picadilloI take Cuban food very seriously, and have been trying for the past six years to make the perfect picadillo. Picadillo is essentially Cuban peasant food – ground beef cooked slowly with sofrito, tomatoes and olives. A dash of cumin here, a pinch of oregano there, and you’re on your way to a picadillo party. But no matter what recipe I tried, no matter what cuban ex-pat I asked, I simply could not duplicate the picadillo of Raphael’s grandmother. She did give me her recipe, but I’m convinced she left something out. Perhaps that ingredient was a grandmother’s love, or her 50 years of experience. But I damn it, I have determination. And that determination has led me to my own recipe that will rival any picadillo you find in South Florida, if I don’t say so myself.

If you’re interested in authenticity, be wary of recipes that call for large cans of diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, or even fresh tomatoes. While those dishes may taste good, they’re not picadillo. The key to a good picadillo is that it should have more of a ground beef brown color once it’s done. It shouldn’t look like chili. Tonya, I promised you I would perfect this:

Shea’s Cuban Picadillo

  • 1 small green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small spanish onion, diced
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 2 tbsp cumin
  • 2 tbsp chopped Cuban Oregano (or 1 tsp dried oregano)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 8-oz can tomato sauce
  • 6 large olives, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive brine
  • 1/4 cup raisins (optional – I prefer it without but traditionally picadillo has raisins)
  • Salt to taste

On medium heat, warm the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the peppers, onions, garlic, and salt to taste, until the vegetables start to soften. Add the tomato paste and cook until browned and caramelized. Add the ground beef, cumin, Cuban oregano, and bay leaf. Break up the beef as it cooks – once the beef has browned, add the tomato sauce, olives, brine, and raisins. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Salt to taste, and serve over rice.

*Looking for something to do with your leftover picadillo? Pick up some pizza dough and make beef empanadas. You won’t be disappointed!