Cuban-Style Shredded Beef with Lime and Garlic (Vaca Frita)

I subscribe to America's Test Kitchen website, and they periodically send out recipes they would like members to test for them. This one was really pretty good. These are the notes that came with the recipe:

This is a classic Cuban dish where the beef is first cooked until fork tender, then fried with onions and aromatics. Our goal was to simplify the cooking method and to balance the dish’s rich beefy flavor and a bright citrus-garlic dressing.

When trimming beef, be sure to not remove all visible fat. Some of it will be used in lieu of oil later in the recipe. Vaca Frita is traditionally served with black beans and rice or fried plantains. It can also be used as a filling for sandwiches, empanadas, and even tacos. (Note from Joe: I ate these in warmed flour tortillas with diced avocados).


2 pound boneless beef chuck roast, pulled apart at seams, trimmed, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes
2 ¼ cups water
Kosher salt and pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons grated lime zest plus 1 tablespoon juice
1 onion, halved and sliced thin
2 tablespoons dry sherry
Lime wedges


1. Bring beef, 2 cups of water, 1 ¼ teaspoons salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper to boil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, gently simmer until meat is very tender, about 1 hour 45 minutes. (Check beef every 30 minutes adding water so that bottom third of beef is submerged.) While beef simmers, combine garlic, oil and cumin in bowl. Combine orange juice, lime zest, and lime juice in second bowl.

2. Remove lid from skillet, increase heat to medium, and boil until water evaporates and beef starts to sizzle, 3 to 8 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to rimmed baking sheet. Pour off and reserve fat from skillet. Rinse skillet clean and dry with paper towels. Place sheet of aluminum foil over beef and using meat pounder or heavy sauté pan, pound to flatten meat into about 1/8” thick pieces, discarding any large pieces of fat or connective tissue. (Some of beef should totally separate into shreds. Larger pieces that do not separate can be torn in half.)

3. Heat 1 ½ teaspoons reserved fat in now empty skillet over high heat. When fat begins to sizzle add onions and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are golden brown and charred in spots, 5 to 8 minutes. Add sherry and remaining ¼ cup water and cook until liquid is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Transfer onions to bowl. Return skillet to high heat, add 1 ½ teaspoons reserved fat and heat until it begins to sizzle. Add beef and cook, stirring frequently, until dark golden brown and crusty, 2 to 4 minutes.

4. Reduce low and push beef to sides of skillet to clear center ; add garlic mixture to clearing and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant and golden brown, about 30 seconds. Remove pan from heat, add orange juice mixture and onions, and toss to combine. Season with black pepper to taste. Serve immediately with lime wedges.