Picadillo is one of those typically simple home style dishes that lend themselves to the interpretation of the cook. Originally served mainly in homes, it can now be found on the menu of many Cuban restaurants.
Traditionally, picadillo was made with ground beef, but more and more cooks are using ground turkey. Some people add equal amounts of ground pork or ham to the ground beef or turkey. Others like to add diced fried potatoes. Some do all of the above!!!!!
Picadillo is mostly served over white fluffy rice. You might also see it with a topping of fried eggs - sunny side up! It is also used as the filling for some meat pastries we call "pastelitos de carne" (meat pastries) which I like to make using puff pastry.
The following is the very basic recipe for picadillo. Below, I mention some of the optional seasonings and ingredients that you can add to make it more "typical".
1/4 to 1/2 pound ground beef (or turkey ground)
1 Tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
1 medium chopped onion
2-3 cloves minced garlic
1/2 a green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup dry white wine (*)
Sauté the onion, garlic and bell pepper in the oil (**) until onion is slightly limp. Add the ground meat and sauté until brown and crumbly. Stir constantly so it will not stick. If the meat is not lean, it will release grease; discard (***)
Add the bay leaf, wine and tomato sauce and cook for a few more minutes, stirring, until most of the liquid evaporates.
(*) I usually mention the following on recipe that contain wine of any kind, but it bears repeating. Never use the so-called cooking wines. They are way too salty and loaded with more chemicals and preservatives than regular table wine. For this recipe, I use an inexpensive dry white table wine, dry vermouth or dry Sherry.
One of the first things I learned from all of my cooking teachers and mentors was that if it is not good enough for drinking straight out of the bottle it is not good enough for cooking with it either!
(**) The combination of sautéing some veggies and herbs in oil is called a "sofrito". The above sofrito is about as basic as you can get.
(***) I now use island-raised grass-fed beef since it doesn't contain as much fat. The amount of grease rendered when the meat is sautéed is almost negligible.
OPTIONAL INGREDIENTS FOR PICADILLO:
You can add cumin powder and dried oregano along with a bay leaf to the sofrito.
Just before adding the tomato sauce and wine you can add a handful of raisins and about 1/4 cup of chopped green olives with pimiento stuffing. I like to buy the "salad style" olives which are already chopped, but if I can't find them, I use regular pimento stuffed olives and slice them. The combination of the sweet raisins and the briny olives is quite pleasing to me. Mix well in the simmering meat.
You can also add a couple of teaspoonfuls of capers and mix well.
Peel, cut and dice a large potato and fry it separately. Add to the cooked picadillo and mix well.
I don't normally add salt or pepper to the picadillo. I find that when I use the olives and the capers, the brine is usually enough to season the dish.