When Paula Wolfert —the renowned Mediterranean food specialist and writer— discovered the Catalan picada, she said that it was the best thing since sliced bread. What’s important from this bold statement is that picada is very versatile and can be adapted to other non-Catalan cuisines.
Picada —pronounced something like pee-CAH-duh— can be explained as both a culinary technique and a special flavoring mix you add towards the end of the cooking process. A Catalan picada is the finishing touch and its main function is to bind the cooking juices together in a subtle way.
Picada is one of the main pillars of Catalan cuisine and unique to it. It contains different ingredients and combinations that vary depending on the dish you are cooking. It’s not an independent sauce like romesco, pesto or allioli but you add the blend during the cooking of a dish, mostly towards the end as we mentioned above.
Catalan picada has been around since the thirteenth century and it’s well documented in the Libre del Coch (Book of the Cook) by Robert de Nola published in the fifteenth century. Its use, versatility and range has been kept alive in every Catalan kitchen until today and Catalan cuisine is unthinkable without it.
A picada can contain healthy Mediterranean foods like toasted almonds, hazelnuts, garlic, bread crust, cookies, parsley, olive oil, herbs, salt, saffron, white wine, stock, cooking juice, pine nuts, chocolate and so on. The combinations can go from just three ingredients to six or more.
It has been called a sauce although it’s not a sauce but a mixture of spices, herbs and other ingredients. Its nearest cousin is pesto alla Genovese, but pesto is clearly a sauce. Surprisingly, it has been called the Catalan roux although it doesn’t contain any flour or butter! So let’s call it Catalan picada or just picada.
Picada derives from the verb picar which means to crush, pound, grind. The name of this flavoring blend describes the action as to make a picada you crush the selected ingredients together with mortar and pestle starting with the hardest one. Granted, nowadays some cooks already use a food processor, but we personally continue using a mortar and pestle. It takes just a few minutes!
Picada is much lighter and healthier than cream and it brings your dishes to new texture levels. You can combine it with all sorts of of Catalan Mediterranean dishes: vegetable recipes, meat, poultry, soups and seafood dishes.
Ingredients for a basic picada
- 2 garlic cloves
- 2 sprigs parsley
- 4 toasted almonds
- 4 toasted hazelnuts
- 12 pine nuts
- A small piece of white bread crust
- Mortar and pestle
- Alternatively, a food processor
How to make a typical picada
- Add 2 peeled cloves of garlic to a mortar and pound them well with the pestle until they become a paste.
- Add the toasted almonds, hazelnuts and pine nuts and pound them.
- Add the parsley leaves, and continue grinding.
- Add a small piece of bread crust and continue pounding with the pestle.
- Finally, you dilute the blend with two tablespoons of the juice of the same dish you are preparing. Mix and stir thoroughly with the pestle.
The picada is now ready. About 5 to 10 minutes before the end of the cooking process, spread the picada paste all over the surface of the dish you are cooking. If needed, take the pan by the handles and shake it to distribute it evenly on all the cooking surface.
This picada is very common and could be added to a rice or pasta dish or a poultry recipe, but every Catalan recipe that calls for a picada specifies the exact ingredients of the particular blend.