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Caribbean-style beef picadillo is a spiced ground beef recipe seasoned with warm Latin spices and simmered with onions, peppers, and celery. Use it to fill tacos, empanadas, burritos — or just stir it into a bowl of rice and enjoy!
Beef picadillo has all the makings of a wholesome home-cooked meal: beef, potatoes, and a robust tomato sauce. The best part? It takes 30 minutes to make!
I’ll confess that this isn’t a completely traditional Puerto Rican picadillo recipe because it doesn’t contain green sofrito, also known as recaito. Instead, I’m using a red sofrito, which is the Spanish version, for the tomato base — a necessary substitution because none of my go-to stores had any, but its delicious nonetheless.
Table of Contents
We do retain many of the same flavors: green bell peppers, yellow onion, and olive oil are all present. Please feel free to add some cilantro, culantro, and cubanelle and ajíes peppers — all present in green sofrito — for a more Puerto Rican flavor.
- Sofrito – I used the red version in this, but feel free to use the traditional green, recaito version. This Latin American sauce is another recipe worth learning to prepare at home to make any of your favorite soups, stews, and stir-fries more flavorful.
- Ground Beef – Use an 80/20 mix. If desired, my Puerto Rican picadillo recipe can be made with any ground protein: chicken, pork, turkey, and even non-meat alternatives.
- Bell Pepper – I use a mix of green and red bell peppers, but you could use all of one or the other. For a bit of heat, try jalapenos or banana peppers.
- Sazón Seasoning – I like to blend my own with no MSG or food dye — it still has the same warm, salty flavor and beautiful color.
- Potatoes – Yellow, russet, and gold potatoes are all great in beef picadillo. Keep it simple with diced, pre-cooked potatoes from the grocery store!
- Cream of Celery Soup – This canned soup makes the picadillo sauce nice and thick. Cream of mushroom or chicken are decent substitutes, but are a fair bit saltier — omit the salt if you use one of those instead.
- Capers – I use salty, citrusy capers instead of olives, which is the traditional option for Puerto Rican beef picadillo.
Sofrito hails originally from Spain. Spanish sofrito (red) consisted of sautéed onions, garlic, and tomatoes, and it served as the foundation for many traditional dishes. With the arrival of Spanish colonizers in the New World, sofrito took on new dimensions, blending and adapting with the rich culinary heritage of Latin America, namely Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Recaito, the green version, is mostly used in Latin America and the Caribbean dishes namely Cuban and Puerto Rican sofritos and does not include tomatoes and is green in color due to the herbs and green peppers.
- Simmer the Sofrito & Onions. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the sofrito to the pan and cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Once it dries and darkens slightly, add the onion and stir for another 3 minutes.
- Brown the Beef. Add the ground beef to the skillet along with the sazón and salt. Break apart the meat and cook until browned.
- Add the Peppers. Throw the chopped peppers into the skillet and stir into the meat. Cook for 3 minutes.
- Thicken Sauce & Add the Potatoes. Make a hole in the center of the simmered meat and veggies. Pour the canned soup and add the cooked potatoes into the hole. Stir everything together until everything is coated. Simmer for 3 minutes.
- Add the Capers, Season, & Serve. Finally, stir the capers into the mixture. Taste and season with more salt or sazón as needed. Serve while warm.
- Skillet – A well-seasoned cast iron skillet will completely transform your experiences in the kitchen, particularly when it comes to stir-frying vegetables and browning meat.
Storing and Reheating
Transfer any uneaten picadillo to an airtight container and keep refrigerated. Consume any leftovers within 4 days, per USDA guidelines.
It’ll reheat just fine in the microwave. Heat for 30 seconds, stir, and repeat until warmed through.
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The biggest difference is that Puerto Rican beef picadillo includes fresh green sofrito, as is common in Caribbean cooking. The Puerto Rican picadillo recipe also contains olives and is generally more aromatic — the scent really stimulates your appetite!
Mexican beef picadillo is spicier, saltier, and less fresh-tasting. The Cuban picadillo spin on the recipe is very unique: raisins and olives make it both sweet and tangy, and many recipes also contain white wine.
You can make your own red or green version here with my recipe if you can’t find at the market. For this Puerto Rican beef picadillo, you’ll need something to create the same tomato base. A combination of tomato paste or blended or diced tomatoes (Roma is best) with some minced garlic, fresh cilantro or oregano, and chopped peppers for heat will get you close to the same flavor.
You’ll usually find it served with rice, typically plain white rice, in the Puerto Rican style. I like to serve it with yellow rice to keep the same flavor profile, and the Cuban version of the recipe is often served with rice and beans for an especially filling meal.
Puerto Rican Picadillo Recipe
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 8 oz sofrito (See Note 1)
- 1 medium yellow onion chopped
- 1 lb ground beef (80/20)
- 1 tbsp sazon seasoning
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 green bell pepper chopped
- 1/2 red bell pepper chopped
- 2 celery stalks chopped (optional)
- 1 1/2 cups cooked potatoes diced (See Note 2)
- 15 oz cream of celery soup
- 2 tbsp capers
- In a skillet over medium heat add the oil and then the sofrito. Cook 2-3 minutes, it will dry slightly and darken. Add the onion and continue cooking for another 3 minutes.
- Crumble in the ground beef and add the sazon seasoning and salt. Cook until meat is no longer pink and transfer the chopped vegetables to the skillet. Stir through and cook for 3 minutes.
- Make a well in the center of the beef mixture and add the cream of celery soup and cooked potatoes. Stir through to combine thoroughly, coating the beef mixture, cooking for another 3 minutes. Add the capers and stir through. Season to taste with salt. Serve warm.
- There are 2 kinds of sofrito, red (tomato based) and green (cilantro based). The green version is the traditional Puerto Rican, (red is traditionally Spanish), but since I am using the condensed cream of celery soup in lieu of the tomato sauce that is a picadillo staple, I use the tomato based sofrito.
- I purchase diced, cooked potatoes (as seen in post photo) from Winco market in a can and use them drained. It’s very helpful when crunched for time. Feel free to use a yellow, gold or russet potato. Peel, dice and cook first, you’ll need 1 1/2 cups for this recipe.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.