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: “Prepárate.”

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?


  1. I can personally attest to the awesomeness of the pastelitos and empanadas you can make with picadillo. I have a simple recipe for pastelitos that will have you eating them in less than 1 hour. Ya tu sabes…

    Comment by Mildred — May 19, 2010 @ 8:23 am

  2. i was there to personally witness the fabulousness of this picadillo masterpiece. it was, as dora the explorer says, “delicioso!”…of course, jose doesn’t know who dora is b/c his son is only 9 months old…but he will…

    Comment by annieinexile — May 19, 2010 @ 1:30 pm

  3. MmmmmMmmmm I love a good Picadillo, I finally have a recipe to stick with too I experimented so much with Picadillo, but always go back to my grandmothers basics. It’s easy and delicious.

    Just add 1 1/2 lbs. ground beef to a pan season with salt, let it brown and cook in there, chop up sofrito and add once the beef releases fat and water evaporates. Cook down, add 1 cup tomato sauce cook a bit, add water bring to a boil, season with a little comino, stir well, the olives and capers if using. Let boil uncovered 3-5 minutes, turn off add your “Papa frita” stir well.

    It’s so good!!!

    Raisins are alright but my dad will kill me since he hates them. But I always have to have the “Papa frita”

    sometimes we cook the sofrito first and then add the meat like you did 🙂

    Comment by Nathan — May 20, 2010 @ 1:22 pm

  4. Hey Nathan, thanks for your (as usual) informative and energetic comments. Yes, of course there are lots of ways to make picadillo and I’m sure your version is delicious but not as good as mine 😀

    Comment by Jose — May 20, 2010 @ 3:15 pm

  5. LOL. I promise I’ll try your recipe someday maybe next time I make Picadillo :)it probably won’t be better than my abuela’s 😛 ha ha.

    Comment by Nathan — May 20, 2010 @ 3:25 pm

  6. I love picadillo; but never, ever with raisins. I actually made picadillo tonight. Growing up Abuela and Mami made it without raisins or potatoes. My husband likes potatoes in picadillo, so I now add potatoes.

    Comment by M @ bettycrapper — May 21, 2010 @ 5:45 pm

  7. Thank you so much for this receipy 🙂

    Comment by Tim — April 23, 2011 @ 2:18 am

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  10. I like to use thick chunks of fresh tomatoes and green peppers and whole pimento stuffed green olives the last 6 to 10 minutes so they are crisp but heated and serve over rice.

    I usually substitute wine for the sherry and add after onions, garlic & spices so the aroma steams up and then brown the beef followed by the vegetables.

    Also I like your idea of the petite peas and fried potato chunks – made even mixing red & yellow for added color. I’d leave the peas until the end so they stay a vivid green and do not over cook.

    Comment by Anita D — August 21, 2015 @ 1:49 pm

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    Comment by thiet ke web fpt — November 9, 2015 @ 6:43 pm

  12. I can’t wait to make this. I will have to use the capers and not the green olive, as I only like the purple and black olives. As a southerner, we like to eat a lot of foods over rice and this sounds perfect. Thank you so much!

    Comment by Paula Coxwell — April 2, 2016 @ 9:59 pm

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  14. HELP. I only had crushed tomatoes and my Picadillo looks too thick with the crushed tomatoes. Anything I can do to add more liquid???
    Oh dear, I see this recipe is from 2010. I probably won’t get an answer.

    Comment by GAIL TONELLI — November 27, 2020 @ 9:38 pm

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