Picadillo made with pantry friendly ingredients in one pot for the ultimate easy, fabulous, no-fuss lazy weeknight dinner win!
Picadillo is Mexican comfort food at its most drool worthy. It is a warm, satisfying, intensely flavorful Latin American dish made with ground beef, potatoes, onions, bell peppers, carrots, and raisins all simmered together in a seasoned tomato sauce. It is often served over rice as well as in taco, stuffed peppers, tostadas, burritos, enchiladas, and empanadas. Every Latin American country has a variation of Picadillo because it is SO GOOD and today, I’m sharing my favorite!
What is Picadillo?
I am so excited to share this Picadillo recipe with you! While it has been a favorite of mine for years, I’m surprised just how many people have never heard of it, let alone tasted it – so I hope that all changes today! It is one of those recipes that you keep stealing spoonful after spoonful after spoonful because you just can’t wait until everyone is gathered around the table. Even as I was making this Picadillo, Patrick was scarfing it from the pot.
Picadillo is a popular dish in Spain, practically every Latin American country and even the Philippines. The name itself, Picadillo (pee-cah-DEE-yo) literally means “all chopped up” in Spanish and translates to “hash” in English. This appropriate name refers to the moist, fragrant hash of ground beef and finely chopped vegetables simmered in an aromatic tomato sauce.
The actual ingredients in Picadillo can vary by region and even from household to household, mother to daughter, brother to sister – there are as many variations of Picadillo as there are stars in the sky! While every individual has their own unique spin on Picadillo, in general, Mexican Picadillo includes carrots and potatoes for a hearty spicy flair whereas Cuban Picadillo includes green olives and capers for a tangy, unami bite.
Depending on the region, Picadillo is either served as a main dish, often accompanied by rice and beans, or Colombians and Puerto Ricans often put in in empanadas and Peruvians stuff it in papa rellenas. It can also be used in tamales, tacos, burritos, enchiladas and more.
The Picadillo recipe I’m sharing with you today will allow you to make your own version at home and customize it to your tastes, mood and ingredients then serve it in its countless iterations.
Picadillo transforms the humblest, budget friendly ingredients into the most satisfying, comforting, flavor exploding meal of the day. It’s the answer to “what’s for dinner” when you only have ground beef and potatoes or you just want a warm meal that everyone will love. Everyone’s taste buds will rejoice with mouthfuls of juicy beef and tender vegetables swaddled in the spicy, earthy, aromatic sauce with just a hint of sweetness.
MORE REASONS TO LOVE Mexican PICADILLO:
CUSTOMIZABLE. You may be wondering why this version doesn’t include olives, capers or nuts. These ingredients are popular in Cuban, Puerto Rican, and South American Picadillo recipes, whereas this Picadillo recipe is more traditional Mexican. Still, this recipe is a fabulous springboard to make it YOUR own so add whatever your heart desires!
VERSATILE. One of the things I love most about Picadillo is you never have to serve it the same way! Serve it over rice, wrap it in a warm tortilla, empanadas, or serve it any way you can dream up (TONS of ideas to follow).
MULTIPLE MEALS. To that end, this Picadillo recipe makes a lot – for a reason. It makes the most fabulous leftovers as the flavors build and meld together so you can use it for multiple meals throughout the week – the dinner that keeps on giving! Reinvent the leftovers in quesadillas, burritos, gorditas, etc. and you have an entirely new meal.
EASY. Just look at the instructions in the recipe card! Simply brown the beef, sauté the veggies then dump in the rest of the ingredients to simmer in ONE PAN.
SIMPLE BUDGET FRIENDLY INGREDIENTS. This Picadillo recipe elevates simple, everyday ingredients that you already have on hand or are easy to pick up at the grocery store. Still, it tastes anything but ordinary. It’s an ingenious way to stretch out inexpensive ingredients into a comfort-food classic. Each bite is an explosion of texture and earthy, robust, spicy, unami flavors with raisins adding the requisite balancing sweetness.
FREEZER FRIENDLY. Picadillo is a great recipe to double or triple because it freezes well. Enjoy Picadillo for dinner then pop the extras in the freezer for an easy no-fuss defrost dinner.
Where does Picadillo come from?
