Vaca Frita (Crispy Shredded Beef)

Prep 10 mins
Cook 1 hr 10 mins
Add'l 20 mins
Total 1 hr 40 mins
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Juicy flank steak is simmered until tender and then cooked with garlic, lime, and onion in this simple recipe for Vaca Frita (Crispy Shredded Beef). It’s a super-easy recipe that everyone will devour!

To-Die-For Crispy Cuban Shredded Beef

Are you looking for a way to jazz up taco night? How about a super-simple beef recipe that will wake up your mouth – without taking up too much time in prep? This recipe for vaca frita is the answer, my friends. It’s ultra-easy, only needs a few ingredients, and is perfect for tacos, burrito bowls, or as a main course.

The whole recipe starts with flank steak, so you know it’s going to be good! But you don’t have to stand over a hot grill to make this recipe. For the most part, it cooks in a covered pot on the stove, until the meat is fall-apart tender. After that, give it a soak in some flavorful juices, and a quick pan-fry for texture. Done!

If you’ve never made vaca frita before, I hope you’ll try it out. This simple recipe is sure to make it into your regular menu rotation. ¡Buen provecho!

What Is Vaca Frita?

Vaca frita is basically crispy shredded beef. The term literally means “fried cow!” It’s a Cuban delight, similar to Ropa Vieja, but unlike that dish, the meat is briefly fried in a hot skillet after it is shredded. This gives it a carnitas-like crunch. 

Flank steak in a cast iron skillet and ingredients in bowls.

What Ingredients Will I Need?

This recipe is so flavorful – just looking at the ingredients makes me hungry! Vaca frita really tastes like summer to me, with the crispy steak, fresh lime, and garlic. Yum.

  • Steak: You want a good steak for shredding, here – flank steak is perfect.
  • Beef Broth: For simmering the meat. 
  • Bay Leaf: Don’t underestimate the importance of the bay leaf! It really makes the dish sing.
  • Garlic: Minced, fresh garlic is best. Any jarred or preserved garlic will not give it the same flavor.
  • Salt and Pepper: I like sea salt, but you can use any salt.
  • Lime Juice: Again, fresh is best, but if you have bottled lime juice it will work just fine.
  • Onion: Sliced.
  • Extra Lime Wedges: For serving.
Shredded crispy beef with onions on a platter with two forks.

How to Make Vaca Frita

I hope you’re feeling inspired to try this recipe! It’s such a special dish, and so simple to make. This one is great for a festive weekend dinner, or a make-ahead feast. Here’s how to cook it, step by step.

Cook the Beef Until Tender. Okay, so first we need the steak to be cooked and shredded. To do this, just combine the steak, beef broth, and bay leaf in a large pot or a Dutch oven. Bring it to a boil, and then reduce the heat so that the broth is gently simmering. Simmer for 45 minutes or so, until the meat shreds easily with a fork. Make sure to flip the meat halfway through the cooking time so that it cooks evenly.

Shred the Beef. Next, take the flank steak out of the broth, but don’t discard the broth! Make sure to save it. Shred the meat until it is a thin, almost stringy texture. You can use two forks for this. 

Marinate. Marinate meat that’s already cooked? You better believe it! This adds a ton of flavor to the dish. Just combine the reserved beef broth with your garlic, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Stir in the shredded beef, and let it sit for about 20  minutes to absorb the flavorful liquid. 

Fry Until Crispy. Heat up some oil in a big frying pan, and use a pair of tongs or a fork to lift the juicy beef out of the marinade mixture. Let the excess drip off somewhat, and lay the meat in the hot oil, forming an even layer. Don’t stir. Just let it fry in the oil for about 5 minutes to crisp up on one side, and then turn it to do the same on the other side.

Cook the Onions. Once the meat is good and crispy, take it out of the pan and set it aside on a serving dish. Meanwhile, in the same pan, heat another tablespoon of oil, and saute the onions for about 4 minutes to soften. Don’t clean the pan first – you want the onions to absorb all of those flavors.

Enjoy! Serve the vaca frita with the sautéed onions and any side dishes you like.

Vaca frita in a cast iron skillet with tongs.

Tips for Success

Before you start cooking, hold on a second – I’d love to share a few helpful tips for making vaca frita at home. This easy recipe is about to get even easier.

