Cuban papas rellenas are little orbs of perfection – deep fried, breaded mashed potato balls stuffed with a ground beef picadillo hash. A guaranteed hit at every party!
This recipe begins with my authentic Cuban picadillo recipe, which is what these delicious little balls are stuffed with. We all have my partner’s Cuban family – and the cookbook that is their treasure trove of secrets – to thank for that recipe. Cuban picadillo is consistently one of the most popular recipes here at Stovetop Diplomat and it only gets better inside fried potatoes. I have left that recipe largely intact with one exception. For this purpose, I like to roughly chop the olives as opposed to leaving them whole. Because they spread out more this way, I have also reduced the number of olives included.
(As a side note, olive size and placement is hotly contested in this dish! There are two camps in this conflict: to chop the olives or to leave them whole. I initially tested this recipe with whole olives, placing one in the middle of the potatoes and then piling ground beef around it. All of my instincts – and a few Cubans – told me this would be the best way. But using this recipe and these amounts, I didn’t feel the reward was worth the extra work and I thought the meat-to-olive ratio was off. But if you prefer making them this way, by all means go for it! Just skip the olive chopping step.)
However, this recipe itself actually didn’t make it into their home cook book. Papas rellenas are considered more of a party food than something you would typically make at home for your family. Any birthday celebration and any get together, these are sure to make the table. And these are also a staple of any Cuban bakery if you are looking to enjoy one on a more individual level!
You will see in my recipe that I call for 100% grass-fed ground beef. I love grass-fed ground beef for a variety of health and deliciousness reasons and I strongly recommend it! You can find more information about that here. However, you are absolutely welcome to use any conventional ground beef you have. While I think 85% lean is just about the optimum fattiness, this recipe works just as well with leaner or fattier ground beef.
The other two ingredients that may look unusual are vino seco and adobo con pimienta. Vino seco is a golden cooking wine often used in Cuban cuisine. Depending on your location, it may be hard to find locally although it is available online. You can find more information about it here. Although I highly recommend using this wine for an extra kick of Cuban perfection, if you absolutely cannot get your hands on it, substitute in a white cooking wine instead. As for adobo con pimienta, this is a spice blend available in most grocery stores. You can find more information about that here. It’s not brand specific, meaning that most of the major spice retailers (Goya, McCormick, and so on) all have a version. Here in Denver, Goya brand is the easiest to find- it’s available at pretty much all major grocery stores. You can also find it at almost any Hispanic grocer.
This recipe is fairly labor intensive, not in difficulty but in time consumption. Between preparing the picadillo, boiling the potatoes, letting them cool, mashing said potatoes and rolling the balls – this can take a while. I prefer to split up making this recipe into two days by preparing the Cuban picadillo on the first day, and then dealing with the potatoes and rolling on the second. I have also had success with making the picadillo and boiling the potatoes on the first day; and then mashing the potatoes and rolling the papas rellenas the next day. The only thing you may have to watch out for is your potatoes getting dry- but another small splash of milk can fix this!
One of the keys to success in this recipe is mashing the potatoes by hand. It sucks and it’s tempting to cheat, but don’t! The reason for this is that mashing potatoes with an electric mixer or stand mixer creates something more akin to whipped potatoes. Mashing at high speeds incorporates too much air and not only will your papas rellenas be much more difficult to shape but they will fall apart when frying. You need a final product that’s a little sturdier and denser. Also – be vigilant with getting out all the lumps! Lumps in the potatoes crack your final product while frying and cook improperly.
I have made below a little visual guide to show you how these are rolled. It’s not tough to do but it IS tough to describe! Hopefully this helps.
Cuban papas rellenas refrigerate and freeze beautifully. Freezing is optimum for long term storage, but I have kept them covered for up to three days in the refrigerator as a matter of convenience and they still fry up beautifully. They may dry out a bit but they will still work! If planning to freeze, don’t skip the 2-3 hour refrigeration step – it’s crucial to texture and structural integrity. After that, simply place the tray in the freezer and freeze until solid. Rotate occasionally to keep from sticking. Then you can just put them all in a large freezer-safe bag and store for up to 4 months! When ready to eat, fry as you would normally – no need to defrost. You may need to add another minute or so to the cook time.
