Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Cuban Picadillo - Ground Beef Cuban Style


I am going on record ... this is my absolute all-time favorite Cuban dish - Picadillo! I learned how to make this dish from my mom and on my own I enhanced her recipe, which enhanced the flavor. So much so, that my mom preferred mine to hers. To this day I take that as the highest compliment, because in my eyes, my mom was the best Cuban chef ever. This wasn't just me saying it either, everyone we knew loved "la comida de Aida" (Aida's food). Picadillo is a poor mans' dish, peasant food, because the ingredients are cheap and readily available. Because of that, the recipe varies from family to family and that goes hand-in-hand with the region of Cuba that family hailed from. I have a dear friend who says her mom added "bijol" (a yellow food coloring) to their picadillo, frankly I was appalled. But hey - to each their own!

Cuban Picadillo

Serves 2-4

1 lb. ground chuck, 85/15 is best but 93/7 works well too.
**Seasoning for the meat:
   Juice of 2 limes** + the grated zest of the limes. Use 3 limes if they are especially dry.
   1/2 tablespoon ground garlic powder
   1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
   1/2 tablespoon dried oregano
   1 teaspoon salt

1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced (about 1/4")**
1 cup canola oil for frying

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped, medium dice.
1 medium green pepper, chopped, medium dice.
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1fat tablespoon tomato paste
1- 8 oz can tomato sauce
1/2 cup vino seco** or dry white wine
1/4 raisins
1/4 green olives, halved (optional)
1 laurel leaf

Add all 5 ingredients listed under "seasoning" to the ground beef. Do not compact the meat, as this toughens it, but rather run your fingers through it to incorporate the ingredients. If time permits, allow to marinate overnight. If not, season your meat before going on with the rest of the prep to allow maximum flavor. The bottom line is the longer it marinates in the seasoning the yummier the flavor.

Heat 1 cup of canola oil to about 350 degrees. Working in batches, add in potatoes and fry till golden. Drain on paper towels. See recipes notes about frying.

In a large stainless steel skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Add onions and peppers, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and cook for 5 minutes. You want to sweat the vegetables, not brown them, the sprinkle of salt will help do just that. Raise the heat to medium high and mix in the ground beef, breakup the meat into a crumble like consistency, making sure to incorporate the vegetables into the meat. Allow meat juices to evaporate through the cooking process. Add the tomato paste, continue cooking till the meat starts taking on a deep brown color and the paste starts to caramelize. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping the pan to lift the flavor packed bits at the bottom of  the pan. Stir in laurel leaf, tomato sauce, add potatoes, raisins and green olives (if using). Stir to incorporate into meat. Lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Typically served with fluffy white rice, along with plantains, cuban bread and a cold beer or red wine. Cheers!

**Recipe Notes:
  • DO NOT substitute the lime with lemon, it just doesn't work.
  • You can use Sazon Completa (Complete Seasoning) a seasoning mix you can find in the hispanic food aisle. Personally, I stopped using it years ago when I realized it had MSG. You can also make your own, see my post Make Your Own Cuban Sazon Completa.
  • The traditional recipe fries the diced potatoes, nowadays I nuke them in the microwave for about 5 minutes in 1/2 cup of water, drain and set aside. I just don't want that extra fat. I'd rather splurge on the 85/15 ground beef. What I discovered is that frying the potatoes really adds nothing to the flavor, so why bother if it is not contributing anything but fat.
  • Vino Seco is a cooking wine and therefore not a drinkable wine, which goes against culinary "principals" but it works in this and in most Cuban recipes. If you'd rather use dry white wine, go for it.


  1. The best!
    By far my favorite dish of all time and probably always will be. I can eat this meal all the time if I could. It also usually makes a lot so there are left overs for lunch...YUM!

    1. I'll make it again next Tuesday ifnyou want to come over for dinner.

  2. So I have tried to make picadillo a bunch of times following recipes I have found online but good gracious I got to tell you this is the best one. I have made it twice since you posted it. I even printed it out and taped it to the back of a cuban cookbook I bought.

    1. I am honored that my recipe has a place in your home and cookbook. Glad you enjoyed making and eating it!

  3. This looks great! I will be trying this out soon!

    1. It's definitely a family and a cultural favorite.
      It's the equivalent of meatloaf and mashers!

  4. This sounds very good. I'll have to try it sometime...I can't wait. I've never had Picadillo before. I just love trying new recipes.

  5. I have looked at a number of Cuban-specific recipes for picadillo but found no others that included limes. I think it would add another level of flavor and want to try it. I just wanted to check that the recipe is using the juice of 2 limes (plus the zest) and not 2 whole limes. Thanks!

    1. Hi and thank you stopping by. Every recipe for Picadillo is very different depending on the family and the region they hailed from in Cuba. This is my mom's recipe with a few extra touches from me. She used lime in her recipe and to me picadillo without lime is not picadillo.
      To answer your question ... Yes, you use the juice of two limes plus zest.
      I'll make a correction to the recipe so that it's clear, thank you for bringing that to my attention!

    2. Thank you so much for taking the time! I look forward to trying it this weekend.

    3. I do hope you enjoy it as much as we do. Thanks again!