Sweet and savory Puerto Rican-Style Picadillo is a ground beef stew that’s so ridiculously delicious it brings table talk to a complete stop because everyone’s too busy stuffing their face. This beef picadillo recipe is budget-friendly, comes together quickly, and is incredibly versatile. I don’t know any other way to say it: You. Need. To. Make. Picadillo.
A NOTE ON AUTHENTICITY
This is not a historically authentic recipe. We strive to create recipes that are accessible to everyone, which means ingredients need to be available at a mainstream budget grocery store. We test recipes using the least amount of steps, tools, and ingredients while still honoring the spirit of the recipe. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and look forward to a time when our ingredients are available in mainstream markets. Until then, buen provecho!
What Is Picadillo?
Picadillo is a traditional sweet and savory Latin dish usually made with ground beef stewed in tomato sauce. In Puerto Rico, we cook it in a hearty tomato-based sauce with sofrito, adobo, olives, raisins, and sometimes diced potatoes. To the uninitiated, pairing raisins with beef sounds like blasphemy. But I promise you, IT WORKS.
What You’ll Need
Picadillo comes together in one pan in under 30 minutes. There’s a little chopping involved, and it takes about 7 minutes to assemble the recipe, but the rest of the time it simmers on the stovetop. I love a one-pot hands-off recipe! Don’t you?
- Onion, Garlic, and Bell Pepper – this combination creates an aromatic and intensely flavored base
- Sofrito – this is the flavor base of many Puerto Rican dishes. I have a simple recipe for you here, though you can definitely take it further if you have access to traditional ingredients like aji dulce and recao.
- Sazón and Adobo – these seasoning blends go hand in hand to develop deep, earthy notes. The annatto in the sazón also deepens the color of the sauce. If these are hard to source, I have included recipes for both in the notes section of the recipe card.
- Ground Beef – 80/20 is best as the fat adds flavor, but use what you have. You can also make this recipe with ground pork, chicken, lamb, or turkey. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you can substitute ground beef with a plant-based alternative, chopped mushrooms, or black beans.
- Green Olives – I prefer to use the sliced kind with pimento because it’s less work, but feel free to slice whole ones. If you can’t find Green Olives with Pimento (AKA Manzanilla or Spanish Olives), get pitted green olives and add a tablespoon of chopped roasted red pepper to the mix.
- Raisins – though dark raisins are traditional, you can also use golden. I sometimes sub raisins with chopped prunes.
- White Distilled Vinegar – helps cut through the fattiness of the ground beef and adds a sharp top note. Sub it with Apple Cider Vinegar.
- Bay Leaves – have a mild tea-like flavor that sits in the background and helps enhance bolder flavors. Sub with a teaspoon of oregano.
- Tomato Sauce – creates a liquid for the ground beef to stew in and adds acidic, fruity brightness.
What TO Serve With Picadillo
This sweet and savory ground-beef stew is a weeknight staple at my house because I can eat it as is, or served over rice and mashed potatoes. I can also stuff it into an empanada, a burrito, or a lettuce wrap. I’ve even added it to marinara for Puerto Rican-style spaghetti. Picadillo is all-purpose!
How To Store Picadillo
This is one of those recipes that tastes even better the next day. (I love those recipes.) Store cooled Picadillo in an airtight container with plastic film or wax paper directly on the surface. It keeps in the fridge for up to 5 days and in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw frozen Picadillo overnight in the refrigerator, then warm it in a pan set over medium heat or microwave it until steaming.
- 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil ($0.06)
- 1 yellow onion, small dice ($0.42)
- 1 red bell pepper, small dice ($1.59)
- 1 Tbsp tablespoon garlic, minced ($0.14)
- 1 lb ground beef (80/20) ($5.49)
- 1 tsp coarse salt* ($0.04)
- 1 1/2 tsp sazón* (1 packet) ($0.17)
- 1 tsp adobo* ($0.04)
- 1/2 cup sofrito ($0.72)
- 1/2 cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives * ($0.66)
- 1/4 cup raisins ($0.87 )
- 1/2 Tbsp white vinegar ($0.04)
- 15 oz tomato sauce ($1.00)
- 2 bay leaves ($0.20)
- 1/4 cup water ($0.00)
- Place a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the onions and peppers to the pan and cook until the onions are transparent.
- Add the garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant.
- Add the beef to the pan and sprinkle with salt, sazón, and adobo. As the beef browns, break up big chunks with your spoon.
- When the beef has browned, add the sofrito and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
- Add the olives, raisins, white vinegar, tomato sauce, bay leaves, and water. Continue to cook, occasionally stirring, for 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and allow it cool.
See how we calculate recipe costs here.
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/3 teaspoon ground annatto
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon ground oregano *If you cannot source Adobo, mix your own and then use the amount called for in the recipe. Store the rest in an airtight container. 2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric *Pimento-stuffed green olives are also known as Spanish Olives or Manzanilla Olives.
How to Make Picadillo – Step by Step Photos
Place a large saute pan over medium-high heat and add 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add 1 diced onion and 1 diced red bell pepper to the pan and cook until the onions are transparent.
Add 1 tablespoon of minced garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant.
