Cuban people have a tendency to be original and creative... and I'm not just saying that because I'm Cuban. Even in our cooking, we tend to take recipes we have perfected and stir things up to make something completely different. Such is the case with the infamous dish of Vaca Frita.
Now if you're bilingual, you're probably wondering how we can name a dish Fried Cow. But once you learn the history behind the dish and its ingredients, you can figure out the rest. To begin, Vaca Frita is a spin-off of another popular Cuban dish called Ropa Vieja. Yes, my friends, you read correctly - the dish is called Old Clothes. We Cubans take our meal times seriously and since we are known for adding flavor to just about anything, we couldn't help but do the same when it came time to naming these dishes. Ropa Vieja and Vaca Frita go way back in the Cuban culture and many conversations, marriages, business proposals and tender moments have occurred over the sharing of these plates.
Ropa Vieja is a signature shredded beef dish seasoned with traditional Cuban mojo sauce, and prepared in a tomato-based sofrito. It is juicy, delicious and quite popular in our culture. As a matter of fact, growing up, we had Ropa Vieja about once a week. I still remember how excited we used to get when my mom made her classic Ropa Vieja, which was always accompanied by a hearty bowl of soup she made from the substance of the meat. Of course, being as unique and malcriados as we were, some of us preferred the tender, saucy Ropa Vieja, while others of us wanted a crispier version of the same. Therefore, my poor mom had to split the meat and make one batch of Ropa Vieja and another of Vaca Frita. The first required one step, the second required two. Now the family was happy.
Vaca Frita is the offspring of Ropa Vieja. The process of cooking the meat in the ingredients is cut short and once the marinade is absorbed, the meat is then shredded further and fried with a good helping of onions. Instead of a stew-like meat dish, you end up with a texture-filled meat delight, which fills your senses with its crispy outside, and juicy inside. The lime and unique, traditional spices give the dish a special kick, that always takes me back to those family dinners at home. It doesn't matter where we are, or who we're with, whenever I make a Vaca Frita dinner, I always remember to have a serving of Ropa Vieja on the side for my own malcriados and that hearty soup we used to start our dinner with and compliment my mom for making. You see, I'm not really sure if it's about the flavor of the food or the importance of the memories it incites. I think the pleasure my family and I derive from eating dishes like Vaca Frita is the emphasis they place on tradition, values, family and culture.
I'd like to share our family's Vaca Frita recipe with you so you can have a taste of what made me who I am and how important my cultural traditions are to me.