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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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