Cast Iron

Vaca Frita

July 16, 2011
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. - Kayb —Kayb

Test Kitchen Notes

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&M —The 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
In This Recipe
  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.
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  • Lori Lyn Narlock
    Lori Lyn Narlock
I'm a business professional who learned to cook early on, and have expanded my tastes and my skills as I've traveled and been exposed to new cuisines and new dishes. I love fresh vegetables, any kind of protein on the grill, and breakfasts that involve fried eggs with runny yolks. My recipes tend toward the simple and the Southern, with bits of Asia or the Mediterranean or Mexico thrown in here and there. And a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a float in the lake, as pictured, is a pretty fine lunch!