Fragrant and deeply satisfying, this comforting Turkey Picadillo is a lighter version of the classic that is simple to make but does not compromise on flavour.
Picadillo is a dish that takes me straight back to the sunny island where I grew up, the Dominican Republic. Whether you are familiar with it or not, it’s a dish that has an unfailing ability to comfort. As soon as I smell Picadillo’s distinctive fragrance, it creates anticipation for something delicious, soothing, and warming to come.
A hearty, slightly saucy stew of minced meat with an assortment of contrasting savoury ingredients, picadillo is much loved in tropical warm countries but it’s even better when enjoyed on a chilly night. I very much hope it brings you some comfort too.
What Is Picadillo?
The name of this dish “picadillo” is the diminutive form of the Spanish word picado which means finely chopped, or minced. The main ingredient in picadillo is ground, or minced meat, hence the name.
Though Cubans claim it as their own, Picadillo is a beloved dish in much of Latin America and the Caribbean. Every country has it’s own ingredient list for Picadillo though I find these only vary slightly. The dish is also popular in the Philippines where it is called Giniling which means ground meat.
Ground beef is the traditional meat in Picadillo with ingredients like olives, capers, and raisins contributing a marvelous blend of complex textures and flavours. Tomato sauce and sometimes white wine, help give the dish a stew-like characteristic, though Picadillo shouldn’t be overly saucy.
Picadillo is an easy, family-style dish and barely a week went by without it popping up at our table when my kids were little. It is even better the next day when all the lovely flavours have had more time to infuse the whole dish.
Why Turkey Picadillo?
Years ago, I would have never dared swap out ground beef for leaner ground turkey when making Picadillo. In fact, I wrote a recipe for ground beef Picadillo a few years back and in that post I warn you that ground turkey will not make a great Picadillo. I was wrong.
We no longer eat a lot of beef but there was no way I could give up eating Picadillo. Turns out, ground turkey is a great option. It’s healthier, it has a fantastic ability to take on other flavours, and it’s inexpensive. It also cooks faster than beef making it a great option for a quick weeknight meal.
Aside from the meat, this turkey Picadillo is very similar to a traditional beef Picadillo with a few tweaks to give it more flavour. I now enjoy this turkey Picadillo just as much, maybe even more, than a beef Picadillo.
Ingredients And Notes
The ingredients in turkey Picadillo are very simple and straightforward. I highly recommend you follow the recipe as written the first time you make it, then tweak to your taste or to ingredients you have on hand.
- Ground turkey: Ground chicken, pork, or a mix of any ground meat can also be used.
- Sofrito: Though it sounds fancy, generally speaking, Sofrito is a simple sauté mixture of onions and garlic with other ingredients used to enhance flavour in many Latin American dishes. For this Picadillo, red (or yellow) onions, green pepper, and garlic make up the base of the sofrito. I know some people don’t love green peppers but I’ll make you a deal. You can add red bell peppers if you promise not to completely omit the green pepper. In my opinion, the green pepper gives Picadillo one of its most distinct flavours.
- Tomato paste: For adding colour and depth of flavour.
- Tomato sauce: Here you must use restraint. Picadillo is not supposed to be a tomato-heavy ragu. Just one cup of tomato sauce is plenty. You can also use crushed tomatoes or 2 small chopped fresh tomatoes.
- Dry white wine: Cuban versions of Picadillo often include white wine and I really like it. If you are avoiding alcohol feel free to leave it out.
- Spices: Cumin, oregano, and paprika are always added to my Picadillo. Cinnamon or all spice is sometimes added which gives it a bit of moorish touch.
- Bay leaves: For some lovely aroma.
- Pimento stuffed olives, capers, and raisins: Many Spanish-inspired stews are finished with these three ingredients. Here, the combination adds a sweet-sour jolt that lends a unique flavour to the picadillo. The raisins provide a little sweetness to balance the briny flavours of the capers and olives. But feel free to leave them out if you are a raisin-hater. I like capers in my Picadillo but others in my household not so much. Feel free to omit them, if you wish. The olives, however, are not optional. Their tangy-briny sharpness is one of the most critical flavours in a Picadillo.
