Beef Picadillo

Thursday, August 29, 2019

When I'm craving a taste of the Cuban cuisine from my old stomping grounds in South Florida, I cook up a big pan of picadillo with white rice and fried plantains. If I'm feeling super ambitious, a pot of black beans seals the deal. Tonight, I decided to just focus on the picadillo - with some plans in mind for leftovers that I'll share in a future post. (Update: my stuffed peppers recipe is posted!) The mix of savory spiced meat, briny olives, and sweet raisins may seem unusual but it's what makes picadillo so interesting and intoxicating. Traditionally it's made with ground beef or pork, and usually includes potatoes - although it doesn't hurt to leave them out if you're cutting carbs. I originally included my Whole30 compliant version of this recipe in The Kitchenista Diaries: Volume 1 digital cookbook. This rendition stays truer to authentic recipes with the inclusion of white wine. The spices are a bit more heavy-handed here, but the bold flavors can definitely stand more garlic, cumin, and cinnamon. So as with any dish, make it your own by tasting and seasoning to your personal preferences.

Beef Picadillo

1 lb ground beef
Olive oil, as needed
1 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
Kosher salt, as needed
Black pepper, as needed
6 garlic cloves, grated
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon 
3/4 cup dry white wine
8 oz tomato sauce
2 cups chicken or beef stock (see note)*
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup green olives w/ pimentos
1 tbsp capers with brine
1 lb potatoes, diced into 1/2" cubes*
1 tsp Mexican oregano

Active Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes - 1 hour
Yield: Serves 4 to 6
Special Equipment: You'll need a Dutch oven potbraiser, or 5 qt saute pan, plus a colander.

  • The potatoes are often fried first, but I've found that eliminating that step saves on mess and oil. You can steam or parboil the potatoes to save a little cooking time, but if cut small enough they can cook just as easily with the meat in the pot. Any type of potato will work but waxy potatoes like Yukon Golds will hold their shape better if you go that route.
  • Use homemade stock if you have it. If using store-bought stock, a trick to mimic the luscious homemade viscosity is to add unflavored powdered gelatin. It will improve the texture of the sauce. Simply sprinkle a packet of gelatin (2 1/4 tsp) over the surface of 1/4 cup of stock. Let it bloom for 5 minutes to dissolve, then microwave for 10 seconds to melt. Add the remaining stock to the cup, stir, and use in your recipe.

In your pot or large saute pan over medium-high heat, brown the ground beef until no pink remains. Try to get as much color on the meat as you can. Use a colander to drain the meat of excess grease and set aside.

Add a drizzle of olive oil to the pan. Cook the onions and peppers over medium heat, seasoning with salt and pepper. Take your time here to allow the veggies to soften and get some caramelization around the edges. (I usually would use diced onion but I had a container of sliced onions already prepped!) Stir in the grated garlic. Cook for another minute until fragrant.

Add the crushed red pepper flakes, paprika, cumin, chili powder and cinnamon. Cook for a minute to allow the spices to bloom. Deglaze the pan with the white wine, scraping up any browned bits in the pan. Allow the liquid to bubble and reduce slightly before proceeding.

Pour in the tomato sauce. I like using the Goya seasoned tomato sauce, but a plain tomato sauce will work too. Now's a good time to taste how the seasonings are coming along. Just a reminder that olives and capers will join the party later, so be conservative with salt.

Return the ground beef to the pan and fold it into the sauce. Pour in the stock.

Then fold in the potatoes, olives, raisins, capers and bay leaves.

There should be enough liquid in the pan to just barely cover the potatoes so that they cook evenly. If not, you can add a little water or more stock. Bring the liquid up to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the picadillo to simmer gently. You can cover the pan partially but you'll want to allow steam to escape so that the sauce can reduce as it cooks. 

As the sauce starts to get thicker and reduce, stir in the oregano. 

If you used raw potatoes, it will probably take around twenty minutes for them to get fork-tender. If you steamed your potatoes ahead of time, plan on around ten minutes. Either way, you want the picadillo sauce to be thick and cling to the meat like gravy, so it shouldn't still be runny. Keep simmering until it gets to that point. Towards the end, taste and adjust for seasonings.

Don't forget to remove the bay leaves before serving! While the picadillo cooks, I fried up some plantains, made a pot of coconut cilantro rice, and prepped a quick salad of arugula, heirloom tomato, avocado and pickled onion. (You can check out this recipe for coconut rice and adapt - I skipped the garlic, ginger and lemongrass, and stirred in chopped cilantro after it cooked.)

Update 9/1/19 - Check out the next post to learn how to turn your leftover picadillo into amazing stuffed peppers!

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  1. Made this today. Life changing recipe!

  2. Delicious recipe. This had been added to recipe book. Thank you!