Vaca frita’s crisp deliciousness is most transcendent when you get off a flight at MIA and rush over to Versailles to welcome your palate back home. Whenever I go back to Miami I have my mandatory must-haves, and vaca frita is one of them- like croquetas, pan tostada with café con leche, Publix subs, pastelitos, Pollo Tropical, and if I’m lucky Mary’s Coin and Laundry Pan Cubanos.
Vaca frita is tender shredded flank steak marinated with garlicky mojo and fried crisp with white onion. Garnished with a squeeze lime it is best enjoyed with los tres amigos- friojles negros, arroz blanco, y platano maduros. Vaca frita is a Cuban classic that is one of my favorites. This is a dish I most often order out and rarely have cooked at home.
When I was cooking this vaca frita recipe I realized hadn’t made this not even once since I last cooked it with my abuela. Sometimes I feel like I am stumbling through the steps with vague memories and recipe doubt, but this vaca frita was seriously perfection. Crispy. Flavorful. Home.
For the steak:
- 5-2 lbs flank steak (falda)
- 1 large onion cut lengthwise, reserve half
- ½ green bell pepper
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1-2 bay leaves (hoja de laurel)
- Enough water to cover the steak
- ¼ c dry white cooking wine (vino seco)
- 2 tbsp olive oil for frying
For the mojo:
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Juice of one lime
- Lime wedges
- White rice, black beans, and platano maduros
Rinse the flank steak and add it to a heavy pot. Add half of the onion, half a green bell pepper cut in large chunks, 2 whole garlic cloves, and 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp oregano, 1 tsp cumin, the bay leaves, and freshly cracked black pepper.
Cover with the flank steak with water. Bring the water to a boil then turn the heat down to a low simmer and cook for 2 to 2.5 hours uncovered. Add water if needed (I didn’t) to avoid the pot from burning. DO NOT cover the pot while the flank steak is cooking and be sure to stir every once in a while so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.
While the flank steak is cooking away make the mojo. Mash the 4 garlic cloves with 1 tsp salt and 2 tbsp olive oil with a mortar and pestle. Add the juice of one lime and mash a little more. Set aside.
Remove the flank steak from the cooking liquid and shred with two forks while hot. Discard the onion and garlic, and keep the bell pepper. Remove the thin skin off the green bell pepper and mash it while hot. Mix the mashed green bell pepper with the shredded beef and add the mojo. Let it sit and marinate for a few minutes while you prepare the onions. Take this time to start cooking the white rice.
Slice the other half of the onion. Sautee the sliced onions in 2 tbsp olive oil until slightly tender. Remove the onions from the oil and mix in with the mojo-marinating shredded flank steak. Add a little more oil to the pan as needed and get nice and hot. Seriously if your pan doesn’t start out hot the meat will just steam instead of getting crispy. Flatten the shredded beef out to cover the bottom of the pan so all of it can get nice and crisped. Cook the vaca frita about 5 to 6 minutes on each side. Squeeze lime and sprinkle a little salt before serving the vaca frita. Enjoy vaca frita with white rice, black beans, and a lime wedge on the side.