My first official job when I was a teenager was in a butchery. It was a summer full of learning and a lot of tiring work, but many of the things I learned during that time are still incredibly useful in my kitchen.
During a random summer in my teens, I was walking back home with my mom from the tianguis (wet market), and we stopped to buy meat from the local butcher. I saw a sign that said they were looking for a helper and I asked how much they were offering. The butcher told me the salary, and said “if you are interested and your mom agrees, you can come and help us out.” He told me that he and his wife would teach me everything I need to learn.
I got excited, thinking I was going to earn so much money. My mom agreed and the butcher said, “I’ll see you tomorrow at 4 a.m.”
I stopped and said, “You mean 4 in the evening?”
He laughed and said, “First rule, you start early, you finish early. See you at 4 a.m.”
After setting three different alarms, I managed to wake up on time and be ready for my first day of work. When I got there, I was introduced to a whole new world! They had sections and schedules to process beef, lamb, chicken, turkey, and other meats. I learned that one of the most important things for a butcher is to have a sharp knife and shears. It was during that season that I learned how to break down a chicken in 5 minutes. They also taught me to clean and sanitize before and after working on a surface to avoid cross-contamination, and that the color and smell of the meat will usually tell you if it has been stored properly. I also learned that when it comes to ground meat, it’s best to purchase the chunk of meat and ask the butcher to ground it for you.
It was a very tiring job, most of my days were very busy, but the best part was always lunch. Each day, the butcher and his wife would prepare a different type of meat in a different way, from steak tartare to a humble grilled chicken.
The butchers were very kind to me and taught me all kinds of tricks that I still using to this day. Today, I would like to share one of the most traditional dishes from Mexico, Picadillo! Picadillo is great in tacos, or alone on top of some delicious rice with black beans! It is usually made with ground beef, but my version is made with turkey.
1 pound of ground turkey
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
4 small tomatoes
1 garlic clove
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 Serrano or jalapeno peppers, seedless and chopped
2 spoons of canned chipotle – My preference is La Costena brand (optional)
A small bunch of cilantro, chopped
A small bunch of oregano, chopped
1 bay leaf
½ cup of chicken stock.
A dash of cumin
1 teaspoon of paprika
Pepper, to taste.
Salt, to taste.
1.At medium heat in a large pot, sauté onion, bell pepper, hot peppers, and carrots. When onion is translucent, move to step 2.
2.Mash and mix ground turkey into cooking vegetables. Add potatoes and garlic, and a dash of salt and pepper, and let the meat cook for 2 minutes.
3.Blend tomatoes, cilantro and chipotle, and add tomato mix to the pot. Add oregano, cumin, paprika, and bay leaf. Cover with a lid and let simmer on low-medium heat for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
If it is too dry, add some chicken stock as necessary.
When potatoes and carrots are fully cooked, adjust salt and your picadillo is ready!
Note: If your picadillo is for tacos, is better if it is on the dry side, but if you are serving it as a dish on rice and black beans, make a little juicier.