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Vaca Frita: Crispy Beef

This recipe for vaca frita ("fried cow") is a close cousin of Cuba's famous ropa vieja, stewed shredded beef in tomato sauce. The beef for vaca frita, however, is marinated in lime, garlic and salt, then seared until crispy. The key to achieving the perfect texture is to cook the beef in small batches, so it sautés rather than steams.

Plus: F&W's Beef Cooking Guide


slideshow  More Beef Recipes


  • Total Time:
  • Servings: 6

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  • 1 1/2 pounds flank steak, cut into 4 pieces

  • 1 green bell pepper, cored and quartered

  • 2 large onions—1 halved, 1 thinly sliced

  • 1 bay leaf

  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed

  • Salt

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • Freshly ground pepper


  1. In a large saucepan, combine the flank steak with the bell pepper, halved onion and bay leaf. Add enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer over moderate heat for 20 minutes. Transfer the flank steak to a work surface and let the steak cool. Strain the broth and reserve for another use. Shred the meat and transfer it to a bowl.
  2. Using the side of a large knife, mash the garlic to a paste with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Stir the paste into the meat, along with the lime juice, olive oil and sliced onion. Let stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Heat a large, flat griddle until very hot. Working in batches, spread the shredded beef on the griddle in a thin layer and season with salt and pepper. Cook over high heat, turning once or twice, until sizzling and crispy in spots, about 6 minutes per batch. Transfer to a platter and serve.

Make Ahead

The recipe can be prepared through Step 1 and refrigerated overnight.

Serve With

Rice and beans.

Suggested Pairing

This tangy, beefy homestyle dish needs an easygoing, juicy red wine as a partner; for instance, a spicy Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile.

Contributed By Photo © Lucy Schaeffer Published May 2009

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