Latin American Cuisine: Salpicón (Nicaraguan Minced Meat)


It took months for my husband to feel comfortable having dinner with my family, but not for the reasons you would think. Nicaragua is a tiny country and it seems that you either know or are related to absolutely everyone. Everybody is a busybody, and there is nothing hidden between earth and sky. So, when we started dating, my husband and I had been in each other's lives at least peripherally our entire lives. He should have been at ease when he sat down with my mom, dad, and three younger siblings. But he wasn't.

My mother was the perfect hostess, my dad played the part of let's-talk-man-to-man-but-if-you-so-much-as-lay-a-finger-on-my-muchachita, my princesa-I'll-shoot-you-and-feed-you-to-the-sharks-in-el-lago, and my brothers stuck to toilet humor—the usual antics. What freaked my husband out was how lax the dinner rules were. You want pancakes? Gallopinto? Steak? A grilled cheese sandwich? There were options to rival a restaurant menu. He didn't understand how this was possible and tried to hide his shock and awe behind quiet politeness, saying he'd have what everyone else was having. Eventually he gave up, realizing everyone was having a different thing, and started eating (effectively gaining 15 or so pounds in the first few months of our noviazgo).

Salpicón is a traditional dish in Nicaragua, simply made by simmering cubes of lean beef in water with onions, green bell peppers, garlic, salt, and black peppercorns. Once cooked through, the vegetables are tossed out with the broth and the beef is finely chopped with fresh onions and bell peppers, then finished off with a squeeze of lime juice. It's a rather healthy dish, especially when compared to many of our other national favorites that just love being submerged in sizzling lard or oil.

Typically, salpicón is served with white rice and the small red kidney beans particular to our region. The beans are commonly served with some of the broth they were cooked in, so the combination of all three items becomes a mixed up, mushy mélange that, though unattractive, is as homey as home-cooked gets.

Back to the odd manner of eating at my house: Salpicón is served warm as soon as it's made. In this stage, it is slightly steamy and moist, and, though fine, some people (myself included) prefer it to be a little more on the crisp side. Naturally, at home, three variations of salpicón were offered: freshly made, sautéed in butter (the accompanying recipe offers a how-to on the buttered salpicón), and, for those who preferred their salpicón to be like aserrín (sawdust), sautéed, re-processed in the food processor, and fried to a dark golden brown. Most homes will offer one of these, according to the cook's prerogative, but come to my house and you can order yours however you like. Or you could just have a bowl of cereal...