Authentic Cuban Picadillo Recipe

Cuban picadillo pictured with sides. pinit

What is Cuban Picadillo?

Cuban picadillo (pronounced “peekah-dee-yoh”) is a beloved dish in Cuban cuisine. Picadillo means minced meat or ground beef. It features seasoned ground beef simmered with a base of sofrito (a sofrito is a flavorful mixture of sautéed onions, bell peppers and garlic), tomatoes (or tomato sauce), and a blend of spices.

Many Latin countries and even the Phillipines all have their own versions. Even people from different parts of Cuba have their own versions. My Cuban mother in law taught me to use tomato sauce, but her mom (abuela) used tomatoes. Both of them add green olives. Some people like to add raisins for a little sweetness and others like to add capers for a little saltiness.

The other day the question was asked in one of the Cuban recipe Facebook groups that I belong to, “What is the most important Cuban dish that everyone should know how to make?” The majority of people answered picadillo and I happen to agree. Why? Picadillo can be like a stepping stone to so many other recipes. Once one knows how to make picadillo then we can make other things such as pastelitos de carne, empanadas, and papa rellena.  Another variation is picadillo con papas (potatoes). Even the way the potatoes are added can vary. I was taught to just add peeled and cut up potatoes but I have seen people add potatoes that have been fried or oven baked first. Stay with me and I will show you both ways in upcoming recipes.

Traditional Ingredients for Authentic Cuban Picadillo

The key to creating an authentic Cuban picadillo lies in selecting the right ingredients that capture the essence of this classic dish. While the specific ingredients may vary slightly from one recipe to another, there are certain staples that are essential for achieving the signature flavor profile of picadillo.

Ground beef serves as the foundation of traditional Cuban picadillo, providing a hearty and savory base for the dish. Onions, bell peppers, and garlic add aromatic depth, while a medley of spices infuse the dish with rich flavors. Raisins and green olives are often included to provide contrasting sweet and tangy notes that elevate the overall taste.

In addition to these core ingredients, tomato sauce or diced tomatoes are commonly used to create a flavorful sauce that binds all the elements together. Some variations of picadillo may also include potatoes for added texture and substance. The key is to balance the flavors and textures harmoniously to create a truly satisfying culinary experience.

Step-by-Step Instructions on How to Make Cuban Picadillo

Let’s dive into the step-by-step process of creating this delicious dish in your own kitchen.

  1. Prepare Your Ingredients: Start by gathering all the ingredients you’ll need for the recipe. Chop the onions, bell peppers, and garlic finely to ensure even distribution of flavors. Drain the olives and raisins if necessary, and have your spices measured out and ready to go.
  1. Brown the Ground Beef: In a large skillet or Dutch oven, brown the ground beef over medium-high heat until it’s fully cooked and no longer pink. Remember to create depth of flavor season with salt and pepper to your personal liking. Break up any clumps of meat with a wooden spoon to ensure it cooks evenly.
  1. Add Aromatics: Once the beef is browned, add the chopped onions, bell peppers, and garlic to the skillet. Sauté the vegetables until they’re soft and translucent, about 5-7 minutes.
  1. Simmer with Sauce and Seasonings: Pour in the tomato sauce or diced tomatoes. Add in the seasonings. Stir in the olives and or optional raisins, then reduce the heat to low and let the mixture simmer for about 15-20 minutes to allow the flavors to meld together.
  1. Adjust Seasonings and Serve: Taste the picadillo and adjust the seasonings as needed. Enjoy the picadillo hot over a bed of rice, accompanied by a side of fried plantains or black beans for a truly authentic Cuban meal.

Tips and Tricks for Perfecting Your Cuban Picadillo

While making Cuban picadillo is a straightforward process, there are a few tips and tricks that can help you achieve the perfect balance of flavors and textures in your dish. Follow these suggestions to elevate your picadillo-making skills.

  1. Season Generously: Don’t be afraid to season your picadillo liberally with spices and herbs. The key to a flavorful dish lies in the balance of seasonings, so be sure to taste and adjust as you go along.
  1. Let it Simmer: Allowing the picadillo to simmer gently over low heat is crucial for developing the depth of flavors. This slow cooking process allows the ingredients to meld together and intensifies the overall taste of the dish.
  1. Play with Texture: Experiment with different variations of picadillo by adding ingredients like potatoes, or even capers for a unique twist. These additions can enhance the texture and flavor profile of the dish, creating a more dynamic culinary experience.
  1. Balance Sweet and Savory: The combination of raisins and olives in picadillo creates a perfect balance of sweet and savory flavors. Adjust the amount of these ingredients to suit your personal taste preferences and achieve the desired flavor profile.
  1. Serve with Traditional Accompaniments: To complete the Cuban dining experience, serve your picadillo with classic accompaniments such as white rice, black beans, and fried plantains. These side dishes complement the flavors of the picadillo and add an authentic touch to your meal.

Serving Suggestions and Accompaniments for Cuban Picadillo

To truly savor the flavors of authentic Cuban picadillo, it’s essential to pair this delectable dish with the perfect accompaniments that enhance its taste and presentation. These serving suggestions will take your picadillo experience to the next level.

  1. White Rice: A classic staple in Cuban cuisine, white rice serves as the perfect base for serving picadillo. The fluffy texture of the rice complements the rich and savory flavors of the dish, creating a satisfying and comforting meal.
  1. Black Beans: Serve a side of savory black beans alongside your picadillo to add a touch of earthiness and protein to the meal. The combination of picadillo, rice, and black beans creates a well-rounded and nutritious plate that is sure to please your taste buds.
  1. Fried Plantains: For a sweet and starchy contrast to the savory picadillo, consider frying up some ripe plantains to serve on the side. The caramelized sweetness of the plantains pairs beautifully with the savory flavors of the dish, creating a harmonious balance of tastes.
  1. Cuban Bread: Complete your Cuban meal experience by serving slices of crusty Cuban bread on the side. The warm and chewy bread is perfect for soaking up the flavorful sauce from the picadillo, making every bite a delicious and satisfying treat.
  1. Mojitos or Cuba Libres: Wash down your Cuban picadillo with a refreshing mojito or Cuba libre cocktail. The citrusy and minty flavors of these drinks complement the savory notes of the dish, creating a harmonious pairing.

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Authentic Cuban Picadillo Recipe

Difficulty: Easy Prep Time 5 mins Cook Time 25 mins Total Time 30 mins
Servings: 4



  1. Wash the ground beef in a colander using cold water. I do this for two reasons. When the ground beef cooks it cooks really fine so there are no big chunks and second it removes excess fat. Make sure to clean up sink area after washing to avoid creating any bacteria.
  2. Heat a sauté pan on medium high heat. When hot add ground beef and cook about 10 to 15 minutes. When all the ground beef is cooked through and is no longer pink drain in a clean colander. Heat sauté pan again with 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium high heat and return ground beef to pan. Season beef with salt, garlic powder and black pepper.
  3. Next, add diced onions and bell peppers and cook with the ground beef until tender about 4-5 minutes. Add in garlic and cook another 1-2 minutes. Just to clarify I measure the garlic cloves before smashing. Deglaze the pan with the vino seco.
  4. Stir in tomato sauce, water, salt, garlic powder, cumin and olives with some of the juice. If you decide to add raisins and or capers add them now. Last add the cilantro and let simmer for another 5 - 10 minutes so all of the flavors incorporate with each other. Serve over a bed of white rice.
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