Beef Picadillo (also known as carne molida) is a quick and easy, one-pot dish made from ground beef, seasonings, and tomato sauce. Popular in Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Dominican Republic, it’s super-satisfying, and cooks in just 30 minutes. This recipe calls for potatoes and olives, but you can adjust to your liking. Serve over white rice with sweet plantains, or as a filling for pastelitos and empanadas.
Beef Picadillo is one of my favorite dishes to make during the week. While this dish isn’t typical in Cape Verdean households, I’m familiar with a version called carne moída, commonly eaten in Brazil. I really enjoy making Latin and Caribbean dishes because of how similar they are to the food that I grew up on.
This recipe closely resembles Cuban-style picadillo, which uses potatoes and olives. Unlike traditional Cuban picadillo, I don’t use raisins, but you certainly can!
What is Carne Molida?
The definition of carne molida is “ground meat” in Spanish. This name is used interchangeably with picadillo, a dish that has been adapted throughout Latin America. Its name comes from the Spanish word “picar,” which means to chop. The chopping refers to the onions, peppers, garlic and cilantro.
In countries like the Dominican Republic and Brazil, picadillo is simply called carne molida (or carne moida in Portuguese). The beef is cooked in tomato sauce and seasonings, served with rice or as a filling for empanadas/pastelitos, and pastelón (plantain lasagna).
Why You’ll Love This Recipe:
- It’s easy to make with little cleanup: Great news! You only need one pan and a cutting board. No fancy tools or complicated steps. If you’re serving it with rice or another side, you’ll need to cook those separately.
- Perfect for busy nights: Beef picadillo takes 30 minutes to cook – but you’ll need a few extra minutes to chop the potatoes and vegetables. You can do this in advance, if you want to.
- Full of flavor: The ground meat is simmered in tomato sauce with spices, cilantro, onions, and red bell peppers. Serving with white rice balances out the flavors.
- Wallet-friendly: You likely have all the ingredients already on hand. Ground beef is inexpensive and goes a long way without having to spend much.
- Easily adaptable: There are so many versions, you can pretty much tailor this dish however you’d like by trying different combinations of add-in ingredients like raisins, potatoes and olives.
Ingredients you’ll need
- 80/20 ground beef gives this dish plenty of flavor without an excess of grease. You can use a leaner cut like 85/15 if you’re using picadillo as filling but I wouldn’t go any leaner than this or you’ll lose flavor.
- Aromatics (same ingredients as sofrito) – onions, bell peppers, cilantro, and crushed garlic, all loosely chopped, are key elements. I skip the food processor, but feel free to use one. Personally, I prefer sautéing the cilantro stems before adding the beef and stirring in the cilantro leaves at the end before serving.
- Seasonings: Instead of sazon or adobo, I mix up my own blend of onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper, cumin, and paprika.
- Olive oil – although it’s not the go-to for sautéing in American cooking (due to its lower smoke point), I don’t know that islanders always follow this rule. We tend to use what we have on hand. Feel free to use a neutral oil like vegetable or canola if you prefer.
- Sauce ingredients: The picadillo simmers in tomato sauce, with a little bit of chicken broth added to cover the potatoes. The broth (water works too) is optional. If you skip the potatoes, there’s no need for any extra liquid.
- Add-ins: Potatoes and olives are optional. When making picadillo as a filling, I leave out the potatoes.
Refer to the recipe card at the bottom of this post for a full list of ingredients with measurements.
Recipe substitutions and add-ins
This dish is very versatile – feel free to add or substitute any of these:
- Leaner meats like ground turkey or 85/15 ground beef can be used in place of 80/20 ground beef. Leaner cuts are less flavorful, but they’re a healthier choice, especially when making empanadas, pastelitos or anything deep-fried.
- Store-bought adobo, sazon, and sofrito are convenient options for this recipe. Use 1-2 tablespoons of store-bought sofrito in place of the peppers, garlic and cilantro stems, but still include fresh onions for extra texture. You can also replace the original dry seasonings with 1 teaspoon of sazon with annatto and 2 teaspoons of adobo. When using salt, do so sparingly and adjust to your taste preferences.
