How to Make Picadillo, the Bolder, Better Chili
Jessica Rodriguez of Cuba de Ayer Restaurant shares her recipe for the hearty stew.
If there’s anything more comforting than a warm pot of chili on a brisk, autumn day, it’s a warm pot of picadillo. Similar in its hearty, stew-like texture, picadillo shares most of its components with chili, but surprises with a few unexpected twists. And if you tend to keep ground beef in your freezer, it makes for the perfect pantry recipe.
Picadillo recipes vary across Latin America and the Philippines. Dominican picadillo, for example, makes use of hard-boiled eggs, while Mexican picadillos can be made with blended guajillo chiles. But one of the most popular variations is Cuban-style picadillo, which is cooked with olives, raisins, and white wine.
“Picadillo is a very homestyle meal. It's got a lot of cozy ingredients and flavors,” says Jessica Rodriguez, co-owner of Cuba de Ayer Restaurant in Burtonsville, Maryland. “You have the ground beef, but then you also have things like potatoes and raisins, which give it a very hearty, fall feel. I love that combination of the sweet raisins with the salted ground beef.”
Rodriguez and her husband, William, both Cuban-Americans, have been running their Burtonsville mainstay for 16 years. And picadillo, a meal they both grew up eating, has been a longtime go-to on their menu. “A good picadillo should have green olives in it,” Rodriguez says. She likes to use alcaparrado, a mixture of pitted pimento-stuffed olives and capers. And then there’s the white wine. “It gives it that tangy flavor,” Rodrigues adds.
When it comes to cooking, the process is super simple. “You start with the meat in a pan or a pot, add your sofrito—diced up onions, green peppers, and garlic—and then your seasonings—adobo, garlic powder, oregano, cumin, cilantro, bay leaf, and salt. Then you’ll throw in your alcaparrado and some white wine. Once the ingredients are mixed together, the picadillo will start to release its own flavors.
Rodriguez continues, “You’ll cook it on medium-high, until you see that it starts to brown. And then, towards the end, you’ll add the potatoes and the raisins, letting it boil a little bit longer, until the potatoes are nice and soft. Once it’s done, you can skim the fat off the top, because a lot of oil will get released.”
If you’re not a fan of beef, you can easily substitute the meat with ground chicken, turkey, or plant-based meat. And while the most popular way to eat picadillo is alongside rice, it doesn’t have to stop there. “You can put picadillo in bananas and make tostones rellenos, or use it to stuff green peppers,” Rodriguez says. “Picadillo can be used as a filling for many different entrees and appetizers.”
Jessica Rodriguez’s Cuban-Style Picadillo
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion
- ½ green pepper
- 3 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1½ pounds ground beef
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 tablespoon of adobo seasoning
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 4 ounces tomato sauce
- ½ cup cooking wine (white)
- I tablespoon vinegar
- 2 teaspoons of alcaparrado
- 1 potato (diced)
- 3 tablespoons raisins
1.Heat olive oil. Saute yellow onion and green pepper. Add a dash of salt for 2 minutes, then add garlic.
2. Once translucent, add ground beef and cook on medium high until brown.
3. Add bay leaf, oregano, cumin, adobo seasoning, black pepper, tomato sauce, cooking wine, vinegar, and alcaparrado. Cover and let simmer for 10 min.
4. Add potato and raisins. Cook until potatoes are soft.
5. Drain excess juices.