Vaca Frita

By • July 16, 2011 • 38 Comments

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Author Notes: I discovered vaca frita (literally -- fried cow) in a short-lived and long-mourned after it closed Cuban restaurant in midtown Memphis, a few years ago. I never had a clue how to make it until a couple of years ago, I was in South Beach and watched a street vendor make it and stuff it in a sandwich for a passer-by. Finally did some research, found several recipes, and played around until I got it like I wanted it. It's one of my favorite meals, in part because it can be prepped in advance. I like mine with fried plantains, coconut rice, and black bean and corn salad. - KaybKayb

Food52 Review: We loved this recipe first for its cuts-to-the-chase name (a relative of the equally vivid Cuban favorite ropa vieja, a.k.a. old clothes) and for Kayb's lively narrative, with its cringing and teeth-gritting (see step two) -- but the bright, well-structured flavors kept us coming back. The ingredients are straightforward -- it's in the way they're applied. You build flavor at every turn, first boiling the steak -- yes, really -- with aromatics; then shredding it for a long soak in garlic, lime, cumin and fresh oregano; then sauteing with onions until crispy. And so we say, without the slightest hesitation: More fried cow, please. - A&MThe Editors

Serves 4

  • 2 pounds flank steak
  • 2 onions
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano
  • juice of three limes
  • 2 tablespoons neutral flavored oil
  1. Put about two quarts of water on to boil in a large Dutch oven. Add the bay leaf, one onion, quartered, the salt, and three of the cloves of garlic, smashed flat with the blade of a knife.
  2. When the water boils, cringe, grit your teeth, and drop the raw flank steak in. It feels wrong. It really isn't. Boil until it's completely done, about 30 minutes.
  3. Fish the grey chunk of flank steak out onto a cutting board. Strain the veggies out of the stock, and put it aside for future use.
  4. When the flank steak is cool enough to handle, shred it, discarding the gristly bits and any fat.
  5. In a bowl large enough to accommodate the shredded beef, mix the lime juice, cumin, and the remaining garlic, finely minced. Add the beef and the fresh oregano, which you have minced. Give it a few good tosses to make sure the lime juice coats the beef shreds well, and go away and leave it to marinate for an hour or so on the counter.
  6. Peel and halve the other onion, then thinly slice it. Heat a cast iron skillet or grill pan over high heat, add the oil, and the onion slices. Stir and toss until they're starting to get translucent and a little brown in spots.
  7. Add the beef. Stir and toss until the beef starts to get browned and crispy in spots. How browned and how crispy are up to your personal taste. Depending on how much beef you have and how large your skillet is, you may want to do this in two batches; it browns easier and more quickly if it's not crowded.
  8. Serve immediately, with extra lime on the side.
Jump to Comments (38)

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10 months ago Boomdog02

wow, it's only 10 am and you got my mouth watering...

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over 3 years ago Gourmando

Made Vaca Frita last night. Everyone loved it, including the children. I, especially, love the idea that you can boil and shred the meet ahead of time. Will be making this again--and again.

Cakes

over 3 years ago Bevi

Congrats on being runner up. This is a great recipe and I look forward to trying it!

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Congrats on being runner up Kayb! This is such a great recipe and interesting technique, I'm so happy you shared it!

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over 3 years ago cookinginvictoria

Many congrats, kayb! Love all of the unusual techniques in this recipe. I have saved it and can't wait to try it!

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over 3 years ago Arathi

KayB, I made this yesterday and it was really delicious. The "ropy" texture from boiling and then frying was really amazing. I've eaten tacos and other street food stuffed with similar fillings and always wondered how they got it to taste quite like that. Thanks for clearing up the mystery! I followed your suggestion and served it with a bean, corn and avocado salad and brown rice cooked in the broth from boiling the steak, with some coconut thrown in. Those were perfect sides - my guests gobbled it up. Thank you so much!

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

So glad you enjoyed! You can also boil and shred the meat, and then fry it later, which is another plus; I often boil some on the weekend, and then it's a real quickie to marinate (I warm it back up in some boiling water and drain first) and fry -- put it in to marinate when you get home from work, and by the time you change your clothes, fix a drink, and throw together some sides, it's ready to fry!

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over 3 years ago Cara Brockwell Ellis

Yum!!!! I hope you win, Mom!

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

Thanks, sweetie!

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over 3 years ago Cara Brockwell Ellis

Love it! You best win!

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over 3 years ago lorinarlock

Wow. I've never in my life boiled red meat with the exception of ribs--once--to shorten the grill time. This seems so interesting. Can't wait to try it. How did you discover it?

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

When I saw the street vendor in South Beach do it, it was apparent to me that the meat had been boiled; it was a gray, stringy mass (and quite unappetizing!). But seeing the "magic" when it was browned on a hot-hot-hot pan with the onions and stuffed into a Cuban roll and sprinkled with a little lime juice made me a believer. So I commenced hunting down recipes and the rest was just tinkering with seasonings until I got it the way I wanted it.

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over 3 years ago TiggyBee

Congrats Kayb - what a great recipe!!

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

Thanks! It's lots of fun, and always shocks people!

Cakes

over 3 years ago Bevi

Congrats kayb. This looks like the perfect summer recipe. I will try this in a few days.

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

Thank you! I'll be anxious to hear -- hope you like it!

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over 3 years ago LRGRL

Wonderful Kay! I can't wait to try this one.

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

Thanks! Hope you enjoy!

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over 3 years ago Kitchen Butterfly

Congratulations KayB, I love the flavours in this recipe.....

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

Thank you! Hard to go wrong with lime, garlic, onion, bay leaf and oregano!

Lorigoldsby

over 3 years ago lorigoldsby

Congrats!! was on the road all last week and missed this...so interesting but makes sense? Can't wait to try it--love ropa veija!

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

Thanks! Hope you enjoy!

Sausage2

over 3 years ago fiveandspice

Emily is a trusted source on Scandinavian Cuisine.

Congratulations Kayb! This sounds absolutely WONDERFUL! I don't know how I missed it before, but I'm definitely saving it to try it.

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

Thanks! Hope you enjoy....

Kay_at_lake

over 3 years ago Kayb

Thanks! It's a thrill to be a finalist after a long dry spell -- thank you all so much for the great compliments! I love this stuff....may have to make some this weekend!

Gator_cake

over 3 years ago hardlikearmour

hardlikearmour is a trusted home cook.

Congrats, KayB! I had a feeling about this recipe. Awesome!

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over 3 years ago sexyLAMBCHOPx

Great technique and recipe. Congrats!

Me

over 3 years ago TheWimpyVegetarian

Many congrats, Kayb!!

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over 3 years ago sdebrango

Suzanne is a trusted source on General Cooking.

Congratulations Kayb, your recipe is so wonderful I am so happy you are a finalist