Add the pound of ground beef to the pan and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1 and 1/2 teaspoons sazón, and 1 teaspoon adobo. As the beef browns, break up big chunks with your spoon.
When the beef has browned, add the 1/2 cup sofrito and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Break up any remaining chunks of ground beef.
Add the 1/2 cup olives, 1/4 cup raisins, 1/2 tablespoon white vinegar, 15 ounces tomato sauce, 2 bay leaves, and 1/4 cup water.
Continue to cook, occasionally stirring, for 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and allow the Picadillo to cool slightly before serving. Tell me how long it takes for everyone to start talking again!
This was super delicious! And you’re right – it’s even better the next day as the flavors meld. I was happy to find that my regular grocery store in Southern California carries adobo, sazón, and a jarred sofrito/recaito by Goya. That makes it easy to add this recipe to the regular rotation :)
Thank you Beth and MONTI! This was very good and seemed to hit a spot we didn’t even know we had. (Husband is on another plateful as we speak.) He says to put this in rotation. I made with Beth’s blistered corn salad w avocado and red onion. It is a really good combo.
I couldn’t find the spices pre prepared, so made our own, not onerous as had all the stuff required. Made soffito and enough to freeze, am looking forward to making again. thanks so much for all the good cooking work.
Hi Monti! I’m v excited about this dish and planning to make it soon. My question is, aside from rice do you serve this with any kind of green salad or veg that goes especially well, as a side? I know so little about Puerto Rican food and I feel like it’s a rich area to explore. I’m so glad that Beth, genius that she is!, has invited more excellent cooks to share their recipes. BB has gotten even better.
Monti gives quite a few suggestions in the section of the blog post labeled, “WHAT TO SERVE WITH PICADILLO.” Based on her suggestions, I’ll direct you to our recipe for Cilantro Lime Rice as a great alternative to plain rice (see below). I also included a link to our basic mashed potato recipe. For something simple and vegetable-forward, you could go with some tortilla chips and guacamole or pico de gallo. A simple green salad would be excellent, as you suggested, or a corn salad. Another popular Puerto Rican side dish is sliced ripe plantains. (If you can’t find these in the produce section, check the freezer aisle!) I hope that helps! ~ Marion :)
For a deeper dive into Puerto Rican cuisine, and even more of her authentic recipes (although there are quite a few on Budget Bytes, just click on her avatar at the top of the blog post to view her profile), you can check out Monti’s personal food blog, Island Girl Cooks. Here’s the link: http://islandgirlcooks.com/. She also has a Substack newsletter for her forthcoming cookbook, Spanglish, which comes out next year. Here’s the link: https://themonticarlo.substack.com/.
Thank you so much!
I cannot find Adobo in my area. Could I use the Adobo sauce from Chipotle Peppers in Adobo Sauce? What could I substitute for the annatto?
BTW, I love your site and use the recipes all the time, Bravo!
The main difference between adobo seasoning and adobo sauce/paste is the consistency and ingredients. Adobo seasoning is a pulverized powder made with dried spices and herbs, and adobo sauce/paste is a smoother, runnier sauce made of ground chilies and added spices. It’s totally okay if you aren’t able to find the powder in your area. Monti explains how to make your own in the notes section of the recipe card. Here’s that information again:
*If you cannot source Adobo, mix your own and then use the amount called for in the recipe. Store the rest in an airtight container.
2 Tbsp salt
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 tsp ground oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp turmeric
I hope that helps! ~ Marion :)
This was so good! It’s definitely going into the rotation.
This looks amazing. I don’t love olives, but they’re a MUST in picadillo! (I cut them up super-fine to distribute the flavor while avoiding the texture, which is what I dislike about them.)
My family is Cuban and our picadillo is very similar! We use half beef and half pork and frequently end up using green bell pepper instead of red.
Hola!! FYI Picadillo is actually a Cuban dish and it’s not suppose to be sweet. Puertoricans do not call this dish picadillo for them is carne molida
If only the author of this recipe (born and raised in Puerto Rico) had consulted you before posting!
This was easy to make and tasty. We served it over rice with avocado crema and also made some tostones to go with it. I made the sofrito as linked in the recipe (extremely quick and easy). I think it would be really good as an empanada filling.
Absolutely delicious and easy to make! Made some turmeric rice to go with.
I found adobo seasoning at my local grocery store, but no sazón, so I appreciate the ingredient breakdown (even if I couldn’t source any annatto, either).
I am so impressed with the look and ingredients that this is “What’s for Dinner
Tonight” Thank You Monti! I’ll be looking forward to the next recipe. Dallas
I’m really enjoying seeing more ethnic-inspired recipes here that introduce new spices and flavors. Excited to try this out (will report back).
This recipe looks super good but I’m not a huge fan of olives – is there anything we can substitute? Will removing them adversely affect the taste?
It’s an important part of the recipe in terms of flavor. I would suggest chopping them super fine so you don’t notice. You could also substitute with something briny like capers.
I like how you broke the recipe down so everyone can make it. Great job Monti. I’m looking forward to making this. This would be great with avocado an stuffed in a tortilla.
Great Idea 💡 Ms.Julie