There are countless versions of Picadillo from the Caribbean and to all across Latin America. I find the differences fascinating! Here is a snapshot of the world of Picadillo but keep in mind these are generalities and many different variations exist within each country:
Mexican Picadillo is the version I’m sharing with you today. It’s smoky, spicy and robust with a hint of sweetness either by the addition of sugar or raisins. Like all Picadillo recipes, it consists of ground beef simmered in a tomato-based sauce, however, it is unique in its inclusion of carrots, potatoes and sometimes peas. The sauce may also can include blended guajillo chiles and tomatillos. In some coastal regions of Mexico, easily accessible seafood is substituted for the beef.
While Mexican Picadillo is sweet and spicy, Cuban Picadillo is slightly sweet, salty and tangy; sweet from the raisins, salty from the capers, and tangy from the green olives. It often includes a pinch of warm cinnamon as well. The potatoes are often fried instead of simmered with the beef, then everything is combined. It is typically served with white rice or used as a filling for empanadas.
Puerto RICAN PICADILLO
Puerto Rican Picadillo often consists of ground beef simmered in a tomato sauce with bell peppers, onions, olives and capers and sometimes includes potatoes and raisins. It is most often used as a filling for alcapurrias (a popular fritter recipe using masa dough), pastelillos de carne (meat turnovers made with flaky dough), pastelón (Puerto Rican Style Plantain Lasagna), empanadas (fried turnovers) and other fritters.
PICADILLO FROM Dominican Republic
Picadillo from the Dominican Republic is called Carne Molida. It is similar to Cuban Picadillo in that it usually includes olives, capers, raisins but it is often simmered with water, tomato paste and bouillon cubes instead of tomato sauce and topped with a hard-boiled egg. It is served with rice or used as a filling for fritters or Pasteles en Hojas (Dominican Style Tamales).
PICADILLO FROM Costa Rica
Picadillo recipes from Costa Rica often include some sort of chopped meat (not always ground beef) as well as potatoes, chayote, and green beans simmered in seasoned stock instead of tomato sauce. It is usually served as a side dish to the traditional Casado along with tortillas .
PICADILLO FROM Philippines
Filipino Picadillo is similar to Cuban Picadillo made with ground beef, potatoes or chayote, green olives, capers, and raisins simmered in tomato sauce all topped with a fried egg. It is often served as a main course accompanied by white rice and fried plantains. It is usually more soupy than Latin American versions, although they do have a drier version known as giniling,
Mexican Picadillo Recipe Ingredients
- Lean Ground beef: I recommend using 85-90% lean Angus beef for the best flavor. Angus meat is known for being more tender, marbled, and flavorful than regular beef.
- Potatoes: use Yukon gold potatoes– please DO NOT substitute with Russets. Yukon Gold potatoes emerge tender, creamy, naturally buttery and melt-in-your-mouth tender without falling apart like Russets.
- Veggies: chopped onions, green bell peppers, and carrots are sautéed together to build fabulous flavor. Make sure to chop the carrots on the small side so they will be tender at the same as the potatoes.
- Garlic: fresh garlic is best but you may substitute with 1 heaping teaspoon garlic powder.
- Jalapeno: is optional if you like heat. The Picadillo already has a mild kick to it due to the chili powder and the jalapeno amps up the heat.
- Seasonings: chili powder, ground cumin, dried oregano, ground coriander, smoked paprika, salt, and pepper create a dynamic explosion of flavors.
- Beef broth & beef bouillon: use reduced sodium beef broth so we can also use beef bouillon which is slightly salty and adds intense, concentrated flavor. You will need two teaspoons beef bouillon which is two teaspoons of powder or two crushed cubes. You may also use better than bouillon.
- Tomato sauce: one 15 oz. can creates a richer sauce than using just broth and gives the Picadillo its signature tomato flavor.
- Worcestershire sauce: adds a depth of complex savory, slightly tangy flavor.
- Raisins: adds a contrasting sweetness that mellows the heat and cuts through the rich, earthy, seasonings.
- Petite Peas: add delightful pops of fresh flavor and texture. Use defrosted petite frozen peas for the best texture and never canned peas.
- Cilantro: adds a pop of bright, zesty freshness.
