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Viewer Mail – Key West Mollete? It’s the Picadillo!

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I was curious if being familiar with the keys you might know about a place we got stuffed cuban bread from when I was very young…maybe about 1974-1976? It was filled with some kind of a ground beef mixture that was out of this world, the place was very small and had maybe two booths. I wish I had the name of it. I have looked for recipes, tried to recreate it myself in vain, any pointers?

Hi Francie,

I’ve not spent a lot of time in the Keys (Cedar Key is off northwest FL) but I’m pretty sure what you’re remembering is a Key West area favorite locally called a mollete. The word mollete actually means a kind of bread to the Spanish or a sort of pizza in Mexico (an oversimplification to be sure) but in Key West a mollete is a portion of Cuban bread stuffed with picadillo (traditional Cuban spicy ground beef hash) then breaded and deep fried.

The tricky bit here is that picadillo is like saying chili, everyone has their own take on it. In my opinion it’s greatest distinction is the use of cumin and capers, which are like little olives and are found in most grocery stores on the same shelf. They come in a few sizes, for picadillo I prefer the smallest ones that are about half the size of green peas.

Unfortunately I’ve never actually tried to make the deep fried sandwich but if I understand you correctly the spicy beef is mostly what you’re after. Picadillo is very versatile and is used a lot of ways, my favorite is empanadas (fried meat pies) or stuffed potatoes. It also traditionally served with fried plantains and/or black beans and rice.

For a simple experiment to see if you’re getting the spicy meat taste you remember you can serve it over rice or even just alone. Once you find a recipe you like then you can try more complex delivery systems like hollowed out breaded and deep fried Cuban Bread :)

Perhaps a good citizen of the Conch Republic will read this and provide some insight but I think a traditional picadillo recipe will get you off to a great start.

Kitchen Warfare Picadillo

¼ cup olive oil

1 large onion finely chopped

1 green bell pepper (seeded and finely chopped)

2 cloves garlic minced

½ tsp cayenne pepper

2 lbs lean ground beef

2 ½ cups of diced tomatoes (seeded, peeled)

½ tsp ground cumin

2 tbl small capers

Salt and pepper to taste

In large skillet heat the oil over medium high and add the onion, pepper, garlic and cayenne. Sauté until the onions are softened about 5-6 minutes, then add the beef and break it up and mix everything together as its browning, about 8-10 minutes

Add the tomatoes and the cumin, then cover and simmer on medium low for about 15 minutes.

Add the capers and simmer for 5-10 more minutes. Add the salt and pepper to taste.

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12 Comments »

  • Michael "Kingfish" Castellano said:

    Mollette is a Key West version of the popular Papas Rellanos (Stuffed Potatoes). Since potatoes were hard to come by back in the day, the Caya Hueso Cubanos used Cuban Bread instead of potatoes. The picadillo is a simple version of the meat filling compared to the hash style used in Papas Rellanos.

    As for the place you were thinking of, I believe you were talking about either 5 Brothers Grocery Store or John’s Grocery store. Of which I frequented as a youngster while growing up in Key West. Both of which are still in operation of sorts and can provide you a wonderful meal. One other place to visit is Dennis Pharmacy on South Flagler Ave. This is still a staple locale in Key west and should be visited by all who visits there.

    Have Fun and eat Up America, its out there to try.
    Michael “Kingfish”

  • Anonymous said:

    Thank you so much I will be trying this very soon, forgot to check this.

  • D. Gelabert said:

    Hi,
    Another place to find mollete’s if they are still around is a little restaurant called, “La Lechonara”. I am not sure of the spelling. They used to make the best mollete’s, and I am trying to find a good recipe. I know that as a youngster in Key West, it was made of picadillo, with some kind of spices, stuffed in bread (Cuban and also another that we called, “coca’s”, again not sure of the spelling). The bread would have the ends cut and the inside taken out and stuffed with the picadillo, breaded and fried). “Coca’s” are rolls that I think are made the same as Cuban bread. The rolls are about six inches long, and pointed on both ends. The ends like I said are cut, most of the inside taken out, stuffed w/picadillo, breaded and fried. If anyone finds a real recipe please email at dgelabert54@yahoo.com. Thank you ahead of time.

  • Ruth said:

    I use your bread recipe and have shared it many times. I came here to get the link to your page to share and thought I would mention it to you. My husband is from Tampa and when I started reading your blog, I thought it sounded just like my husband, including the part of moving to the Hill Country. We moved to the Texas Hill Country….LOL We still go back to Tampa and stuff ourselves with all the wonderful food. Does anyone remember the Silver Ring?

    Anyway, I love to make bread of all kinds and my husband raves about my real Cuban bread since I started using your recipe awhile back. Thanks a million.

  • Monica said:

    Hello,

    My mom and I are wanting to make Key West style molletes too. She has the best picadillo recipe on the planet and we have a Cuban bakery to buy the bread from, but the missing ingredient we need is what to bread with… she thought it was cracker meal, but the Nabisco brand she prefers has been discontinued and we aren’t sure what to substitute.

    My favorite Molletes in Key West were at La Lechonera, but sadly, that place closed down years ago. I wish I knew who the owner was so I could hunt them down! LOL. Dennis Pharmacy used to sell them too, but they don’t anymore. They still have great bollitos, but no molletes. I can’t find them anywhere anymore. So sad!

    Please help if you know what to use for the breading. If they turn out good, I’ll be happy to share the full recipe here.

    Monica

  • Jimmy said:

    Jon Menendez had the best molletes in town at his little store on the corner of Flagler Ave and used to get them everyday for lunch at school ….the recipe on here is pretty good, but if you could hunt down someone from the Menendez family?????

  • Charles Ogden said:

    Jon’s Sundries was the place that had the best molletes from any where else, I had them while in High School!

  • A Fresh Water Conch said:

    The 4th of July Restaurant on White Street also had wonderful mollettes. A few little comments to add to everyone else’s, however.

    After the incredibly delicious home made Key West bread is stuffed with the picadillo, it is rolled in an egg mixed with just a tiny smattering of S&P. Then the whole thing is rolled in corn meal to which a little sugar has been added. Yes. Sugar. To me that was the key ingredient. Also, I never cut off the ends of the bread. I pinched them off, and then used a long bread knife to “gut” the loaf. After everything is stuffed, you put the pinched bread back in the hole – and it’s a perfect fit if you were careful with your knife. The ragged edge seems to hold better in the egg and batter than the cut off end does.

    Then deep fry the entire loaf in hot oil (like a crock pot). Yum yum yum!

    From a Fresh Water Conch

  • chigey said:

    I have been looking for this recipe. I ate at the 4th of July on once and never got how delicious it was I just happened to find this sight. thank you

  • John Michaud said:

    I loved Jon’s they also had molletes stuffed with crab out of this world also papas rellenos Cuban sandwiches the picadillo. I remember had olives and raisins cooked in it with onions sofrito splash of edmundo cooking wine to sautee the onions before adding the beef was amazing had a slight sweetness to it as well as the sofrito flavor miss all those places especially jons and Dennis phamacy

  • Anonymous said:

    Dennis island cafe has the best molette in key west the food is amazing there. It’s in bahama village off of white street

  • Timothy Horn said:

    Recent outing to KW looking for the elusive Mollete and could only find it at Meson De Pepe. What a disappointment from my earlier memories of this delish sandwich. Bland everything and fried to blandness. bland bland bland BUT have to give them kudos for the Yuca fries. Some of the best I ever had.

    Tim

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