Picadillo (Cuban Ground Beef) With Saffron Rice Recipe

Picadillo is an ultra-savory, slow-simmered, chopped stew that has been described as Cuba's premier comfort food. While the dish is often equated with Cuba's food history, variations can also be found in Mexican, Caribbean, and other Latin American cuisine. This version for picadillo with saffron rice — courtesy of recipe developer Julie Kinnaird — features ground beef with pimento-stuffed Spanish olives, golden raisins, capers, and plenty of smoked paprika, cinnamon, and cumin. Picadillo appears to have Spanish origins in the ingredients, but this Cuban version highlights the integration of the spices with bright and briny flavors. Saffron is also a beloved spice in Cuban cooking, and the unique flavor it adds to regular long-grain rice pairs seamlessly with the rich stew.

Picadillo is easy to prepare and can be made ahead for quick weeknight meals or entertaining. The flavor will improve after a day or two in the refrigerator, and leftovers can be utilized in a multitude of ways. Flavorful and filling, Cuban picadillo is a dish that can be enjoyed all year long!

Gather the picadillo and saffron rice ingredients

For this recipe, you will need olive oil for cooking both the picadillo and the saffron rice. Yellow onion, green bell pepper, and fresh garlic add aromatics to the ground beef. Kosher salt, black pepper, red wine vinegar, dried oregano, smoked paprika, ground cinnamon, ground cumin, and bay leaf all season the picadillo. Canned crushed tomatoes, pimento-stuffed Spanish olives, golden raisins, and capers add layers of bright acidity, briney umami, and a touch of sweetness to the picadillo. Choose your favorite variety of white, long-grain rice to saute pilaf-style with a minced shallot. A couple of pinches of Spanish saffron steeped in hot water give the rice its golden color. The dish is finished with a sprinkle of chopped fresh Italian parsley.

Step 1: Heat olive oil in a large pot

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.

Step 2: Add the onion and bell pepper

Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and starting to brown (about 5 minutes).

Step 3: Add the garlic and ground beef

Add the garlic and ground beef, breaking up the meat and allowing it to brown.

Step 4: Season with salt and pepper

Season the mixture with 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper.

Step 5: Add the tomatoes and spices

Add the tomatoes, vinegar, oregano, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, and bay leaf, stirring to combine.

Step 6: Cover the pot and simmer

Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Step 7: Slice the olives

Slice the olives in half crosswise.

Step 8: Add olives, raisins, and capers to the pot

Uncover the pot and stir in the olives, raisins, and capers.

Step 9: Simmer the picadillo

Simmer, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Step 10: Grind the saffron

While the picadillo is cooking, grind the saffron into a powder using a mortar and pestle.

Step 11: Steep the saffron

Place the ground saffron in a small bowl and add ¼ cup hot water. Set aside to steep.

Step 12: Heat the remaining oil in a pot

Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium pot.

Step 13: Add the shallot

Add the shallot and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until softened.

Step 14: Add the rice

Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.

Step 15: Add the water, remaining salt, and saffron

Add the water, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and steeped saffron. Bring to a simmer.

Step 16: Cover the pot and simmer

Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes.

Step 17: Fluff the rice

Uncover the pot and fluff the rice with a fork.

Step 18: Remove the bay leaf from the picadillo

Remove the bay leaf from the picadillo and discard.

Step 19: Serve the picadillo

Serve the picadillo over the saffron rice in bowls, and garnish with some of the chopped parsley.

What is saffron, and is there a substitute for it?

If you haven't cooked with saffron before, you might be a bit shocked by the price when finding it in the spice section at your market. Saffron has been labeled as the most expensive spice in the world, and for good reason. Saffron threads are the stigmas of the crocus flower, and there are only 3 stigma per flower. The harvesting process is incredibly labor intensive, and it takes thousands of flowers to produce 1 pound of saffron. The spice can often be hard to find, as the growing season for the one specific variety of crocus flower that bears the treasure is relatively brief. 