- Tomato paste can be used instead of tomato sauce; but the picadillo will be a little more dry which is ideal for fillings, but you’ll have to watch closely while it cooks so it doesn’t burn.
- Raisins are typical in traditional Cuban picadillo and some Puerto Rican versions. They add both sweetness, and texture.
- Vegan options: If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you can use a plant-based substitute and swap out the chicken broth for vegetable broth.
How to make Beef Picadillo
Follow these recipe steps with photos for best results:
Step 1: Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet or pan. Sauté the diced onion, garlic paste, bell peppers, and cilantro stems until fragrant.
Step 2: Brown the ground beef, breaking it up with a spoon while it cooks.
Step 3: Add the potatoes (optional) and olives to the pan or skillet, and combine them with the ground beef.
Step 4: Add the red wine vinegar, tomato sauce and bay leaves. If you’re using potatoes, add just enough broth to cover them. Stir everything and bring to a simmer.
Step 5: Cover the pan with a lid, and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are softened. Make sure to stir every 10 minutes or so, adjusting the flame and adding liquid as needed so that the picadillo doesn’t burn.
Step 6: After about 30 minutes, turn the burner off and stir in the chopped cilantro leaves. After 30 minutes, turn off the burner and stir in the cilantro leaves. Serve over rice, or as a filling for pastelitos/empanadas or your preferred dish.
Tips and Tricks
- For added texture, fry the potatoes separately and combine them with the carne molida before serving.
- If you don’t use potatoes or opt to fry them, you can skip using broth or water.
- While the picadillo cooks, keep an eye on the amount of liquid in the pan, and stir every 10 minutes or so to keep it from burning.
Not sure what to make with picadillo? Here are some suggestions:
- Pair with white rice for a satisfying and well-rounded meal.
- Tostones, platanos maduros or yuca fries are some other side dishes that you can make with this dish. It’s not uncommon for island dishes to be served with more than one starch.
- Use as a filling for empanadas and pastelitos or add to spaghetti sauce or plantain lasagna (pastelón).
Storing and Reheating Leftovers
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator: Let the picadillo cool to room temperature before transferring it to an airtight container. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
- Reheating instructions: Microwave for 1-2 minutes or warm up in a pan on the stove. If using a pan, you might need to add a little water.
- In the Freezer: Place leftovers in a freezer-safe container or bag, ensuring a proper seal to prevent freezer burn. Frozen leftovers can be stored for 3 months.
- To thaw: Remove the picadillo from the freezer and let thaw in the refrigerator overnight. Once defrosted, reheat on the stove with a little water in the pan, or in the microwave.
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Carne Molida (Beef Picadillo)
- 2 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 small yellow onion diced
- 1 tablespoon garlic paste minced or crushed
- 1 red bell pepper diced
- 1 handful fresh chopped cilantro keep the stems and chop them separately
- 2 lbs 80/20 ground beef
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 small yukon gold potatoes peeled and diced
- ⅓ cup green pitted olives sliced
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- ½ cup chicken broth use only if you're using potatoes
- Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a deep skillet or pan. Sauté the diced onion, garlic paste, bell peppers, and cilantro stems until fragrant.
- Add the ground beef and brown it in the same skillet over medium heat, breaking it up with a spoon as it cooks.
- Add the potatoes (optional) and olives, combining them with the ground beef.
- Add the red wine vinegar, tomato sauce and bay leaves. If using potatoes, add just enough broth to cover them. Stir everything together and bring to a simmer.
- Cover the pan with a lid and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked. Stir every 10 minutes, adjusting the flame and adding liquid as needed to prevent burning.
- After 30 minutes, turn off the burner and stir in the chopped cilantro leaves. Serve over white rice, in tacos, or as a filling for pastelitos/empanadas or your preferred dish.
- Store leftovers in the refrigerator for 3-4 days in an airtight container or in the freezer for up to 3 months in a freezer bag.
- If you're not using potatoes, you don't need to add broth.
- Keep an eye on the picadillo as it cooks and stir every 10 minutes or so to keep it from burning.