Arroz a la Cubana is a household staple in the Philippines. My grandmother used to make the traditional Filipino version on Friday nights. It was easy to prepare, filling and comforting—perfect to end a busy and long week. A spoonful of rice, beef, and egg while my grandfather told his tales was all the comfort my little 6-year-old heart ever needed. My version is inspired by Queens, New York, where I live now. I love how all the different cultures just meld together and I have taken umami influences from different people around me. This dish takes me back home, tweaked with who and where I am today.
Arroz a la Cubana is characterized with rice and ground beef in tomato sauce, plus a fried egg. This recipe does away with the rice and replaces it with plantains with burnt, umami-rich ends. The ground beef recipe starts off with "sangkutsa," a common base for Filipino dishes that give off an umami flavor—sautéed garlic, onions, tomatoes, and fish sauce. Sun-dried tomatoes and mushrooms add another umami dimension. Hints of fresh habanero in the beef complement the toasty caramelized flavor of the plantains. It is best served plated individually with a slightly runny egg on top to marry all the flavors. —Christine Jeanjaquet
Test Kitchen Notes
This dish does away with the traditional rice element of Arroz a la Cubana, and calls in deeply caramelized plantain “rice” instead. (While Christine cuts the plantains by hand, we used a food processor to blitz them down to size. Just make sure they're fairly firm if you're going this route.) Turns out, it’s the perfect base for rich, umami-laden beef. We loved this with a squeeze of citrus over the top!
Heat ghee in a large pan or braiser over medium heat. In the meantime, chop onions into 1/4-inch cubes. Chop habanero into tiny pieces (including seeds), about 1/8-inch and julienne sun-dried tomatoes about 1/8-inch wide. Smash and chop garlic into little pieces. Wash and slice the mushrooms and set aside.
When the ghee is hot, sauté onions, habanero pepper, and sun-dried tomatoes. When the onions have turned translucent, add in the garlic.
When the garlic has turned fragrant, lower heat a little and add in fish sauce. Keep mixing until the smell of the fish sauce has evaporated.
Increase heat to medium-high and saute in the mushrooms. Add in salt and pepper.
When the mushrooms have shrunk, add in the ground beef. Stir until the beef is completely incorporated. Cook until the beef is browned.
Add in canned peeled tomatoes and tomato paste. Let boil for about 3 minutes then adjust heat to low. Add in bay leaves. Cover pan and let simmer for 40 minutes for all the flavors to meld.
In the meantime, chiffonade the fresh cilantro.
After 40 minutes, check the pot and adjust taste with salt and pepper. Mix in cilantro and cook for one minute more.
Smash and chop garlic into tiny pieces. Set aside. Chop plantains into 1/8-inch cubes. Season with salt, pepper and paprika.
Heat ghee in a large saute pan or wok. When hot, cook in the garlic until fragrant.
Sauté in seasoned plantains, making sure to incorporate them completely with ghee and garlic. Let sit and mix only every 3 to 4 minutes to let the plantains touching the pan caramelize. Keep doing this until you are happy with the volume of caramelization.
Serve on individual plates with the Cubana beef with a slightly runny sunny side egg on top. If you want to forego the eggs, serve family-style in two separate serving dishes.