Skip to content

Vaca Frita

I’ve wanted to make vaca frita for awhile.  Literally translated as “Fried Cow”, I hesitate to order it at Cuban restaurants.  While I love the combination of crispy beef and caramelized onions sprinkled with lime, too often it’s more fry than cow.

When I came across Lourdes Castro’s suggestion to spread the marinated beef in even layers, working in small batches,  it was the solution I was looking for.  I served it over fluffy white rice cooked with garlic infuse oil, but it also makes a great appetizer to top tostones.  I reserved the broth to make soup with the leftovers with cilantro or cheese and with garlicky bread.  Another advantage to making it home.

Vaca Frita/Crispy Beef
Barely adapted from Lourdes Castro for Food & Wine, May 2009.

1 1/2 pounds flank steak, cut into 4 pieces
1 green bell pepper, cored and quartered
2 large onions—1 halved, 1 thinly sliced
1 bay leaf
3 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

In a large saucepan, combine the flank steak with the bell pepper, halved onion, bay leaf, 1 whole garlic clove, salt, and peppercorns. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for 20 minutes. Transfer the flank steak to a work surface and let the steak cool. Strain the broth and reserve for another use.*  Shred the meat and transfer it to a bowl.**

Using the side of a large knife or mortar and pestle, mash the garlic to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir the paste into the meat, along with the lime juice, olive oil and sliced onion. Let stand at room temperature for at 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Heat a large, heavy skillet until very hot. Remove shredded beef from marinade with slotted spatula or spoon.  Working in batches, spread the shredded beef on the skillet in a thin layer and season with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, turning once or twice, until sizzling and crispy in spots, about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer to a platter and serve with fluffy white rice and lime wedges.

*The broth can be poured into ice cube trays until solid then stored in freezer bags to use as needed.

**The shredded beef can be refrigerated overnight at this point.

Arroz Blanco/White Rice

2 cups of white rice, long grain, rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled
3 cups of hot water

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic cloves and cook until golden brown on each side, 30-90 seconds.  Carefully remove garlic with tongs and discard.

Remove pan from heat and add hot water (see note).  Return to medium-hight heat and bring to a rapid boil and add rice.  Return to a boil then immediately lower heat to lowest possible setting.  Do not stir.  Cover and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.

Note:  The pan should be completely off heat before adding water so that the hot oil does not pop and steam.  I usually pass the water through a mesh cover to avoid splattering.


Bookmark and Share


13 Comments Post a comment
  1. hungrysofia #

    Thanks for the heads up, it should work now.

    10 June 2010
  2. hungrysofia #

    Mario Vergel
    I just had Vaca Frita but made with chicken. I guess that would make it “Pollo Frito” LOL! Same shredded, refried concept though. It was deeeelish!

    10 June 2010
  3. jose pelleya #

    I missed where and when you caramelized the onions.

    10 June 2010
    • hungrysofia #

      The sliced onions already added to the shredded beef caramelize when they’re sauteed together in the final step. They don’t need to be sauteed separately.

      10 June 2010
  4. This is my kind of dish! Delicioso

    13 June 2010
  5. Carol #

    ONe of my favorite meals in the world…I love Versailles Vaca Frita and have always wanted to make it at home and neve knew how…I will try your recipe.

    16 June 2010
  6. Teri #

    It is humorous to refer to a dish so crudely but despite Cubans love affair with banter, humor and all things linguistic, “Vaca Frita” is a Spanish import name to Cuba during colonial times and not a Cuban linguistic play on words to amuse. It is used widely in cookbooksof the 1800s from Spain. Many cow beef dishes of that time refer to them as Vaca this or Vaca that. Honestly, my own eyes have seen. It is probably a pre-restaurant term which later was refined for a restaurant crowd, Spain being the birthplace of the 1st restaurant-“El Botin” in Madrid. You don’t find vaca dishes, to my knowledge on Spanish menus anymore in Spain.
    It, “vaca frita”, probably stuck with Cubans in Cuba for the precise reason of Cuban’s love affair with language and humor, because obviously pre-1959 Cuba had its share of 5 -star/fine dining restaurants, specifically Havana.

    24 November 2012
  7. Donna Arcoraci #

    Would love to see some of the soup recipes from the broth — made it last night and am going to freeze the broth today, no idea what to use it for but we always use everything!

    17 September 2015
  8. Great article!
    Your photo and its source have been featured on the World Food Guide website

    21 October 2015

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. So Far, Yet So Near « hungry sofia
  2. Vaca Frita
  3. Time-sucks | Cook Eat Run Play
  4. Food Budget Week 2 | Cook Eat Run Play

Would love to hear your thoughts here...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: