Cuban Beef Picadillo
A tried and true version of Cuban Beef Picadillo! Juicy and tender, packed with flavor and made in one pan. Served with rice, this is the ultimate Cuban comfort food!
Ground beef recipes are a super easy way to put dinner on the table when you are busy. Other popular easy dishes you should check out here on the site are my Mexican Beef and Rice Casserole, Sloppy Joes and Korean Beef Bowls.
I’ve been testing and tweaking this picadillo recipe for over a year now. And I finally declare it perfect! Or, at least, perfect for me.
My husband still claims my Cuban neighbor Carmen makes the best beef picadillo, but, upon closer inspection, I discovered that the only difference is that she doesn’t add currants or raisins.
Well, I happen to love the sweetness of the currants/raisins in this dish, so – at the expense of my marriage – they stay! 😂
Raisins or no raisins, this is a meal you will want to have over and over again. Yes, it is simple but it really delivers on flavor! It even inspired Tito Puente to compose a song.
Make it on a busy weeknight or to impress a crowd! It is versatile, customizable and also budget friendly.
What is Picadillo?
Picadillo (pronounced pi-kuh-di-low) is a Latin American dish made of ground (or finely chopped) meat, tomatoes or tomato sauce, and other ingredients that vary according to region.
The name comes from the Spanish word “picar”, which means “to chop”.
The origins of the dish are unknown, since it is quite popular in many countries across Latin America and also the Philippines.
One of the theories I’ve found while researching claims that the first time it was served was in Mexico, in 1821, when a version made with spicy pork and walnut sauce was served inside a poblano pepper to the new emperor of Mexico.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not denying that actually happened. But due to the simplicity of the dish, I have a feeling Latin Americans had been making picadillo way before it was served to the Mexican emperor.
That being said, today’s focus is all on the Cuban version of this delicious dish, which happens to be my favorite!
To make Cuban beef picadillo, you will need:
- Ground beef – Choose lean, but not too lean. 80 – 85%, I’d say! The beef will still be tender and juicy, but won’t release too much fat on the pan.
- Onion and garlic – the flavor base!
- Red bell pepper – I used half of a large red bell pepper, but a whole small one works as well.
- Olives – Some recipes call for pimento stuffed olives, but I prefer using plain pitted green olives.
- Currants or Raisins – A controversial ingredient! I personally love the little burst of sweetness from the raisins in this dish, but you can omit them if you are #teamnoraisins!
- Crushed tomatoes and tomato paste – I like adding tomato paste as well as crushed tomatoes, because it thickens the picadillo and adds a deeper tomato flavor, which I love.
- Oil – I use olive oil, but any cooking oil will do.
- White wine – to deglaze the pan. Omit if needed!
- Spices and herbs – You will need paprika, cumin and oregano. Alternatively, you can use two packets of Sazon seasoning.
- Worcestershire sauce – Worcestershire sauce adds a bit of umami to this dish. If you’re not a fan, just skip it.
- Salt and Pepper
How to Make Beef Picadillo
Picadillo is very easy to make and can be on the table in less than an hour! It is also cooked in one pan, so clean up is a breeze.
I like using a stainless steel skillet because I love its browning power and the flavor that comes from deglazing the browned bits that stick to the bottom of the pan. That being said, a nonstick skillet also works and you won’t need to deglaze it!
This recipe is also easy to customize, so feel free to adjust ingredients as needed. It is also a great dish to use vegetables that have been sitting in the fridge for a while, such as carrots, peas and others!
Some versions call for diced potatoes, but that will be the subject of a future picadillo post.
Here’s how I make Cuban Beef Picadillo. As always, you will find the printable (and more complete) version of the recipe at the end of this post!
Step 1: Brown the beef.
- Heat a bit of olive oil and brown the ground beef, breaking it apart with a wooden spoon (or this cool tool!). If the beef ends up releasing a lot of grease, drain before proceeding.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Step 2: Sauté the veggies.
- Add the chopped onion and bell pepper and cook until softened.
- Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant.
- Optional: deglaze the pan with white wine.
Step 3: Simmer.
- Stir in the tomato sauce, tomato paste, spices, oregano, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Add the olives and raisins or currants. Continue simmering – this time uncovered – for another 15 minutes for the sauce to thicken and cling to the beef.
- Stir in the chopped parsley and serve!
- While picadillo is most commonly made with beef, you can definitely make it with chicken, turkey or pork instead!
- Don’t overcook the beef when browning! Remember, we are going to simmer it later, so it’s okay if it’s not completely cooked.
- Picadillo is supposed to be juicy but not super saucy, that’s why I like to cook it uncovered for 10-15 minutes, just until the sauce evaporates and clings to the beef, making each bite moist and tender!
What to serve with Picadillo?
Rice is a must, of course! And I also love to serve it with a side of tostones, which are fried green plantains.
Other popular side dishes among Cubans are: beans (red or black), plantain mash (fufú de plátano) and Cuban bread.
Picadillo can also used as an ingredient in other dishes, such as empanadas, tacos, and many others!
Unlikely, at least in my house, but if it happens, here are some ways to use ’em up:
- Stuffed plantains or potatoes.
- Stuffed peppers.
- Tacos, tostadas, burritos, enchiladas, quesadillas.
- Make a breakfast hash!
- Cuban style nachos.
- Lettuce wraps.
- Shepherd’s Pie.
- Sandwiches with Cuban Bread!
Frequently Asked Questions
Picadillo leftovers will keep in the fridge, stored in an airtight container, for up to 4-5 days.
Yes, picadillo freezes well for up to 3 months. Make sure it cools completely before storing in an airtight container or freezing bag, labeling and placing in the freezer.
When ready to eat, you can thaw overnight in the fridge or reheat from frozen.
My favorite way to reheat this dish is in a pan, over medium-low heat. Add a few splashes of liquid (water, broth or even some wine) if needed to bring it back to the original consistency!
Cuban Beef Picadillo
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds lean ground beef
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 small red bell pepper, finely diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- ⅓ cup dry white wine, (optional)
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 (14oz) can crushed tomatoes
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
- ⅓ cup dried currants or raisins
- ½ cup green pitted olives
- ⅓ cup chopped parsley
- Heat the olive oil in a large skillet, over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the ground beef and cook, crumbling it with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 5 to 8 minutes . Season with salt and pepper.
- Lower the heat to medium and add the onion and bell pepper, sautéing until softened, about 2-3 minutes. Then, stir in the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
- Optional: pour in the white wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon to release any browned bits, until evaporated.
- Stir in the paprika, cumin, oregano, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce and a pinch of salt and pepper.
- Cover and simmer on medium-low for 15 minutes.
- Add the currants (or raisins) and olives and continue cooking, uncovered, for another 10-15 minutes.
- Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- Stir in the chopped parsley and serve!
- Beef – Use ground pork, turkey or chicken instead.
- Raisins/currants – omit if needed.
- Olives – substitute for capers or omit.
- Spices and oregano – use two packets of Sazon instead!