Cuban Picadillo Dish & It’s Classic Recipe

If you want to know everything about Picadillo, you’re in for a treat!

In this article, you’ll find a complete guide that walks you through everything you need to know about the Cuban dish as well as a detailed recipe on how to make it.

What is Picadillo?

Classic Picadillo a la habanera with rice
Classic Picadillo a la habanera with rice

Picadillo is a traditional Cuban dish that you can enjoy in a lot of Latin American countries. The name “Picadillo” comes from the Spanish word “Picar”, which translates to “mince” or “chop”, describing the dish texture nicely.

It’s a relatively easy and popular dish because it’s incredibly versatile, as you can simply make it with just about any kind of meat.

The dish is also rich in flavor and usually contains a wide variety of ingredients, such as tomatoes, olives, raisins, and other ingredients that vary by region. But more on that later.

Although the original Cuban recipe uses ground beef for the Picadillo, you can also use chicken, turkey, as well as fish like tilapia and tuna to prepare it.

Just like most Latin American dishes, since most of the ingredients are readily available, the Cuban classic is relatively affordable to make.

Moreover, it can be served in a wide variety of ways. For example, you can serve it over white rice and beans, with mashed potatoes, in empanadas, or even as a sandwich in Cuban bread.

Due to its versatility and ease of storage, the dish is usually prepared in large batches to meet various purposes.

History of Picadillo

Picadillo with white rice
Picadillo with white rice

Due to the simplicity of the dish and the huge number of variations across the Latin countries and the Philippines, the origin of the plate is a bit of a mystery.

However, it’s said that one of the first times the plate was served was in 1821 to Agustín de Iturbide, the new emperor of Mexico.

The plate was then prepared with minced spicy pork and stuffed inside poblano peppers.

However, as the plate reached different regions, it changed in style and ingredients to suit the local taste.

It’s also said the modern-day picadillo was created by the popular Cuban chef “Nitza Villapol”.

Cuban Picadillo vs. Other Variations

As you already know, Picadillo isn’t exclusive to Cuba or any other Latin country. Instead, each country has its own variety of the plate.

You can even notice how the plates change to suit the spices and ingredients available in each country.

Let’s have a quick look at some of the popular Picadillo variations.

Mexican Picadillo

Mexican Picadillo is popular for adding extra lime juice and onions to the beef while it cooks.

The plate is usually sweetened by adding sugar or even honey to the mix.

In some coastal regions of the country, the locals substitute the beef with fish like Tuna or even seafood like shellfish.

Philippine Picadillo

Since the Philippines was one day a part of the Spanish empire, they also have their own version of the dish.

There, the dish is known as “Giniling, Tagalog, or Arroz a la Cubana”. Similar to the Cuban version, the Philippine one also uses raisins, tomatoes, and potatoes in the mix. However, they don’t add green olives or capers to the mix.

It’s often served with either fried bananas or with white rice with a fried egg on top or alongside with boiled eggs.

The Classic Cuban Picadillo Recipe

Classic Cuban Picadillo served with white rice, black beans and avocado
Classic Cuban Picadillo served with white rice, black beans and avocado

Now that you know more about Picadillo and its history, it’s time for the classic Cuban Picadillo Recipe.

The classic Cuban Picadillo is made with ground beef and white rice. However, you can always replace the beef with ground turkey or chicken.

It’s a fairly simple dish that doesn’t take too much to prepare. The dish is also versatile and can be used as filling for empanadas, papa rellena and Mexican tacos.

The following recipe takes about 10 to 15 minutes of preparation and about 20 to 30 minutes of cooking. The ingredients are enough for 4 to 6 people, so you can do the math to adjust it to your liking.


  • 1 lb of lean ground beef
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of raisins
  • 1 medium yellow onion (chopped)
  • 3 garlic cloves or more to taste (finely chopped or minced)
  • 1/2 green bell pepper (diced)
  • 1/4 cup drained capers (green olives, manzanilla olives, or pimientos would also work)
  • 3 small potatoes (peeled and diced)
  • 2 cans of tomato sauce (about 2 x 8 ounce)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • Salt and pepper to taste (not too much because you’ll have salty olives in the mix)
  • 1/4 tablespoon oregano


  1. Start with a large-sized pan or a skillet, heat up 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat then add the chopped onion. Cook and stir till the onion softens.
  2. In a medium-sized frying pan or skillet, add 1 lb of ground beef and cook them on high heat while adding salt and pepper as well as a dash of ground cumin and oregano.
  3. You can also use a wooden spoon to stir break up the ground beef pieces and speed up the process.
  4. After about 10 minutes, the beef should start losing the pink color and turn brown. Once it’s all brown, drain off any excess liquids and greases used while cooking and set the meat aside.
  5. Back to the large skillet, add the finely chopped garlic and cook it until it turns golden. 
  6. Add the bell peppers and small potato pieces to cook for about 5 to 7 minutes. Don’t forget to stir occasionally.
  7. When the potatoes are halfway cooked (has a firm center with a soft outer part), add the raisins, tomato sauce, olive oil, capers, and sugar to the mix.
  8. Add the ground beef to the mix with 1/4 cup of water or white wine and let it reduce on medium heat.
  9. Keep the mix over medium heat to cook while stirring occasionally or reduce the heat to low and let it sit for about 10 to 15 minutes with stirring. You can test the readiness of the plate by checking the softness of the potato center.
  10. If the mix thickens, you can add more water or white wine to the mix.
  11. Taste the mix and adjust seasoning to your liking.
  12. Take it off the heat when you’re satisfied with the taste and serve it over white rice and a small salad, black turtle beans, or fried ripe plantains.

Nutritional Benefits of Picadillo

Since the plate is rich in ingredients, it’s a great one for your health. However, it’s fairly challenging to state the actual health benefits of the plate due to its wide range of variations across the Latin American world.

However, the plate is generally rich in proteins due to its meat content. It also rich in a lot of vitamins and minerals, such as:

  • Vitamin B (especially niacin and thiamine)
  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin A (if you add carrots)
  • Iron
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Magnesium

Can You Freeze Picadillo?

Picadillo is usually cooked in large batches, so there’s always a lot of leftovers. Luckily, it can be stored to last in the freezer for up to 3 to 6 months and it’ll still taste great!

Once you take it out of the freezer, you can let it thaw overnight or reheat the picadillo in the microwave or on the stove.

Wrap Up

Picadillo with a variety of vegetables
Picadillo with a variety of vegetables

Picadillo is a wonderful Latin American dish that’s characterized by its versatility. You can change, adjust, or add to the ingredients, so you can enjoy it the way you like!

It might not be the quickest dish but it’s always worth the wait. You can also cook it in a crockpot or an instant pot easily!

Lastly, picadillo is a highly nutritious meal that contains a wide variety of super healthy ingredients with incredibly tasty and rich flavors!

Now that we’ve covered picadillo, have you ever eaten “Old Clothes”? Trust me , you really should! Check out Ropa Vieja, Cuba’s Shredded Beef Dish.

So, what’s for dessert? Check out, Azúcar! 16 Traditional Cuban Desserts.

And as always visit our online store and shop for Cuban foods and drinks!

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