | PC: Commons
Towards the end of the stewing of the root vegetables, the meat is added back into the stew, brought to a simmer, and seasoned again using the same spices and vegetables (cumin, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, celery, sweet pepper) until the mixture has been seasoned to taste.
Once the stew has been seasoned to taste, the pot of rice and stew are mixed together, aiming for the rice to evenly absorb almost all of the juice from the stew. Some families prefer picadillo de turno with some extra stew left behind while others prefer it slightly drier. Both are correct, and simply come down to personal preference.
Once mixed together, the picadillo is topped with home garden herbs like thyme, parsley, coriander, and spices, and then usually served corn tortillas, warmed, grilled, and slightly buttered in the pan. Individual sauces and seasonings, like a salsa picante or salsa lizano, are put on individually.
One of the staples of picadillos de turnos are the fact that they're made with what's available, like foraged herbs
As Chef Briceño describes, picadillos de turno are more of a style of food than a specific recipe. There are three main phases of preparation, but the ingredients and the amounts are flexible to what’s local, what’s fresh, and what can be found out in the garden. For example, when making picadillos in Las Catalinas, Chef Briceño likes to add beach purslane that he’s foraged from the area around town, a few sweet potatoes, and then top the dish with his favorite blackberry rock salt.
To make your own picadillos de turno, part of the fun is finding just the right mixture of ingredients. After all, slight adjustments of countless picadillos are how each family recipe came to be.
For the first one, the following are a good base:
Which can then take on an identity of its own with any local herbs, spices, or sauces in the pantry.
To try cooking picadillo de turno while you’re in town, reach out to concierge. They can provide these items and any other ingredients on your grocery list to your door, and leave the fun of exploring the flavors of this Costa Rican classics to you.
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