Picadillo is a classic Cuban dish. It’s made with ground beef that’s cooked in tomato sauce and flavored with aromatics, herbs and spices. Which ones, totally depends on who’s doing the cooking!
It’s a simple dish to make and uses affordable, easy to find ingredients. This is a great weeknight meal, especially when time and money are little tight.
In this recipe we go all out and add little fried potatoes to the picadillo. Many folks add raisins and capers for that sweet and salty taste combination. We stick with Spanish olives for that salty bite and leave out the raisins altogether.
This is my version of Cuban picadillo, it’s a family favorite for sure. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do! Oh, and if you have leftovers, make these baked beef empanadas, they’re delicious!
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What kind of meat is used for picadillo?
Ideally, you want to use ground meat that has a low fat content. But, not totally lean so you can get some flavor in there! Try for around 85-90% lean 10-15% fat. Good choices include:
- Ground round – 85-90% lean to 10-15 % fat
- Ground sirloin – 90-92% lean to 8-10% fat
- Ground chuck – 80-85% lean to 15-20% fat
What sides are good with picadillo?
Traditional side dishes served with picadillo include:
Fried sweet plantains (maduros)
- If you’re in a hurry and want to cut some of the cooking time, skip the fried potatoes.
- If you like raisins and a sweet and salty taste combination, add about 2 tablespoons of raisins to the picadillo. Add them in right before covering.
- Along with (or instead of) green olives, you can add capers. Just don’t add too many, their taste is quite strong. A tablespoon should do it. Add them in right before covering.
- If you’re cutting down on red meat, try ground turkey instead. Use a lean variety, but not ground turkey breast, it will be too dry. Try this turkey picadillo recipe. Trust me, all the flavor is there!
2 Medium Potatoes, cut into ¼ – ½ inch cubes (or 1 large potato about 10-12 ounces total)
Canola Oil for frying, enough to cover the bottom of a skillet by about ½ inch
1 teaspoon Salt, plus a pinch or two, divided
½ teaspoon Dried Oregano
¼ teaspoon Cumin
¼ teaspoon Black Pepper
2 tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Medium Onion, finely diced
1 Large Carrot, small dice
2-3 Garlic Cloves, minced
1 pound Lean Ground Beef, we used ground chuck
¼ cup White Wine
8 ounce Can Tomato Sauce
¼ cup Water
½ cup Pitted Spanish Olives, whole or sliced in half
There’s not a lot of time in between adding the ingredients for this picadillo so it’s best to have everything ready to go before you start. I like to keep the ingredients in glass nesting bowls. They help me keep everything organized, which takes the stress out of cooking!
- Make a seasoning mix: combine the salt, dried oregano, cumin, and black pepper in a small bowl.
- Dice the onions and carrots. They will go into the skillet at the same time, so keep them in the same bowl.
- Then, mince the garlic.
- Next, prepare the rest of the ingredients. Measure out the wine, water, olives, olive oil and open the can of tomato sauce.
- The final step, peel the potatoes and dice them into ¼ to ½ inch pieces. Keep them covered with cold water if you’re not going to fry them right away. Keeping peeled, cut potatoes in cold water slows down the browning process. Just remember to drain really well before adding them to hot oil.
Alright, that’s it for the prep work, let’s cook!
Fry the potatoes
Start with frying the potatoes. They go in at the end, but frying always requires your undivided attention.
The potatoes will keep just fine, draining on paper towels while you make the picadillo. The tough part here is preventing your family from sneaking a few potatoes while your back is turned.
Cover the bottom of a large skillet with about ½ inch of canola oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. Test the oil by adding a couple of potatoes. If they start sizzling and the oil starts bubbling, it’s ready.
Fry the potatoes until they’re golden and cooked through. This will take about 10 minutes, stir them frequently while turning to brown on both sides.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the potatoes from the skillet and place them on a sheet pan or plate lined with a paper-towel to drain. Sprinkle them with a pinch of salt.
Saute the vegetables
Heat the olive oil in a large, deep skillet (preferably non-stick) over medium heat. When the oil is hot, but nowhere near smoking, add the onions and carrots.
Cook the vegetables for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent, stirring frequently. Next, add the garlic and stir well to combine. Continue cooking for 1 minute, stirring frequently.
Brown the ground beef
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the ground beef and the prepared seasoning mix (1 teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin and black pepper) to the skillet. Stir, while breaking up any large pieces using a wooden spoon or a spatula.
Cook the beef for approximately 5 minutes or until browned, stirring occasionally.
Finish the picadillo
Add the white wine to the skillet. Stir and gently scrape any bits off the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking for 1-2 minutes until most of the liquid cooks out.
Lower the heat to medium-low and add the tomato sauce, water and olives to the picadillo and stir well to combine.
Here’s a frugal tip: I add the water to the empty can of tomato sauce and give it a swirl, that way I get every last drop out.
Cover the skillet and cook the picadillo for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep the picadillo at a simmer, if the liquid is boiling too vigorously, lower the heat a bit. You don’t want it to dry out; we want it a little bit saucy!
Now, lower the heat to low and add the fried potatoes to the picadillo. Cover the skillet and cook another 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to develop and combine. Once the potatoes are in, stir the picadillo gently so they don’t tear. Use a wooden spoon or a rubber spatula.
Taste the picadillo and add salt, if needed. As a reference, we did not add any extra to ours. Here we serve the picadillo with white rice and fried sweet plantains. Enjoy!
You may also like one of these Cuban recipes:
- Chicken Fricassee
- Ropa Vieja
- Vaca Frita
- Vaca Frita de Pollo
- Camarones Enchilados
- Cuban Style Pork Chops
- Cuban Chicken Soup
- Chicharrones de Pollo
- 2 Medium Potatoes peeled and cut into ¼ - ½ inch cubes (or 1 large potato about 10-12 ounces total)
- Canola Oil for frying enough to cover the bottom of a skillet by about ½ inch
- 1 teaspoon Salt plus a pinch or two, divided
- ½ teaspoon Dried Oregano
- ¼ teaspoon Cumin
- ¼ teaspoon Black Pepper or to taste
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 Medium Onion finely diced
- 1 Large Carrot small dice
- 2-3 Garlic Cloves minced
- 1 pound Lean Ground Beef
- ¼ cup White Wine
- 8 ounce Can Tomato Sauce
- ¼ cup Water
- ½ cup Pitted Spanish Olives
- Cover the bottom of a large skillet with about ½ inch of the canola oil. Heat the oil over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the potatoes and fry until golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir frequently to brown on all sides.
- Remove the potatoes from the skillet and place them on a pan or plate lined with a paper-towel to drain. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt.
- Heat the olive oil in a large, deep, non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots to the skillet. Cook the vegetables for 5 minutes until the onions are translucent, stirring frequently.
- Add the garlic, stir well to combine. Cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.
- Raise the heat to medium-high, add the ground beef, 1 teaspoon salt, oregano, cumin and black pepper. Stir well while breaking up the meat using a wooden spoon or a spatula. Cook the beef for about 5 minutes to brown, stirring occasionally.
- Add the white wine and cook for 1-2 minutes until most of the liquid evaporates.
- Lower the heat to medium-low and add the tomato sauce, water and olives, stir to combine.
- Cover the picadillo and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Keep the picadillo at a simmer, if the liquid is boiling vigorously, lower the heat a bit.
- Lower the heat to low and add the potatoes to the picadillo, cover and cook another 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to develop and combine, stirring occasionally.
- Taste the picadillo and add salt, if needed. As a reference we did not add extra salt to ours.