CAN I USE GROUND TURKEY?
Yes! This Picadillo recipe works fabulous with ground turkey as well! The tomato sauce and broth add moisture so you won’t even notice you are using a lean protein.
If you really want the turkey to taste like ground beef, then I also suggest adding an additional 2 teaspoons beef bouillon. I use this trick in my turkey tacos and turkey chili and it is AMAZING! It infuses the turkey with rich, beefy flavor that will blow your mind!
If you do use beef bouillon, then omit the salt called for in the recipe and add salt to taste. Beef bouillon contains salt so you will likely need less salt than the recipe calls for.
Do I have to add raisins?
I am not a huge raisin fan in general, but I am a huge raisin fan in Picadillo. I do not recommend skipping them or your dish will fall into the monotony of one note earthy flavor. The natural sweetness of the raisins permeates the entire Picadillo and offers a reprieve from the rich, robust, spicy meat. If you absolutely can’t stand raisins, you may want to add a little honey to taste.
How to make Picadillo
Brown beef. Brown beef with onions and jalapeno pepper in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat, breaking up the beef as you go; you want the crumbles to be pretty small.
Add sofrito. Once almost cooked through, add potatoes, carrots, bell pepper, and all seasonings and cook for 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
Simmer sauce. Add tomato sauce, beef broth, Worcestershire sauce, raisins and bay leaf. Adding the raisins with the sauce infuses the entire Picadillo with flavor and allows them to plump up as they rehydrate.
Bring the sauce to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook for 10 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the potatoes are tender and most of the liquid is absorbed. If the liquid evaporates before the potatoes are tender, then simply stir in additional broth or water.
Final touches. Stir in peas and cilantro and cook 1 additional minute or until heated through.
Can I make Beef Picadillo in the slow cooker?
Yes! You’ll want to follow the first step of browning the beef on the stove then transfer to a 6-quart crockpot followed by the rest of the ingredients. Cook on high for 4 hours or low for 6-8 hours until the potatoes are tender.
TIPS FOR MAKING THE BEST Mexican PICADILLO
- Use a large pan. This Mexican Picadillo recipe makes a large quantity so make sure to use a large enough pan to comfortably fit all of your ingredients. If you don’t have a braiser, then use a Dutch oven or stockpot to be safe and comfortable.
- Don’t overcook meat. Your meat shouldn’t be completely cooked thorough when you add the potatoes, carrots and bell peppers because there’s an extended simmer coming up.
- Chop potatoes small. Make sure to chop the potatoes about ¼-inch so they will be tender by the time the broth is absorbed. If you cut them larger, that is okay, but just expect to add additional liquid because they won’t be done cooking by the time the broth reduces.
- Use correct potatoes. Yukon gold potatoes retain their shape even when simmered for a long time, whereas Russet potatoes can fall apart and become grainy and mealy.
- Submerge potatoes. Try and submerge the potatoes the best you can while cooking by pressing them down with the back of a wooden spoon. If they are exposed on top, they will not cook evenly or as quickly.
- Adjust heat. The spice level of jalapenos can vary significantly from jalapeno to jalapeno, so I suggest using just one jalapeno then adding some of the seeds at the end of cooking if you still want more heat.
- Adjust consistency. Picadillo is supposed to be moist but not overly wet – of course, use your own personal discretion. If the meat starts to get dry before the potatoes are done cooking, then stir in about ¼ cup water. Alternatively, if the Picadillo is too saucy for your liking, simply continue to simmer until reduced to desired consistency.
- Add acid. After tasting the Picadillo, if you would like to cut through the rich meat, add a splash of vinegar or tart green olives.
- Double Batch: This Picadillo recipe is a fabulous recipe to double, or even triple! Freeze leftovers in portion size bags for a quick thaw and heat dinner.
HOW TO SERVE PICADILLO BEEF:
Picadillo is a simple dish with countless serving possibilities. Let your imagination run wild! Here are a few serving ideas so you never have to serve it the same way twice:
- Rice: Picadillo is traditionally served over white rice but you can also serve it with Cilantro Lime Rice. I would shy away from Mexican rice, however, because that is just too much flavor going on. You can also serve it with quinoa, or low carb cauliflower rice or even low carb spaghetti squash.
