Vaca Frita (and a recipe for traditional crock pot roast)

Vaca Frita - a traditional Cuban dish of shredded beef, garlic, onions, and lime.

From last Wednesday (When I originally started this post. Yes. It’s taken me that long. Don’t ask, and I won’t bother telling. I know the world keeps turning):


I just:

– ate three mini-boxes of candy hearts

– glanced at the supplies for a Valentine’s craft that I’ve had for a week and I’m wondering if I can squeeze it out and share it with you before, um, Valentine’s Day.

– started thinking it needs to be an Springtime craft. . . . (CONFIRMED).

– put away 3.5 lbs of slow cooked pot roast, and I’m ok with that, because it means tomorrow or the day after, we get VACA FRITA, rice and beans, and roasted plantains. We will all now commence in a family wide happy-dance. (If you don’t know what Vaca Frita is, well, I feel a little sad for you. But no worries. I’ll show you. Then you too, can know the bliss of: fried cow. I know, right?? Vaca Frita sounds so much better.)

– licked chocolate off my three-year-old’s arm.

– Finished day two of this study.

– disciplined double kiddos earlier today at the park with the patience of a saint

– disciplined the kiddos at home hours ago with the patience of a rabid gorilla

– cooled off and orchestrated a round of apologies similar to a Brady Bunch goodnight routine: you say sorry to him and her and Mom,  you say sorry to her and Mom and him, you say sorry to Mom and him and him, Mom say sorry to her and him and him.

Are we good?

Yep, good.


Hugs all around.

Now let’s all not eat dinner so we can have Vaca Frita tomorrow instead.


Depending on how long you’ve been reading here, you may or may not know I’m part Cuban by osmosis.

Vaca Frita, my friends, is many things.

It is crispy, decadent, fried Cuban deliciousness.

Let me be honest though, too –  I’m pretty sure it’s not the healthiest way to prepare your beef, but you know. . . who cares.

It’s a treat.

This is one of those dishes every member of our family fights over. We hide leftovers from one another, and sometimes, like when my honorary Cuban Mima makes me a dish for my birthday – I guard it, all crazed-like, with wild, shifty eyes and sharp knives. Sorry kids. This is Mama’s vaca frita. Keep your grimy paws off.

Just sayin’.

That’s why I figured it was time for me to learn how to make it on my own.

And if I can make it result as a way to spruce up some leftovers? Bonus.

So this is the dealeo:

You’re getting the recipe for the traditional pot roast I slow cook in the Crock Pot for our dinner meal on day one.

Then you get the recipe for Vaca Frita – shredded beef, fried with onions and garlic and squeezes of fresh lime, then broiled for crispy, perfect edges.

Today’s post is both a virtual and a literal twofer, (two for one.)

Traditional Crock Pot Roast

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 4 hours, 20 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 35 minutes

Yield: 5-7 servings

This the recipe I use for a single chuck roast ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 lbs. Sometimes I will double the meat in this recipe, so I have more left over. If I do that, I stick with two roasts closer to 2.5 lbs. When you double the meat, it's not really necessary to double the other liquids because the roasts will produce their own moisture as well.


  • 1 (2.5 - 3.5 lb) chuck roast
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • About 1 teaspoon coarse salt (for searing)
  • 1 can low sodium beef broth
  • 1 cup red wine ( or one 6 oz mini bottle, or just fill your beef broth can a little more than half way)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • A couple handfulls baby carrots or roughly chopped carrots
  • A couple celery ribs,cut into chunks, leaves included
  • 3 roughly chopped garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 medium/small yellow onions cut into quarters
  • About a teaspoon of coarse salt
  • About a teaspoon of whole peppercorns


Heat a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat.

Melt butter with olive oil in the pan.

Sprinkle salt on both sides of roast and rub it in (about a half teaspoon per side).

When the pan is hot and the butter has melted, place the salted roast in the pan and sear it on all sides, until it is deep brown in color. ( this can take up to 10 mins per side).

While meat is browning, add carrots, celery, garlic, and bay leaves to crock pot.

Sprinkle with salt and peppercorns.

When meat is finished browning, remove it from the pan and set it aside on a platter.

Add onion quarters to pan and brown them on their cut sides. Add them to the crock pot.

Turn off the heat for the pan.

Add broth to the pan and scrape browned bits up with a rubber spatula. Add in wine and tomato paste and stir till combined.

Place meat in crockpot, over the veggies, along with any juices that have collected on the plate

Pour broth mixture over the top of the meat and veggies.

Cover with lid and cook on high 4 hour, or low for 6.

If you remove the lid (resist!) add on another 15 minutes to make up cooking time.

Also, if you test your meat and it does not shred, it probably needs another hour or so to cook.

Oh! And if you like stewed potatoes, you can add those in with the veggies too.


Sara|Home is Where The Cookies Are

Vaca Frita

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes


  • 2 medium-small yellow onions, peeled, halved, and sliced in 1/4" slices
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • juice of one lime, divided
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 7 cups shredded beef (I think this was from about 3.5 - 4 lbs of chuck roast)
  • 1 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon cumin


Heat an oven-proof pan or skillet over medium-high heat. (No worries if you don't have an oven-proof skillet - just cover a cookie sheet with tin foil to prepare for the broiling step)

Melt butter with 1 tablespoon olive oil in pan.

Add in onions and saute until translucent and just beginning to brown. Add in chopped garlic, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 of the lime juice. Cook till garlic is fragrant - only about 1 or 2 minutes. Add in 1 tablespoon olive oil, shredded beef, coriander, cumin, remaining lime juice, and 1 teaspoon salt.Cook and stir, turning meat, until most of the liquid is absorbed from the bottom of the pan and edges of meat begin to crisp (probably 9-12 minutes). Remove pan from heat, turn off stove top. Place oven rack on the top setting in the oven, and place the pan under the broiler for 3 minutes (if you are using the cookie sheet, pour the meat onto the cookie sheet and arrange in a thin layer, then broil). Stir, and broil for 3 more minutes. Repeat if you want even more crispiness. Remove from oven and turn off broiler.

Taste for salt and lime juice, and add more if necessary.

Serve immediately.


Sara | Home is Where the Cookies Are

7 thoughts on “Vaca Frita (and a recipe for traditional crock pot roast)

  1. I’m checking flight schedules to your nick of the woods. What time to you eat dinner? Need to be sure we’re there in time. I love me some vaca frita, but let’s be honest… You had me at plantains.

  2. Laughing about the patience of a rabid gorilla. So very understandable!

    I know I’d have very little patience if I could smell this cooking for hours. Ohmahgawd. And the crispy edges… Yeah… I might not even get to that point. Bring me all the fried cow.

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