Looking for other delicious Cuban recipes? Try my Ultimate Fricasé de Pollo (Cuban chicken fricassee) recipe, Cuban Picadillo Stuffed Plantains recipe or Yuca Frita con Mojo recipe!
Cuban Papas Rellenas (Fried Stuffed Potatoes)
Cuban papas rellenas are little orbs of perfection - deep fried, breaded mashed potato balls stuffed with a ground beef picadillo hash. A guaranteed hit at every party!
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced (about 3/4 cup after dicing)
- 1/2 red or green bell pepper, diced (about 3/4 cup after dicing)
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 8-oz can no-salt-added-tomato-sauce
- 1 tsp adobo con pimienta
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- 1.5 lb 100% grass-fed ground beef (85% lean)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 cup vino seco (or substitute white wine)
- 3/4 cup pimiento stuffed manzanilla olives + 1/4 cup brine
- salt and pepper to taste
For Papas Rellenas:
- 6 lbs yukon gold potatoes
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp whole milk (14 tbsp total)
- 4 eggs
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup bread crumbs
- 1/2 cup flour
- canola or other neutral frying oil
Make Picadillo (day one):
Add olive oil to a large pot and heat over medium heat.
Add onions and cook for about 1.5 minutes, until just starting to turn translucent.
Add bell pepper and garlic and cook for another 2-3 minutes. You still want your vegetables to be crunchy and retain some of their texture.
Lower heat to medium-low. Add tomato sauce, adobo con pimienta, oregano, and cumin. Cook until the sauce turns a deep red, stirring occasionally to keep from burning, approximately 10 minutes.
Increase heat to medium again. Add ground beef and paprika and cook for another 10 or so minutes, until browned. Roughly chop your olives in the meantime.
Add bay leaf, vino seco, and olives + 1/4 cup of their brine. Cook for another 10 or so minutes, stirring occasionally.
If making papas rellenas over two days, place picadillo in a covered container and refrigerate overnight. If doing these all at once, read on!
Make Papas Rellenas (day two):
Peel potatoes. Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil and cook the potatoes until fork-tender, about 20 minutes.
Drain the water from potatoes and let cool. Mash BY HAND (no electric mixer!) with the kosher salt and milk. Mash the potatoes until no lumps remain.
Press about 1/4 cup of the mashed potato mixture flat onto the palm of your hand.
Take a tablespoon of picadillo and place it in the middle of your potato patty. Squeeze picadillo together to condense it.
Fold up the sides of your mashed potato patty and seal around the top to form a ball. Roll in your hands briefly until smooth. You will end up with a ball that is somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball.
In a small bowl, whisk together eggs and water until frothy. This is a great time to bring out that electric mixer that I wouldn't let you use earlier - you want the mixture to be very light and frothy.
In another small bowl, lightly whisk together the bread crumbs and flour.
Roll each ball in the egg mixture followed by the flour and breadcrumbs, shaking off any excess along the way.
Line a baking sheet with wax paper and place papas rellenas evenly on it. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or overnight. If planning to freeze, still refrigerate first and then move on to the next step. If planning to cook right away, skip the next step.
If planning to freeze, simply put your tray of breaded papas rellenas in the freezer. Rotate occasionally to prevent sticking. Once frozen solid, they can be placed together in a large freezer-safe bag and kept for up to 4 months. No need to defrost before frying!
To Fry from Refrigerated or Frozen:
Heat about 2 inches of canola oil in a large dutch oven or other heavy-bottomed pot until it's ripping hot, about 350 degrees.
Fry in batches of 3-4 for about 5 minutes, rotating occasionally to make sure each side gets cooked evenly. You'll probably have to add a minute or two if you are frying from frozen. Once a deep golden-brown color, your papas rellenas are done. Drain on a paper towel and serve.
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