- Tostadas: Layer a tostada with refried beans or avocado mash, top with Picadillo Beef, lettuce or slaw, cilantro, avocados, sour cream, cotija cheese or queso fresco etc.
- Tacos: Wrap Picadillo Mexicano up in a warm tortilla along with black or pinto beans, and desired toppings such as lettuce, cilantro, guacamole, cotija cheese, and sour cream.
- Tortas: Slice French-style bread in half horizontally, spread refried beans on each side, top with Picadillo, cheese, avocado slices or guacamole, tomatoes slices, pickled red onions, pickled jalapenos, etc.
- Empanadas: Make your own empanada dough or follow my shortcut empanada recipe using puff pastry dough. Instead of the chicken filling, use the Mexican Picadillo.
- Sopes: Layer sopes with refried beans or avocado mash, top with Picadillo, lettuce, cotija cheese or queso fresco, Mexican crema and other desired toppings such as chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced radishes, sliced avocados, pickled jalapenos and/or carrots etc. You can make your own sopes or you can find them in some grocery stores and most Mexican markets.
- Burrito Bowls: Layer cilantro lime rice with cheese, black beans or pinto beans, Picadillo Beef, chopped lettuce, and your favorite toppings including crushed tortilla chips and either sour cream/Greek yogurt or I highly recommend either Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing.
- Burritos: Layer a burrito size tortilla with cilantro lime rice, black or pinto beans, cheese, Picadillo, guacamole, sour cream and lettuce. Serve with additional sour cream and either pico de gallo or homemade salsa.
- Quesadillas: Layer a burrito size tortilla with Mexican cheese and Picadillo Mexicano and grill until golden, cheesy perfection. Serve with your favs of sour cream, salsa, chopped lettuce, guacamole, etc.
- Enchiladas: Replace the chicken in this chicken enchilada recipe with Picadillo and fall in love! This homemade enchilada sauce combined with the Picadillo is a match made in comfort heaven!
- Nachos: Pile thick restaurant style tortilla chips with cheese and beans and bake. Top with Mexican Picadillo and toppings such as jalapenos, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc.
- Stuffed Peppers: Slice the tops off of 6-8 bell peppers and remove the core/seeds inside. Rub the outsides with olive oil and line in a 9×13 baking dish. Combine Picadillo with some cooked rice and ppoon into each pepper. Top with Monterey Jack cheese then tent with foil. Bake until peppers are tender, about 35 minutes. Uncover and bake until cheese is bubbly, 10 minutes more. Serve with sour cream or Mexican crema, cilantro, cotija, etc.
- Stuffed Potatoes. Poke holes in washed, dried potatoes. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and the skin is crispy. Slice open the potatoes, top with Picadillo Beef and cheese then place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Top with sour cream, green onions, etc.
- Mexican “Sloppy Joes:” Top warm buns with Picadillo and serve it as a sandwich.
- Eggs. Whisk some Mexican Picadillo into your egg mixture then proceed to scramble or make an omelette.
- Pasta. Although not traditional, Picadillo is delish over pasta – it reminds me of my taco spaghetti. You can add freshly grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream if you wish.
- Lettuce wraps. Go low carb and load bib lettuce leaves with Picadillo. Top with sour cream or Greek yogurt.
- With chips! Of course, Picadillo Beef is SO good you’ll be wanting to shovel in your mouth with just a spoon – so better yet, down it with tortilla chips!
What Sides Go with Picadillo Beef?
This easy Picadillo recipe is the main event and doesn’t need much of a supporting cast. You can serve it with rice or in any of the aforementioned ways along with:
- Beans: black beans, pinto beans, refried beans, etc. – pick your fav!
- Plantains: the sweet plantains beautifully compliment the rich Picadillo. Try grilling plantains like in these Mojo Salmon Bowls.
- Eggs: fried eggs are delish on top of Picadillo or on the side.
- Cornbread or corn casserole: corn casserole is a tasty, easy, creamy win or add some green chiles and or/ jalapenos to my sweet cornbread recipe and watch it disappear.
- Salad: this robust, earthy, Picadillo Mexicano also pairs well with the contrast of a bright, fresh salad. You can go as simple as a green salad or go big with southwest salad, corn salad or Southwest orzo salad.
