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.