When you hear the words Vaca Frita and you get passed its literal translation of fried cow, you realize that this dish is actually the younger brother/sister to Ropa Vieja. Now while Ropa Vieja is the most popular Cuban Dish, Vaca Frita is the hipster and artsy younger sibling that everyone may or may not know about. Vaca Frita starts off just the same way as Ropa Vieja— with a beautiful piece of brisket or flank steak that’s marinated with your favorite seasonings and then slowly stewed and tenderized. In the end, it’s shredding and lightly fried to perfect with onions, garlic, and fresh lime. It’s almost like a step above street food but just as tasty!
Now I’ll admit, I make my Vaca Frita very differently than how I’ve seen others make it. To start, I use a ton of fresh ingredients to season and marinate the meat. I mean, why not? That’s the beauty of working with such a great cut of meat that has marbling throughout. You can season to your heart’s content as long as you let it marinate. You want to give all of those seasonings and flavors a chance to settle and permeate through the meat. This is also why I like to brown my meat on medium to high flame. It traps color and flavor! Most importantly, I make sure to use as much of the braising liquid as I can even when I’m frying the meat because that’s where all of the flavor is!
Many times I go to restaurants ready to chow down on Vaca Frita only to be disappointed by the dryness and lack of flavor. We spend HOURS tenderizing the meat just to throw out that gravy. That is not my ministry! As you guys know, I love to maximize on flavor in any way that I can whether it be using actual seasonings or heat.
The biggest difference that you’ll note from my version of Vaca Frita to others is that I actually like to crisp up the meat before sautéing the onions and peppers. I personally like my Vaca Frita to be extra crispy but this is totally optional. I’ve done it both ways– sautéing the onions and peppers first and crisping up the meat first. Both ways are delicious and it honestly comes down to preference. I like it when the onions and peppers have a little bit of a bite to them so I usually opt to add the onions and garlic after I’ve lightly fried the shredded beef. Quick tip: if you’re a fan of caramelized onions, then definitely sauté the onions first and use sweet onions instead. The dish transforms into something truly special.
If you’d like to see a step-by-step tutorial on How To Make Vaca Frita be sure to visit my YouTube Channel: Chef Zee Cooks!
As always, you can enjoy Vaca Frita with White or Yellow Rice, Black Beans and Maduros. You can enjoy with a side of Tostones, Yuca, or Toasted Bread. Vaca Frita is also great when you have it inside of a sandwich!
And now for the recipe….
- 2lbs Brisket or Flank Steak
- 1 tbs Sazón
- 1 ½ tsp Orégano
- ⅛ tsp Cumin
- 1 White Onion
- ½ Cubanelle or Green Pepper
- 6-8 Garlic cloves Mashed
- Black Pepper to Taste
- 1 Lime
- 1 tbs Sopita or Adobo
- ¼ tsp Salt
- Olive Oil
- Fresh Thyme
- Fresh Cilantro
- 1 Large White Onion
- 6-8 Garlic Cloves Minced
- 1 Lime or Lemon
- 2 tsp Vinegar
- ½ cup Braising Liquid
- Begin by cutting brisket into small yet thick pieces and place into a large mixing bowl
- Add garlic and salt into mortar & pestle (pilon) and being mashing until the garlic turns into a paste. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle or you’re in a rush, diced garlic will also work
- Season meat with mashed garlic, diced green bell peppers, diced white onions, cumin, orégano, sazón, black pepper to taste, sopita aka chicken bouillon cube or adobo/seasoning salt, fresh limes, and olive oil
- Mix everything until the meat is nicely coated with all of the seasonings
- Cover meat with seran wrap and marinate for at least 4 hours in the fridge. Best to marinade overnight. Do not marinate for more than 3 days
- Add oil into a deep pot or Dutch Oven over medium to high flame
- Once the oil is nice and hot, add meat being sure to brown on all sides
- Add enough water to cover meat completely. Be sure to add all of the leftover marinade from the mixing bowl
- Add fresh thyme and cilantro and mix
- Boil meat for 2 ½ - 3 hours. Check on meat from time to time making sure that water hasn’t dried up
- Once the meat is nice and tender, remove and place into a large mixing bowl
- Using forks, tongs, or your fingers, shred meat being sure to remove any excess fat
- Add two large scoops (about ¼ cup) of the braising liquid to shredded meat. Mix until the meat has been lightly coated in sauce
- In a deep skillet, add oil over medium heat
- Once the oil is hot, carefully add shredded brisket
- Let brisket crisp up for about 3-4 minutes before flipping over and crisping the other side
- Once brisket has been lightly fried, add onions and vinegar. Mix until well combined and saute for 3-5 minutes
- Now add another ¼ cup of braising liquid. If meat is looking extra dry, feel free to add more.
- After about 2 mins, add diced garlic and mix in
- After garlic has softened, finish Vaca Frita with freshly squeezed Lime
You can tenderize meat in a pressure cooker or Instant Pot for a faster cook-time.