Having grown up in a small agricultral community in California where mobile taquerias set up shop along the main thoroughfares each evening, I thought I knew Latin American food. It wasn't until I went away to college and I had my first Cuban meal that I realized how little I knew.
After moving out to the East Coast, where it's almost impossible to find a decent taco, but Ropa Vieja and Chatinos abound, I quickly became enamoured with la cocina Cubana. Mild and comforting, yet with such a vibrant array of textures and tastes, eating Cuban food made me feel alive on dreary days in the concrete jungle. Fast forward a couple of years and I traded in one big city for another, located on the other side of the world. While the Japanese do some cuisines exceptionally well, Cuban isn't one of them.
That's why I decided that if I want to have Cuban food, I'd have to make it myself. My first project was to perfect a Picadillo. Originally a Spanish dish, Picadillo made its way to all of Spain's colonies, but for me it will always be intertwined with the cuisine of Cuba.
A tender hash of beef, cooked in wine with warm spices like cumin and cinnamon, and an abundance of umami from a sofrito, the beauty of Cuban Picadillo is that it avoids the trap of monotony with the addition of tart salty olives, plump sweet raisins, and waxy potatoes. Each bite brings with it a completely different concoction of textures and tastes which will keep your fork going back for more.
I know I'm always harping on about the importance of browning meat to build flavors, but in this rare instance I'm going to tell you to ignore that advice. It's not that the advice is wrong, it's just that it comes at the cost of making the meat tough. Instead of relying on the beef to build a backbone of flavor, Picadillo is built upon a sofrito of onions, peppers and garlic, which is why it's super important to fully caramelize your sofrito.
Traditional recipes call for a splash of vinegar at the end, but I like hitting my picadillo with the brine from the olives. It adds the requisite tartness while imparting an additional blast of umami that rounds out the dish at the end.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 190 grams onion (finely chopped 1 medium )
- 140 grams red bell pepper (chopped 1 small pepper)
- 20 grams garlic (finely minced 3 large cloves)
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 2 small bay leaves
- 450 grams lean ground beef
- 205 grams whole stewed tomatoes (½ small can)
- ⅓ cup dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 140 grams potatoes (cut into ½ inch cubes 1 medium potato)
- 50 grams raisins (~⅓ cup)
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 65 grams stuffed green olives (~½ cup, coarsely chopped)
- 1 tablespoon olive brine (to taste)
- Add the oil, onions, bell pepper, and garlic to a frying pan over medium heat and sauté until the onions are tender and starting to caramelize around the edges.
- Your sofrito should look like this.
- Add the oregano, cumin, cinnamon and bay leaves, and sauté until very fragrant.
- Add the beef, tomatoes, wine, tomato paste, potatoes, raisins and salt and break up the meat and tomatoes using a spatula. Partially cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender (about 15 minutes).
- Remove the lid and add the olives. Let the picadillo cook until most of the liquid is gone, leaving a thick sauce that coats the beef (about 10 minutes).
- When the picadillo is finished, stir in the olive brine (liquid the olives came in) and adjust salt and pepper to taste.
This recipe sounds so interesting! I will definitely give this a try but since we aren't beef eaters do you think I could use ground poultry and minced mushrooms? My family also isn't crazy for raisins, what do you think if I switch them out for a few dried cranberries instead? Thanks for your thoughts....
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi katswan, while it won't taste the same, you could certainly substitute poultry, mushrooms and cranberries.
Kristen @ good and guilty says
I've never heard of anything like this so I'm intrigued! I can just imagine what a flavor party this is and I'm really interested to try it! Thanks for sharing 🙂
I love the way this recipe looks, but I'll probably never prepare it, because I'm not going to sit with a calculator and convert the metric ingredients to US measures.
450 grams of ground beef? My store doesn't use metric on their labels.
T Randolph says
450 Grams is 1 Pound
T. Dr says
I never reply or comment on blogs but come on, it’s 2021 and you’ve got a phone. Just Google 450 grams into pounds and you’ll get your answer in seconds! 🤦♀️
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Tony, have a look at the drop down below the ingredient. You can change the measurements to Imperial weight measures there.
This was delish. Thanks!
Emmanuel Güivas says
Authentic and delicious recipe however the Sofrito is missing two very important ingredients: cilantro and culantro (Recaito in Spanish, Goya sells it in jars as the fresh herb is very difficult to find in stores). Cuban and Puerto Rican Sofrito should be a vividly bright green from the cilantro.
Dan Burgess says
Just google "450 grams in pounds" and you'll see that 450g is 0.99lb. So buy a pound of beef. This ain't that hard.
Dexter TheDod says
dont they sell it frozen in cottage cheese containers. i wish the sell it in cube form.
Richard Alan Edwards says
My Cuban wife grew up with this recipe along with rice and without raisins. Tonight, I going to echar a few raisins.
Julio M. San Juan says
Emmanuel, I'm sorry but cilantro? I am Cuban and never did I see cilantro on my table in Cuba. Culantro was used in soups mainly, not in picadillo. In my house we cut the potatoes in 1/2 inch cubes and deep fried them first until crispy and golden brown and added them to the picadillo just before serving to maintain the crispness of the potatoes.
Ray Clothier says
That was delicious! Bravo & thank you for creating a meal that appealed to every firefighter on my crew!
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Ray, I'm so glad to hear my recipe was able to satisfy a table full of heroes! Thanks for sharing!
Jan Jewell says
My Cuban friend would love this. He would enjoy plain rice as a side. So what kind of rice does that mean? Yellow rice? White? Cooked in broth?
Marc Matsumoto says
Hi Jan, plain rice usually means rice that has just been cooked with water. I usually serve this with saffron rice.