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Cuban Shredded beef on a small white plate

Vaca Frita or Cuban Shredded Beef

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This mind-blowing Vaca Frita AKA Cuban Shredded Beef was made with an inexpensive cut of beef and stock items from my kitchen!

Cuban food isn’t as common on our table as Mexican or Italian cuisine, but it’s just as flavorful and tasty. There are layers of flavor in this shredded beef and it makes for marvelous comfort food!

Vaca Frita in a white bowl over rice and garnished with tomatoes and orange and lime slices

Vaca Frita AKA Cuban Shredded Beef

My sister was in town for a visit from Denver. As per usual, we did a lot of yakking about food and she brought up a Cuban dish she had made recently. I only had to pick up a chuck roast as all the rest of the ingredients for this vaca frita, AKA, Cuban shredded beef, were staples in my kitchen.

What is Vaca Frita?

The name vaca frita translates to “fried cow,” and that says it all. The dish is composed of fried and shredded beef, typically skirt or flank steak. My version is made with chuck roast which has amazing flavor but requires some extra cooking time to tenderize the meat. Often referred to as the cousin of ropa vieja, which is shredded beef stewed with tomatoes, besides the beer, vaca frita contains onions, sometimes a green pepper, garlic, cumin, sometimes a bay leaf, plus lime and orange juice and lime zest.

Overhead view of shredded Cuban beef

Shredded Cuban Beef Recipe

Onions, lime, orange juice, garlic, and cumin flavored the beef…which was slowly cooked, shredded by pounding with a meat mallet, then fried till crispy. Served over rice with a side of sauteed plantains and a green salad made for a Cuban feast.  Between the intoxicating aromas of the garlic, orange juice and lime concoction sitting on the counter and the browning beef, my stomach did flip flops waiting for this dish to become a fait accompli.

 Scrumptious Cuban Shredded Beef 45 degree angle view in a white bowl with a sprig of cilantro

What to Eat with Vaca Frita

If company is coming, definitely break out the tequila and make these Blood Orange Margaritas for cocktail hour. A refreshing Hearts of Palm Salad, black beans and simple white or brown rice rounds out the meal perfectly.

More Budget-Friendly Beef Recipes:

To make a budget-friendly meal, make sure to stock up on sale meats when you’re at the market. The chuck roast was $6.99 per pound at Whole Foods, but I know it could be found for less by a well-seasoned bargain hunter.  The rest of the ingredients for this shredded beef were already in my fridge and pantry. Having a supply of basics on your shelves helps to make dinner prep a breeze. 

Vaca Frita or Cuban Shredded Beef

Vaca Frita or Cuban Shredded Beef

Scrumptious Cuban Shredded Beef adapted from America's Test Kitchen

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 2 hours
Total Time 2 hours 30 minutes
Yield 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds boneless beef chuck roast, trimmed, and cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons grated lime zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
  • 1 onion, halved and sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry

Instructions

  1. Bring beef, 2 cups water, and 1 1/4 teaspoons salt to boil in a large skillet over medium-high. Decrease heat to low, cover, and simmer until beef is tender, about 1 hour 45 minutes.
  2. Combine garlic, oil, and cumin in bowl. Mix together orange juice and lime zest and juice in another bowl.
  3. Remove lid, increase heat, and simmer until water evaporates and beef starts to fry, 5 minutes or so.Remove beef to rimmed baking sheet. Pour off and save fat from skillet. Wipe skillet dry with paper towels.
  4. Place sheet of aluminum foil over beef and, using meat pounder flatten beef into 1/8-inch-thick pieces, removing any large pieces of fat or gristle.
  5. Heat 1 1/2 teaspoons reserved fat the skillet over high heat. Add onion and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion nicely browned. Add sherry and 1/4 cup water and cook until liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Transfer onion to bowl. Return skillet to high heat, add 1 1/2 teaspoons reserved fat, then add beef and cook, stirring frequently, until dark golden brown and crusty, 2 to 4 minutes.
  6. Reduce heat to low and push beef to sides of skillet. Add garlic mixture to center and cook, stirring, until golden brown, about 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat, add orange juice mixture and onion, and mix well. Season with pepper to taste. Serve over rice with lime wedges.

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Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 569Total Fat: 36gSaturated Fat: 15gTrans Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 188mgSodium: 296mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 56g
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48 comments on “Vaca Frita or Cuban Shredded Beef”

  1. I can’t wait to make this for my dad! He’ll love it

  2. I have been wanting to try Cuban food for quite a while now so this may be the way I do it. The flavors just sound so amazing!!

  3. WOW LIZ! This sounds amazing!! I’m also a sucker for any shredded meat dish that is slow cooked like this. Waiting would be SO hard! Good for you for holding out like that! What a lovely budget dish!

  4. I cannot wait to try this! I love trying new flavors and cuisines and this looks delicious!

  5. I’ve never heard of this Cuban dish but holy cow it looks like it should be a good friend of mine.

  6. My Cuban step-mommy used to make this, but she would slice the meat thin.first. About the same recipe.she would brown the meat with lemon after the simmer.

  7. Sounds fabulous! I will show my husband, he lives for Cuban food! Thank you for sharing on Merry Monday! Hope to see ya next week!
    Kim

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