Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Classic Cuban Picadillo

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Everyone has been waiting for me to crack open the family safe and publish some of my grandmother's recipes. The problem is that they are too complicated for this day and age and people just don't have the time to cook like that. Recipes nowadays have been simplified and shortened and, in most cases, they taste just as good.

After Castro came to power, our family was separated for a while. My parents came first with us and it wasn't until almost 12 years later that my grandparents, on my mother's side, were able to get out. Throughout all those years, my grandmother mailed out, little by little, all her recipes. They were meticulously handwritten by her. That is how much pride she took in them. As they arrived in this country, we would read them and giggle at the thought of ... " Three days before you kill the chicken, you feed it bread soaked in milk and brandy...!" She never travelled, yet she had recipes from all over the world, and loved American food. When my mother was growing up, she remembers coming home to a house full of the smell of cinnamon rolls. Cinnamon rolls in Cuba in those days were like eating Beluga caviar now in this country. Not a one to be found. What I remember the most, though, was the ice cream machine and the dry ice for mantecado, the Cuban vanilla ice cream. Life in that house revolved around food and canasta parties and boy do I miss her. All her recipes are still kept and cherished by her three daughters and all her granddaughters, including me.

Her recipes are complicated, but as far as the everyday Cuban classics like Picadillo, not a chance. You see, Picadillo is a simple and common dish eaten traditionally at lunch, preferably with white rice, a fried egg and fried bananas, either maduros or tostones. This new thing of having it for dinner all dressed up in heaven knows what is an insult to a wonderful dish. I have seen everything from cinnamon to chili powder added to it. As I always tell my daughter, "don't guild the lily!"

In memory of a wonderful cook and to please some of the audience, here is the first of what, I hope, will be many Cuban recipes...good, simple and authentic.

Serves 6-8 (depending if they are Cuban or American!)
Cooking time: 60 minutes


3 TB olive oil
3-4 garlic cloves, mashed
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 bay leaf
2 lb ground meat, preferably chuck (80-20)
3 oz. tomato paste
1/2 cup dry white Vermouth or dry white wine
1/2 C water
1 tsp.Worcestershire Sauce
1 cup pimiento stuffed olives
1/2 cup of raisins
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet and in medium heat, sautee the garlic, onion, green pepper and bay leaf in the olive oil for about 15- 20 minutes. Add and brown the meat. Turn heat down to medium low. Add the tomato paste, the wine and the water. Bring to a slight boil, and reduce temperature again to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 30 minute. If the liquid is absorbed, add more water 1/4 Cup at a time. While it simmers, cut the pimiento stuffed olives in half. After the 30 minutes are up, remove the lid, add the olives (I add some of the olive brine) and the raisins and cook, uncovered, in a slow simmer for another 15 minutes. Adjust the seasonings. I like my picadillo runny. Here again, everybody is different. If you like it dry, control the water you add to the tomato paste. Serve over fluffy, white rice.

Cook's Note
If you really want to be Cuban, fry an egg or two, lay it over the white rice, and put the picadillo on the side. My favorites with this dish are fried ripe bananas, a beer and a siesta.

Leftovers can be frozen or saved to make what my family calls Pigs in a Blanket coming up next on the blog.

Picadillo on Foodista


  1. I came to visit via your message left on Foodies and I enjoyed myself. Your story about your abuela was very sweet. I'm from South FL too and I love white rice & black beans a caballo I'll be visiting again.

  2. I can't wait to make the Cuban Picadillo! Sounds just delicious; thanks Julieta!

  3. Hi Julieta,
    I subscribed to your blog. You are my first blog that I have subscribed to.

    It's nice to know another Cuban even if you are so far away. I'll be in south FL in July. We are having a family reunion in Tampa and going to Miami for a few days. Do you own or work at a restaurant?

    Look forward to seeing your flan recipe.


  4. Sometimes I feel like I run a non stop restaurant! no, I dont. I worked on Wall Street for 30 years and have been cooking since I was born. Check out my bio. Thanks for subscribing, hope I make you proud of being Cuban. While you are in Miami, pick up a copy of Cocina al Minuto, Nitza Villapol. It's the Cuban Joy of Cooking! Universal and La Moderna Poesia in Calle Ocho should have it. If not check it out in my Amazon Store on the right!

  5. Julieta, FELICIDADES!!! This is a great blog on Cuban food, thank you for sharing your grandmother's family recipies they are GREAT. Please keep them coming.
    Muchas gracias,
    Deloris Berry Messina

  6. Hi Julieta,
    This is Dana, your old neighbor from Bridgepoint!! After you told me about your blog, I have been checking up on it regularly and been testing out some recipes. I made the picadillo last night for a friend and it was fantastic! We both loved it (and the fact it was easy enough for me to cook made it even better). I love reading your stories and its been great to see pictures of Lucy as well. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  7. Please please please tell me you have the recipe for your abuela's mantecado! My Cuban husband is dying for some and I'd love to surprise him with the real thing. You can contact me at Thanks!!!

  8. I live in Miami and decided to learn to cook Cuban food when I moved here, and this is one my favorites! I just love how the raisins and olives compliment each other. Delicious!

    I also love making a "Cuban" Sloppy Joes" out of the leftovers with a little Cuban bread and cheese (heated and pressed, of course).

    Thanks for the awesome recipe. I will be cooking your grandma's delicious dish for the rest of my life.

  9. Thank you! finally a recipe that is authentic Cuban Picadillo! :)

  10. Hi! I know this is an older blog BUT OMG!! I'm trying it for my Cuban Fiancé tonight! He LOVES Picadillo & when I showed Him what you wrote & this recipe, He got really excited! I'm NERVOUS but am starting this recipe Now! I also HAVE TO say that His Mom has passed away & TERRIFIED as I was, I FINALLY Found the MOST SIMILAR Recipe His Mom made RE Arroz con Pollo! Just I, as his Mima did, replace ALL liquids called for with Beer! HE LOVES IT! Spanish foods are sometimes VERY CLOSE to the Italian cuisine I grew up with! Thank you for this Recipe! We are in South FL as well :)

    1. Dear Ajay,

      He will not be disappointed. Trust me, all the Cuban recipes in this blog are authentic and delicious. After you make picadillo once, you will find it is a walk on the beach. Taste at the end and adjust for salt and pepper, if needed. This recipe is famous amongst my daughter's friends and coworkers too. Sometimes I have to put my foot down and encourage them to try something else!!!

      I am so glad you wrote. Relax, follow the directions and enjoy. Your fiance is very lucky to have someone like you. I will be back to blogging soon. Just had a neck operation early Fall and still recovering. Let me know how it works out.


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