“Say ‘Cuban food’ and most people think picadillo, a moist, fragrant hash of sautéed ground meat made subtly sweet-tart-savory with olives and raisins—an Arab influence on Spanish cuisine that was exported to Cuba. Picadillo is to Cuban and Latin-American cooking what ragù is to Italian: an ingenious way to stretch out a cheap cut of meat into a comfort-food classic. Our friend Reynaldo Gonzales, novelist, gastronome, former paladar owner, and winner of Cuba’s National Prize for literature, had this to say about Picadillo a la Habanera: ‘It’s a dish that practically sings of Havana. And like the boisterous port life of one of the most cosmopolitan cities of the New World, picadillo is a sum of influences, wisdoms, and cross-excellences. The ingredients of our cherished national hash came to the piers of our harbor from different parts of the world. But the final cooking, the fire that added flavor and savor, was utterly ours.’ Variations abound and arguments often flare up when different cooks discuss picadillo, but everyone agrees that picadillo is best served over rice with a side of golden fried sweet plantains.” —Anya Von Bremzen and Megan Fawn Schlow in their 2018 Beard Award–nominated Paladres.
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
- 11/2 links Spanish chorizo, diced (about 1 cup)
- 1/2 cup diced green bell pepper
- 1/2 cup diced yellow onion
- 11/4 pounds ground beef or pork (or a combination)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 cup tomato purée or chopped fresh tomatoes (2 to 3 plum tomatoes)
- 1/4 cup pimento-stuffed green olives, cut in half
- 3 tablespoons dark raisins
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed
- Salt and pepper
In a large skillet, combine the olive oil and chorizo over medium heat and cook for 5 minutes, stirring until the sausage gives up its oil (it will be red and flavorful). Add the bell pepper and onion and cook for 3 to 4 minutes to soften.
Add the ground beef and bay leaf and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, stirring and breaking the meat into crumbles. Stir in the tomato purée and cook for 5 minutes more, or until the sauce is reduced and thickened and the beef is cooked through.
Stir in the olives, raisins, capers, and oregano and taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed. (It shouldn’t need a lot of salt; the capers and olives are salty and briny.) Serve over rice.
Adapted from Paladares (Abrams Books, 2017).