Growing up, my favorite Cuban dish was picadillo served with white rice and topped with a couple of fried eggs. Oh, gosh, I'm actually salivating as I write this! I'd go to the kitchen and have some leftovers right now if it weren't 10:00pm. There's always tomorrow. I digress. I wanted to share my grandmother's recipe with all of you, but that recipe took hours to execute. I don't know about other moms out there, but I rarely have but an hour to 90 minutes to get dinner finished. It was therefore necessary for me to figure out a way to make granny's famous picadillo in record time. And this is how the "cheating" version of her traditional Cuban picadillo was born.
For starters, picadillo is basically ground beef cooked with a mixture of vegetables and spices. My version yields the best approximation to the taste and texture of my grandmother's recipe in the least amount of time possible. I can usually whip this up (including prep time) in about 45 minutes. I know that may sound like too much time in today's "30-minute meals" environment, but the results are well worth the effort. And the leftovers are sublime. Enough talk, let's get to it.
(forgive me, abuela, but desperate moms call for desperate recipes ;-)
- 1 1/2 lbs ground beef (turkey or pork will suck with this recipe, so I'd suggest you don't substitute here)
- 1/2 cup cooking wine
- 1/4 cup of oil (corn oil or extra light virgin olive oil will yield the best texture)
- 1 individual box of raisins
- 1 small can (or skinny glass bottle) of stuffed green olives w/ pimentos
- salt (1-2 tsp depending on how salty you like your food to be)
- a dash of cumin
- paprika (1 tsp)
- 1 large bottle or can of pre-made sofrito (the "cheating" component)
Cook the ground beef with the oil in a deep pan (or casuela, as Cubans call them) just enough to retain a bit of pink in the meat. Add about half of the cooking wine along with rest of the ingredients minus the sofrito. Turn the heat up to medium-high and stir frequently until the mixture turns brown and slightly dry. Lower the heat to medium-low and add the remaining cooking wine as well as the entire contents of the sofrito bottle. Stir some more, then cover the pan and allow it to simmer for about 25-30 minutes. Once the time has elapsed, uncover the pan and stir. The texture should be non-clumpy and slightly dry. If the mixture seems "wet" with too much liquid, give it some heat while stirring continuously to evaporate the excess. That's it. Easy peasy, right? (BTW, this serves 4-6)
For non-Cubans trying out this recipe and unfamiliar with what sofrito is, it's a staple of Cuban cooking. The older generation of Cuban cooks would prepare a sofrito for practically every meal. The real good sofritos took quite some time to prepare. Think of it as the equivalent of spaghetti sauce. You know, that special sauce Italian grandmothers would make from scratch! Well, sofrito is about the same thing in terms of importance. A basic sofrito consists of tomato sauce/paste, onions, garlic, green peppers, salt and black pepper. Some like to add cumin and paprika as my grandmother did, but there are difference in a sofrito from Cuban province to Cuban province. Nowadays, this mixture is readily available in grocery stores in the Spanish section or near the ketchup and steak sauces. I usually keep several bottles in my pantry because so many of my recipes call for a sofrito mixture. In addition, you'll sometimes see picadillo recipes with peas, corn or potatoes as ingredients. A Cuban picadillo has none of these. Those are more than likely Puerto Rican or Mexican versions of picadillo. I;m sure they taste great, but they're not a Cuban picadillo.
My grandmother would cringe if she knew I was using a pre-made sofrito in my picadillo, but then again she was a purist when it came to cooking. When I have time or for a special occasion, I will indulge in a "made-from-scratch" sofrito, but most nights I "cheat". Time is money, abuela. I hope you'll understand.