  • Flank Steak Substitute: Flank steak is definitely the typical option for vaca frita, but it doesn’t have to be the only option! Skirt steak is a little more fatty, while brisket is a little more lean, but either would work. Also, many Cubans will use leftover Ropa Vieja (shredded stew meat).
  • Adjust the Seasonings: If you want to add or change the seasoning blend, go right ahead! This recipe plays well with all kinds of Cuban and mojo flavors.
  • Double Up: If you like cooking ahead, then this recipe would be perfect for doubling and freezing. Then, all you have to do is pop the frozen vaca frita in the fridge the night before, and dinner’s practically done.
  • Extra Flavor: While not traditional, I personally also like to marinate my flank steak if I have the time. You could make your own mojo marinade to do this, but I usually just grab a bottle of Badia Mojo at the store. It’s easy and adds a ton more flavor.
Crispy bites of fried vaca frita.

What to Serve with Vaca Frita

Vaca frita is great in burrito bowls, tacos, over salad, or in almost any other dish you can think of. If you’d like to serve it as a main course, try adding a few simple sides. These recipes would be perfect!

  • Plantains: A classic side to Vaca Frita are always some sweet pan fried Plantains!
  • Rice: A side of plain white rice (like this Arroz Blanco) would be perfect here, but for a little more interest, try making Arroz con Gandules. This seasoned rice with pigeon peas is a Puerto Rican classic, but it goes great with this Cuban crispy beef anyways!
  • Beans: For a traditional Cuban presentation, serve this dish with seasoned black beans. If you don’t care about mixing different latin cuisines together, these Instant Pot Charro Beans would be tasty too.
  • Yuca: Boiled yuca with mojo, or even fried yuca, would be great along side this crispy beef.

How to Store and Reheat Leftovers

Leftover vaca frita can be stored in the fridge for up to three days, packed into an airtight container.

To reheat, just place the desired amount in a skillet over medium heat (feel free to add a little oil if it seems dry). Heat until crispy and warmed through.

Can I Freeze Vaca Frita?

Sure thing! As with most proteins, you should let this cool down to room temperature before freezing in a freezer bag (press out as much air as you can before you seal the bag). Freeze for up to 3 months, and thaw in the fridge before reheating.

Yield: 4 Servings

Vaca Frita (Crispy Shredded Beef)

A serving plate with shredded crispy beef, sautéed onions, lime wedges and two forks.

Juicy flank steak is simmered until tender, and then cooked with garlic, lime, and onion in this simple recipe for Vaca Frita (Crispy Shredded Beef). It’s a super-simple recipe that everyone will devour!

Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour 10 minutes
Additional Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 40 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ pounds flank steak
  • 2 ½ cups beef broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 large lime)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium white onion, sliced
  • Extra lime wedges, for serving

Instructions

  1. Add the flank steak, beef broth, and bay leaf to a Dutch oven or large pot. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, or until fork-tender. Flip the beef over halfway through the cooking time.
  2. Remove the steak from the broth, and place on a cutting board. With a fork, lightly shred the meat until you have a thin, shredded texture. Reserve the broth.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the shredded beef, garlic, salt, pepper, lime juice, and reserved broth. Marinate the meat in this mixture for at least 20 minutes.
  4. Once the meat is done marinating, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan. Using a pair of tongs, pick up the shredded beef out of the marinade, and place in an even layer in the hot skillet. Fry without stirring for 4 - 5 minutes, or until crispy.
  5. Carefully turn the meat over, and fry on the other side for an additional 4 minutes. The meat should be nice and crispy. Remove from the frying pan, and place on a serving platter.
  6. In the same frying pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Add the sliced onion, and saute for 4 minutes or until the onions are tender. Arrange the cooked onions on a platter with the meat. Serve with fresh lime wedges.

Notes

For Extra Flavor: While not traditional, for extra flavor I like to marinate my flank steak in Mojo marinade. Homemade of course is always great, but I usually grab a bottle of Badia Mojo and marinate the flank steak overnight.

Storage:

  • Leftover vaca frita can be stored in the fridge for up to three days, packed into an airtight container.
  • To reheat, just place the desired amount in a skillet over medium heat (feel free to add a little oil if it seems dry). Heat until crispy and warmed through.
  • Cool to room temperature before freezing in a freezer bag (press out as much air as you can before you seal the bag). Freeze for up to 3 months, and thaw in the fridge before reheating.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

1

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 447Total Fat: 25gSaturated Fat: 7gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 15gCholesterol: 134mgSodium: 919mgCarbohydrates: 5gFiber: 1gSugar: 2gProtein: 49g

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More Flavorful Steak Dishes

This post may contain affiliate links. Read my disclosure policy.

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Welcome!

Jessica
I'm a trial & error, self taught, sugar addict who thankfully learned how to survive in the kitchen! I am also a wife, mama of 3.
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