Cuban Vaca Frita


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.

vaca frita picture perfect

Vaca Frita

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

To serve:

  • 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.

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Cuban Mojo Marinade


Cuban ingredients are evading me in New York City. Although I have lived abroad, I never realized how difficult it can be to find integral Cuban ingredients, mainly because I wasn’t looking for them then. Now that I am looking for certain items (mojo, iron beer, mamey, sour oranges, etc.) they simply aren’t there. For a brief second I thought of going to Miami impulsively for a two-day stint to load up on real Cuban bread, mamey, anones, and croquetas galore.

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I have to be honest with you- my search didn’t begin with fresh ingredients to make homemade mojo. I was looking for the bottled stuff- Mojo Criollo either from Badia or bust (full disclosure: I’m actually not getting paid by Badia, it’s just my jam). When I realized this Cuban kitchen staple was not readily in supermarkets I was aghast- “No, Morton Williams, I do not want bottled Goya salsa! Where the hell is the mojo!?”. Thankfully it turns out you can mix lime and orange juice as a substitute for the real stuff.

Citrus-for-fresh-homemade-mojoWhisk-the-sour-orange-with-the-garic-mojo-paste-to-create-the-cuban-mojo-marinade Cuban-mojo-marinade-for-steak-chicken-or-pork

Homemade mojo marinade can be used on pork, chicken, duck, beef or fish. I’ll be using the leftover lechon from the mojo pork roast to make tamal en cazuela later this week. Hunger took over once the mojo roasted pork was ready so there are no beautiful blog-worthy pictures, only the lingering sensation of home.


Homemade Mojo Marinade

Yields: about 2 ¼ cups of mojo marinade

  • 10 cloves of garlic
  • ½ large Spanish onion, diced
  • 1 tsp ground oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground onion
  • ½ tsp ground garlic
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ¼ cup sour orange (or 2 parts lime juice to 1 part orange juice.
  • ¾ cup Spanish olive oil

Smash and peel the garlic cloves and place them in the food processor with the diced onion and dried spices. Traditionally one would use a mortar and pestle, but I can’t seem to find mine. Blend everything into a paste and scrape down the sides with a spatula to ensure everything is blended well. Whisk the spiced garlic paste with the sour orange juice in a glass bowl to make the mojo base. I went on a quest in the lower east side to find sour oranges in vain. I ended up juicing 3 large limes and 2 Florida oranges which gave me an exact 2 to 1 ratio to make the sour orange substitute. Allow the mojo base to sit for around 30 minutes.


Heat the olive oil to around medium heat and then remove from the burner. Let the olive oil to cool or 5 minutes or so before carefully whisking in the mojo base. I used around ¾ cup of this marinade for half of a chicken for roasting. Allow the protein of your choice (chicken, duck, beef, pork, tofu, etc.) to marinate for a couple of hours or even better- overnight to marinate in the delicious garlic and citrus mojo marinade.

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Mojo Beef Short Ribs

Fontignac Mojo-Beef-Short-Ribs  

Mojo beef short ribs with yuca frita and cilantro garlic sauce are utter perfection.  The mojo, tender short ribs, crispy yuca frita, and garlicky sauce all combine to create wondrous Cuban amazingness in your mouth. I have a love for fall off-the-bone beef short ribs, and I wanted to make this into a Cuban dish. The Fontignac cast-iron enameled French cooking oven I ordered finally arrived, and braised beef short ribs were the first thing on my list to make.


I made classic beef short ribs first with a red wine sauce last week as practice, and it left something to be desired. So I decided to give it another go, and this time my recipe was a homerun! Seriously- these mojo braised beef short ribs will change your world. Your taste buds will rejoice and your friends and family will let out a gasp as you place this dish before them.


The mojo flavors subdued the intense richness of the beef short ribs and cut through the fat. The crispy yuca frita added texture, and the creamy cilantro garlic sauce supplied the necessary tang to marry the flavors together. If I ever had my own restaurant this recipe would undoubtedly be on the menu. I loved the plating and the true Cuban flavors in the perfect mojo sauce. Mojo braised beef short ribs are taking Cuban flavors to another level.

Plated-Beef-Short-Ribs Mojo-Fork-tender-vertical

Mojo Beef Short Ribs 

Salt and Pepper Flour 8 Beef Short Ribs 2 tablespoons Olive Oil 1 onion diced 1 medium carrot diced 1 large (or 2 small) celery stalks diced 5 garlic cloves ¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice ¾ prepared Mojo Criollo ½ cup- ¾ dry white cooking wine 1 bay leaf ½ teaspoon ground oregano ½ teaspoon cumin 1 cup beef broth ( or more to cover) Serves 4 hearty portion

Dice the onion, carrot, and celery. This is called a mirepoix; set aside for later. Juice 2 limes (or enough for a ¼ cup) and 1 orange; set aside.


Add a tablespoon of the olive oil to a dutch oven and turn the stove top to medium-high heat (I used Fontignac cast-iron enameled French cooking oven). Pat the beef short ribs dry and season all sides generously with freshly cracked black pepper and kosher salt. Dredge the beef short ribs in flour.


When the olive oil is very hot place 3-4 beef ribs, meaty side down (bones facing up) in the bottom of the pan. Do not crowd the beef ribs. They will steam instead of searing and browning nicely if they are crowded in the pan. Sear the ribs on all sides, including the cut ends. Each side should get about a minute (or more if you want a nice hard sear on the outside). This gives the beef short ribs great color and locks in the yummy juices and keeps them tender. Add the rest of the olive oil if needed in this step. It took me three batches of browning and searing to finish all the beef short ribs. Set them aside on a plate when you are done.


Preheat the oven to 350F. Now add the mirepoix to the same pot making sure to scrape up any tasty brown bits. Allow the vegetables to soften and cook. Add the garlic when they are almost done cooking.  Next pour in the white cooking wine, fresh squeezed orange, lime juice, and mojo. Stir in the cumin, oregano, and add a bay leaf to the liquid. Bring to a boil. Add the beef ribs back into the pot with the meaty side down once again. Pour in enough beef broth to just cover the beef short ribs. Bring to boil again, and then put the lid on top and place in the oven and braise at 350F for 2 ½ hours. Check out the before and after below… the beef ribs were falling off the bone!!


With about 50 minutes left in the cooking begin to prep the yuca and cilantro garlic sauce. The crispier the yuca the better! Squeeze a lime wedge over the yuca frita and sprinkle with sea salt. I plated both dishes with five yuca frita.  Make the cilantro garlic sauce per the instructions in my recipe. Place the yuca row and drizzle with the cilantro garlic sauce.


The tender beef short ribs were literally falling off the bones when I took them out of the oven. You can strain and cook the braising liquid to make gravy, or just ladle some mojo into a bowl for dipping. Top with two beef ribs, and drizzle the thickened mojo sauce on top of the beef short ribs. Sprinkle with torn cilantro leaves or parsley. Mojo braised beef short ribs are perhaps one of my best creations and crazy impressive looking when plated!


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