What Is Picada?

Karize Uy

Picada is a dish usually mixed into main courses for added flavor and creaminess. Its origins can be traced back to Catalonia, whose cuisines usually have uniquely-flavored dishes that blend the sweet, salty, and savory. In the country of Argentina, however, picada is served as an appetizer course, with small pieces of food placed on several small bowls or plates, sometimes accompanied by wine. It can give guests something to nibble on while waiting and give them a small taste of what the main course will be.

Grated chocolate may be added to a picada on some occasions.
Grated chocolate may be added to a picada on some occasions.

The word “picada” in Catalan originated from the root word “picar,” which translates to “to prick.” This is a fitting definition for a sauce that goes through and gets absorbed by the main dish for more flavor. In Argentina, the word is meant as “chopped,” probably referring to how the food is served as an appetizer dish.

Catalan recipes for picada call for the addition of almonds.
Catalan recipes for picada call for the addition of almonds.

As a Catalan cuisine, picada is usually made from three main ingredients: nuts, bread, and broth. Almonds are the traditional choice for the nut ingredient, but other kinds of nuts can also be used, such as walnuts, hazelnuts, and pine nuts, the latter probably an influence from Italian cuisine. The bread used in the sauce should be crusty and crunchy, so toasted, fried, or even stale breads are preferred. For a sweeter taste, biscuits and cookies can be used as well. As for the liquid component, basic hot water can be used, as well as different meat and vegetable stocks and cooking wine.

Different spices are also added so give the sauce more flavor and aroma, such as garlic, parsley, saffron, and a sprinkle of salt. A little olive oil and cumin can also be added, and on some occasions, grated or melted chocolate as well, to give the sauce some thickness and sweetness. In some varieties, one egg yolk is also mixed in. All the ingredients are crushed by a mortar pestle, with the spices ground initially. The general rule of thumb is that the ingredients are individually added, by order of their hardness.

Many cooks and recipes recommend that the finished picada should be poured on the main course at least ten minutes before the dish is finished cooking. Adding it in too early can overpower the main flavor of the dish, and adding it in too late will not make the dish absorb the sauce’s flavors effectively. Picada goes very well with a variety of dry dishes like fried and roasted chicken or beef, wet dishes such as vegetable stews, and even with pasta.

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