A quick shot of last night’s half-time dinner: picadillo on yellow rice with black beans.
Photo by Donna Turner Ruhlman.

I followed a recipe for the first time in ages to make something I’d never cooked before. Whilst down in Key West, I decided to cook a local or near-local preparation. I once said to my friend Nathan Sheffield, Esq., “There’s no such thing as good Cuban food.” He was justifiably riled and sent me the below recipe for picadillo, a Latin American stew of chopped meat. Nathan is of Cuban heritage and thus his picadillo has lots of cumin and umami-giving olives and capers.

Nathan insists that it be eaten with yellow rice, rice flavored with annatto oil. Annatto seeds are simmered in oil to make a red-orange oil that has a flavor like no other—difficult to describe but in the cinnamon range with bitterness rather than sweetness. It’s the defining seasoning here.

To make a simple yellow rice, sauté onions in annatto oil:

Onions sautéed in annatto oil.

Then add rice and water or stock and cook. The same method can be used for black beans, though I used bacon and onions yesterday. I make a big batch of annato oil by sight, combining plenty of seeds with about three times the amount of oil. Or you can follow the recipe here, but double it for the yellow rice. It will keep for a few weeks refrigerated. Nathan uses potatoes; this is starch overkill and I recommend you don’t. Nathan says you must put a layer of your favorite hot sauce between the rice and the stew, a conviction with which I concur enthusiastically. “There’s something about the alchemy of the hot sauce being under the stew that makes it bloom in a magical way,” Nathan says.

Nathan cooks the meat first, then adds the vegetables. I cook the vegetables to develop their flavor and sear the meat in a separate smoking hot pan for good browning, then add the meat and as much of the fat as I feel like to the vegetables, followed by the seasonings, followed by the liquids and tomato.

The following batch (with rice and beans) fed six people with leftovers. This is a great meal to make for a Sunday dinner and to have leftovers later in the week. Serve it as a taco filling with cheese on top if you wish or on more rice. It’s fabulous.

Nathan Sheffield’s Picadillo

  • 1 tablespoon annatto seeds
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork (not traditional but it tastes pretty damn good)
  • 4 to 5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium Spanish onions, diced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large yellow bell pepper, diced
  • Salt and pepper to taste (pretty damn aggressively)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon adobo con pimiento (chipotles)
  • Red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano (or generic)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 3/4 cup stuffed manzanillo olives
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons capers (with the brine)
  • 2 cups drinkable red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can plum tomatoes, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (trust me on this)
  • 3 large Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Your favorite hot sauce (Crystal’s is the most traditional), for serving
  1. In a small sauté pan, place the annatto seeds and the olive oil over medium low heat (I always make extra of this stuff just to keep in the fridge) until the seeds have become dark amber in color and the oil has become fragrant and saffron-colored. Strain the oil into a heavy-bottomed dutch oven (I pull out my trusty Le Creuset).
  2. Over medium heat, brown the beef and pork completely before adding the garlic, onions, and peppers. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat and sweat the vegetables together with the meat for approximately 10 minutes.
  3. Season well with the cumin, adobo, red pepper flakes, and oregano and add the raisins, olives, and capers. Cook for another 10 minutes, stirring frequently—the fond should be pretty thick on the bottom of the pot. Deglaze with red wine and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the tomatoes (with their juices) and vinegar, reduce to low heat, and simmer (partially covered) for 2 to 3 hours—or, if you’re as lazy as I am, you can just throw it in the oven at 300°F for a few hours. In the last hour, add the potatoes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. Don’t forget to put a layer of hot sauce between the rice and stew, per Nathan’s instructions.

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© 2013 Michael Ruhlman. Photo © 2013 Donna Turner Ruhlman. All rights reserved.