May 19, 2010


Filed under: beef — Jose @ 5:00 am

Upon first glance you might think “what’s this, Esloppy Yo’s?” or even “Ah yes, i’ve made this before… como se dice… Hamburguesa Helper”. To you I say: “Prep├írate.”

Picadillo is beloved by many and aside from lechon asado, is as close to a Cuban national dish as there is. Picadillo is versatile, as evidenced by the awesome empanadas and pastelitos you can make with it on days 2 and 3. It is also eclectic, how often do you eat a savory dish that features olives, pimentos, peas and raisins?

However, In the world of Cuban food, Picadillo gets the short end of the palo. Is it the relative ease of preparation? Is it the pedestrian main ingredient (ground beef)? Perhaps it’s a victim of it’s own ubiquity.

I will admit that prior to developing this recipe my gut reaction to Picadillo was that it was low brow and lacking in sophistication. But I must say that I’ve a new found appreciation for Picadillo and in case you think of it as I did, I’m asking you to cast aside these negative preconceptions and give it another go.

What peccadillo has been committed upon this Picadillo?

Too much tomato
Be it actual tomato pieces, tomato paste or tomato sauce, a good Picadillo is subtle with it’s tomato flavor. This is an important distinction–Picadillo is not a tomato sauce with meat. Go get yourself a red and white striped long sleeve, a gondola and a can of Ragu if that’s what you’re looking for. O sole mio… molto pomodoro!

Tastes like… not much
Aka, it’s not meaty tasting. Most of the time, this has less to do with the recipe and more to do with the raw ingredient. Remember that ground beef can come from any part of the steer and what it tastes like depends entirely on what the butcher or processing plant decides should go into it. No matter, even if the ground beef is kinda blah, I have come up with a little trick to overcome the issue.

Too watery
This one irks me the most because it is easily corrected by a) not covering the pan when you cook it and, I know this may be hard to grasp, b) adding less liquid.

Eeeeew, it’s got raisins
Mira chico, if they’re good enough for Marvin Gaye, they’re good enough for you. I know this because I heard it through the uva vine.

  • It’s goin down:

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1.5 cups chopped onion (one medium)
  • 1.5 cups chopped green/red bell pepper (one medium)
  • 2 pounds lean-ish (85/15 or 90/10) ground beef
  • 6 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 dried bay leaf
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 cup dry sherry plus a splash
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 beef bouillon cube dissolved in 1/2 cup warm water (the aforementioned beefy trick)
  • 20 or so pimento stuffed, manzanilla olives cut in half
  • 20-30 raisins (golden are fine)
  • 1+ tsp salt
  • 1 wholepeeled, cubed, fried red potato
  • 1/2 cupPeti Pua (for non-Francophiles, that would be peas)
  • 1 dozen capers instead of, or in addition to, olives

Place a large sauce pan or a dutch oven over medium-high heat and allow it come to temperature, about 5 minutes. Add the oil, wait 30 seconds or so for the oil to get hot and add the onion, bell pepper. Cook for about 3 minutes until the onion is soft. Add a sprinkle of salt and then the ground beef and garlic. Using a wooden spoon, mix the ground beef with the sofrito vegetables. The main goal here is to break up any large clumps of the meat. Also, when stirring, make sure you are lifting from the bottom as you do not want the meat to burn (it will get dry and tough). Stir continuously, the meat will release a lot of liquid and fat and this is a good thing. If you have to make do with fattier ground beef, use a spoon to skim some, not all, the fat off the top. Do that now.

Once the meat is no longer pink, about 8 minutes, add the remaining ingredients (bay leaf, tomato paste, cumin, dry sherry, beef bouillon water, olives, raisins and salt). Bring this to a boil and reduce to medium-low heat and cook for about 20 minutes, uncovered. Stir occasionally. You want this going at a slow simmer so adjust your heat accordingly.

The end product should be evocative of sloppy joe’s in texture, mostly meat with a wee bit of liquid in the form of tomato-ey, oily goodness. Taste for salt, adding a 1/2 teaspoon at a time and stirring. Once you are satisfied with the flavor, add a splash of dry sherry (about 1 tablespoon) and cover for at least 10 minutes. Serve with white rice and some fried plantains. Black beans are not required but, as usual, always welcome.


  • Like most saucy dishes, Picadillo benefits from a nice siesta. As in, let it cool, put it in the refrigerator and eat later that day or on the next by reheating over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently.
  • The finer the meat is ground, the better. Mushy is good. It so happens that my favorite local grocery chain, Trader Joe’s, has the best pre-packaged meat for Picadillo purposes. If you are not so lucky, ask your butcher to put the ground beef through the grinder twice. Disregard the arched eyebrow he will surely give you.
  • If you look up Picadillo recipes on the web, most of them will call for all sorts of ingredients that I do not, particularly hot peppers and ground pork. The term Picadillo is not unique but Cuban Picadillo is. You’re on this blog for a reason, no?

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