Bison Picadillo

This week I start to work through my fridge and freezer inventory to make room for the turkeys I pre-ordered before COVID-19 downsized our Thanksgiving.  Today’s culinary challenge is to use yesterday’s leftover rice and a tub of chopped tomatoes, peppers and onions I marinated to make gazpacho before I realized I was out of cucumbers.   So I thaw a pound of ground bison from the freezer and now we have the makings of Picadillo and rice.

Commonly eaten in Latin America and the Philippines, Picadillo is a dish of ground beef stewed with tomatoes, peppers, and onions, briny olives, and sweet raisins.  Richly spiced with oregano, cumin, and chili powder, it’s one of my favorite Cuban restaurant staples, and also very quick and easy to make at home. (jump to recipe)

I’m using ground bison, which is much leaner than beef, so I’m adding 2 oz. diced pork belly for added body and texture.  Salt pork, bacon, or pancetta would also work here. Starting with a swirl of olive oil in a wide saucepan over medium-high heat, brown and render some of the fat from the pork belly first, before adding the bison. Breaking up the meat, brown it until it’s almost cooked through. Then transfer the meat to a plate, leaving the fat and oil in the pan.

Use the residual fat in the pan to sauté the chopped onion, garlic, and peppers until they’re soft and a little brown.  Then add the spices and briefly toast them to bring out their aromas before adding the meat back to the pan.

Add a splash of red wine, and as the wine cooks down, use the liquid to scrape up any brown bits sticking to the pan.  Finally add the remaining ingredients. Once the tomatoes release their liquid, turn the heat down low and let the mixture simmer for 20 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes melt away and most of the liquid evaporates.

While the picadillo is cooking, I prepare my rice.  When the picadillo is ready, season it to taste with salt and pepper. I don’t add salt while it’s cooking because the olives are salty so I wait to see if it needs more at the end. You can add some cayenne if you want the heat, but I don’t think it needs it. Today I serve the picadillo with plain rice, and a tangy cabbage slaw. Yellow rice and beans would be excellent too. Leftover picadillo is even better the next day, and can be mixed with cooked rice and turned into filling for stuffed peppers or tomatoes.

Bison Picadillo

  • Servings: 2 to 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

4 Tbsp. olive oil (60 ml)
2 oz. diced bacon/pancetta/ belly (60 g)
1 lb. ground beef or bison (450 g)
3/4 cup finely chopped onion (100 g)
3/4 cup finely chopped bell peppers (100 g)
1/2 jalapeno finely diced
2 garlic cloves minced (8 g)
1 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/4 cup red wine (60 ml)
1/4 cup olives sliced (35 g)
1/4 cup raisins (35 g)
2 cups tomatoes, cut in 1” chunks
salt & pepper to taste
cayenne pepper to taste (optional)

1. Heat oil in a wide saucepan over medium high heat. Add pork belly or bacon, if using, and cook about 3 to 4 minutes until lightly browned and some of the fat has rendered out. Add the bison or beef to the pan, breaking it up, and brown the meat until it’s almost cooked through. It’s ok if some pieces are slightly pink.

2. Transfer the browned meat to a plate, leaving the oil behind in the pan. Add onions, peppers, and garlic to the oil and lower the heat to medium. Cook them for about 5 to 7 minutes until they are soft and just beginning to brown.

3. Add the spices and cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant. Then return the meat the pan and add the red wine. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes more, scraping any brown bits up from the bottom of the pan.

4. Add the remaining ingredients and cook on medium-high heat until the tomatoes release their liquid. Turn the heat to low, and simmer the picadillo for 20 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are completely soft, the beef is tender, and there is very little liquid left in the pan. Season with salt and pepper if needed, and cayenne pepper if desired. Serve over rice or pasta.

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