- Cilantro sprigs: Cilantro is not an ingredient used very often in Picadillo but I like the flavour so I add a bit. You can omit it altogether or use parsley if you prefer.
How To Make This Recipe
Loaded with flavour, this homey turkey Picadillo recipe is surprisingly easy to throw together. Perfect for a weeknight but special enough to serve to company. Here is the step-by-step to make it:
- Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat and cook the onions and green pepper until soft. Stir in half of the garlic along with all the spices and bay leaves. Cook until fragrant about 1 minute. Full disclosure: I forgot to divide the garlic in the photos – it’s not an essential step but reserving a bit of garlic to add at the end will give the Picadillo more flavour.
- Add the tomato paste and continue to cook until it darkens in colour, about 1 minute more.
- Add the turkey and cook, breaking it up into small chunks, until no longer pink.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, wine, and water: Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low then simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
- Remove the lid and stir in the olives, capers, raisins, cilantro sprigs, and remaining garlic. Cook for 10 more minutes, covered. Serve with accompaniment(s) of your choice and enjoy!
Here are a few other ingredients or variations you might enjoy with your Picadillo:
- Jalapeños: Picadillo is not meant to be a spicy dish. That said, if you like a little heat, add 1 chopped jalapeño.
- Diced potatoes: Particularly in Cuba, Picadillo often includes diced potatoes. Yes, even when served with rice. If you haven’t tried it, it’s quite a delicious combo and it helps stretch the dish to serve more. I love it but omit it when I’m in a hurry or I don’t want so many carbs in one sitting.
- Peas and carrots: In the Philippines, Picadillo often includes carrots and peas as well as potatoes.
What To Serve With Turkey Picadillo
My favourite way to serve Picadillo is with white rice, black beans, and a side of plantains. An avocado salad alongside is always a good idea. Here are a few more suggestions:
- Serve the Picadillo on top of white rice then top with a fried egg (so good!)
- With Spanish Rice and Beans
- As a baked potato stuffing
- With mashed potatoes instead of rice
- On toasted bread or buns – sloppy Joe style
- As a filling for empandas
- With cauliflower rice
- As a filling for wraps or tacos
Storing & freezing tips
Like any stewed meat, Picadillo is even better the next day so making a double batch for a few meals is always a good idea.
To store: Leftover turkey picadillo can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days. Reheat in a saucepan over medium heat until warmed through.
To freeze: Picadillo is great for freezing. Once completely cooled, transfer to an airtight container or freezer-safe bag and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight then reheat on the stovetop until warmed through. You may need to a few splashes of water if it seems dry.
More Ground Turkey Recipes To Make
- Turkey Taco Salad
- Harissa Turkey Chili
- Turkey Stuffed Peppers
- Indian-Spiced Shepherd’s Pie
- Turkey Stuffed Eggplant
If you give this Turkey Picadillo recipe a try, please feel free to leave a comment and/or a star rating below. We appreciate and welcome all your feedback. Thank you!
- 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 1 small green pepper cored,seeded, and finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 3 cloves garlic minced and divided
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika (not smoked!)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 pounds *ground turkey (see notes)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 cup tomato sauce I use passata or crushed tomatoes
- ½ cup dry white wine optional
- 1/4 cup water (or 1/2 cup if you omit the wine)
- ½ cup pimento-stuffed Spanish olives plus 2 tablespoons brine
- 2 Tablespoons capers optional
- 4 cilantro sprigs plus more for garnish, optional
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet or saucepan with lid over medium-high heat. Add onion and green pepper and cook until the onions are translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in half of the garlic, tomato paste, oregano, cumin, bay leaves, salt and pepper and cook until tomato paste darkens, about 1 minute.
- Add the ground turkey, stirring and crumbling up the chunks, until browned and no longer pink, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, wine (if using), and water and bring the mixture to a low boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer the picadillo for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove the bay leaves and add the olives with brine, capers, remaining garlic, and cilantro sprigs. Cover and cook 5 minutes more, until the meat has absorbed most of the juices but is still saucy. Serve with white rice.
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