- Vegetables: you can jam all your veggies into the salad or serve salad along with or in addition to elote (Mexican Grilled Street Corn – AH-mazing) grilled corn on the cob, baked asparagus, roasted broccoli, roasted cauliflower, roasted Brussels sprouts or roasted butternut squash.
- Fruit: keep it simple and serve this Mexican Picadillo with your favorite fruit such as pineapple, cantaloupe, or grapes or amp it up with any of these fabulous options: pina colada fruit salad, fruit salad with honey lime vinaigrette, grape salad, winter fruit salad, or caramelized grilled pineapple.
- Dessert!: finish off your homemade Mexican fiesta with churros or Tres Leches Cake for the win!
Picadillo Recipe Variations
There are countless variations of Picadillo! You can use this recipe as a springboard then adapt it to your taste. Here are just a few ways to mix it up:
- Add olives. Add ½ cup green olives when you add the raisins for a tart, unami bite.
- Add capers. Add three tablespoons capers (more or less to taste) when you add the raisins for a punch of tangy, salty, briny flavor.
- Add vinegar. Add some of vinegar at the end of cooking to add a a splash of tanginess.
- Add beans. Add your favorite beans – black beans, black, pinto, etc. directly to the filling.
- Swap veggies. You can swap the veggies for corn, zucchini, cauliflower, green beans, spinach etc. or swap the potatoes for sweet potatoes.
- Go low carb. For a low carb version, swap the potatoes for cauliflower florets or butternut squash.
- Add cheese. Stir in shredded Mexican cheese blend, cheddar or Monterrey cheese for CHEESY Picadillo.
- Make it creamy. Make it creamy by stirring in softened cream cheese or some sour cream.
- Add rice or quinoa. Stir in cooked rice or cooked quinoa for added texture.
- Swap protein. Although Picadillo is traditionally made with ground beef, you can swap the meat for ground turkey, ground chicken, chorizo etc.
- Spice it up. Add additional jalapenos, the jalapeno seeds or minced chipotle chile peppers.
CAN I PREP PICADILLO MEXICANO AHEAD OF TIME?
Absolutely! You can either prepare it in its entirety and simply reheat or prep all of the ingredients ahead of time so it come together in minutes when you’re ready to cook. You will want to keep whatever ingredients you are adding at different stages separate from one another but ingredients added at the same time can be stored together:
- Chop the onions and jalapeno and store them an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Peel and chop the potatoes and place them in a bowl submerged with cold water in the refrigerator to prevent browning due to oxidation.
- Chop the bell pepper and carrots and stored them in the same airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Mince the garlic and store in a separate container in the refrigerator.
- Chop cilantro and store in an airtight container.
- Whisk together the seasonings and store in an airtight container.
- Within the next 48 hours, proceed with the recipe without any of the prep!
CAN I MAKE PICADILLO AHEAD OF TIME?
Absolutely! This Picadillo recipe tastes even better the next day as the flavors have time to build and meld which makes it fabulous for meal prep or on-the- go lunches.
For meal prep lunches, simply divide the Picadillo between airtight containers along with rice, cover and refrigerate until ready to use. I like to put the rice on top of the curry so it doesn’t get soggy.
HOW LONG IS PICADILLO RECIPE GOOD FOR?
Picadillo should be kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When stored properly, it is good for up to five days.
HOW TO REHEAT Mexican PICADILLO
- Microwave: transfer small portions to a microwave safe dish, heat for one minute, stir then continue to heat at 30 second intervals.
- Stove: For larger portions, rewarm gently in a large skillet, stirring often. You may need to add a splash of water if it appears dry.
HOW TO FREEZE PICADILLO
The Picadillo freezes very well so it’s a great meal to double or trip for later. To freeze:
- Prepare Picadillo according to directions.
- Cool to room temperature.
- Add filling to a freezer size plastic bag.
- Press bag flat and squeeze out excess air to prevent freezer burn.
- Seal, label and freeze for up to 3 months.
HOW TO REHEAT
- When ready to use, defrost in the refrigerator overnight.
- Transfer to a skillet and warm over medium heat.
- If the filling seems dry, stir in some water.
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