Saffron has an intense flavor that has elements of sweetness with earthy undertone. It also has a vibrant gold color that diffuses from the crimson threads when steeped. It may seem impossible to replicate such a unique profile, but there are a few spices that can be substituted in for saffron when needed. Turmeric is a spice that has a similar golden color. Although the flavor profile is not quite the same, adding an equal amount of sweet paprika creates a balance of flavor that will work in recipes like the saffron rice here. Try ¼ teaspoon each of turmeric and sweet paprika. Curry powder can also be used in a pinch and will add a bit of that golden color to your recipe. Because curry powder is actually a blend of spices, it won't have the same flavor profile as pure saffron. Ground annatto seed is also an option for adding some vibrant color and a bit of mild, peppery flavor. 

What are some other ways to use and serve picadillo?

Picadillo is wonderfully comforting as a dish on its own, but it can become a useful filling for a variety of other preparations. Kinnaird likes making a double batch of this recipe and freezing part of it to use later for quick weeknight meals. Picadillo makes a perfect taco filling and can be topped with a bit of queso fresco and avocado. Try cutting the tops off of a few colorful bell peppers and filling them with picadillo. Bake, covered with foil, at 400 F until heated through and the peppers are tender. 

Picadillo also makes an excellent filling for empanadas, or try using it in enchiladas. One of Kinnaird's favorite ways to use extra picadillo is on nachos! Layer the picadillo over tortilla chips on a baking sheet, pile on some queso asadero (Mexican melting cheese), garnish with a few pickled jalapeño slices, and bake at 400 F until hot and bubbly.

Picadillo (Cuban Ground Beef) With Saffron Rice Recipe
5 from 15 ratings
Classic picadillo cooks ground beef in a blend of sweet-savory seasonings and vegetables, and we accompany the spiced meat with vibrant saffron rice.
Prep Time
15
minutes
Cook Time
1
hour
Servings
6
servings
Picadillo with saffron rice in bowls on table
Total time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
Ingredients
  • 2 + 1 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large green bell pepper, stem and seeds removed, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 ½ pounds ground beef
  • 1 + 1 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • ½ cup pimento-stuffed Spanish olives
  • ½ cup golden raisins
  • ¼ cup capers
  • 2 pinches saffron strands
  • 1 large shallot, peeled and minced
  • 1 ½ cups long-grain white rice, rinsed and drained
  • 2 ¾ cups water
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
Directions
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and starting to brown (about 5 minutes).
  3. Add the garlic and ground beef, breaking up the meat and allowing it to brown.
  4. Season the mixture with 1 teaspoon salt and the pepper.
  5. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, oregano, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, and bay leaf, stirring to combine.
  6. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and simmer for 30 minutes.
  7. Slice the olives in half crosswise.
  8. Uncover the pot and stir in the olives, raisins, and capers.
  9. Simmer, uncovered, for an additional 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  10. While the picadillo is cooking, grind the saffron into a powder using a mortar and pestle.
  11. Place the ground saffron in a small bowl and add ¼ cup hot water. Set aside to steep.
  12. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium pot.
  13. Add the shallot and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until softened.
  14. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute.
  15. Add the water, remaining 1 teaspoon salt, and steeped saffron. Bring to a simmer.
  16. Cover the pot and cook for 15 minutes.
  17. Uncover the pot and fluff the rice with a fork.
  18. Remove the bay leaf from the picadillo and discard.
  19. Serve the picadillo over the saffron rice in bowls, and garnish with some of the chopped parsley.
Nutrition
Calories per Serving 609
Total Fat 27.1 g
Saturated Fat 9.4 g
Trans Fat 1.3 g
Cholesterol 80.5 mg
Total Carbohydrates 66.1 g
Dietary Fiber 5.2 g
Total Sugars 16.4 g
Sodium 865.9 mg
Protein 26.7 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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