Picadillo may sound like some sort of cross between a small peak and an armoured mammal, but it’s actually a fragrant, ground-meat stew – from ‘picar’, the Spanish word for ‘to mince’. However, in Cuba it certainly has the cultural stature of a mountain: it is the country’s favourite comfort food, and a common fixture on tables across the island, from Havana to Baracoa. Barely a week goes by without it popping up on the family menu.
At its most basic, picadillo is a mix of ground beef, tomatoes, olives, herbs and raisins for sweetness. Sometimes it’s served with rice; sometimes it’s used as a filling for pastries, empanadas or fritters. Some chefs add potatoes; some top it with a fried egg to make picadillo al caballo. It’s a versatile dish, which can be customised with different ingredients. But whatever form it comes in, it’s undoubtedly one of the region’s most popular dishes.
Versions of picadillo exist across the Caribbean and Latin America, but Cubans have long claimed it as their own. Perhaps this is because, in Cuba, picadillo is permeated with nostalgia. It takes people back to the island's pre-Revolutionary era, offering a taste of old Cuba.
“It’s my favourite recipe to make for my Cuban friends who miss home,” explains Ana Sofía Peláez, the author of new recipe and food history book, The Cuban Table. “And also for my non-Cuban friends who don’t know what they’re missing.”
Picadillo is delicious with fried ripe plantains: cut the ends off the plantains, peel them, slice them in half lengthways and fry them in a skillet until browned and caramelised.
60ml extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 large green pepper, deseeded and diced
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp dried oregano
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
2 tbsp tomato puree
450g lean ground beef
50g diced tomatoes in juice
60ml dry white wine
50g pimiento-stuffed green olives, halved
50g dark raisins
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh oregano, finely chopped
1. Heat the oil in a skillet over a medium heat.
2. Add onion, pepper, garlic, salt, oregano, cumin, pepper. Fry until onion is translucent (6-8mins), then add tomato paste and stir until well combined.
3. Raise the heat and brown the beef. Stir in the tomatoes, wine, olives, raisins and
capers. Reduce the heat to a simmer, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes.
4. Stir in the sherry vinegar and adjust seasonings to taste.
5. Garnish with parsley and oregano.
Recipe from The Cuban Table by Ana Sofía Peláez and Ellen Silverman (St Martin’s Press LLC, £25), out now.
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