December 15, 2008

Chicken Vaca Frita

Filed under: chicken,philosophy,recipes,restaurants,rice,sides — Jose @ 11:38 am

I went to Barnes & Noble the other day and perusing the cookbooks (as I almost always do), I discovered that the ever industrious Estefan’s have published a cookbook. It’s a handsome bundle of paper and has all the “standard” dishes you’d expect. However, one recipe in particular that caught my eye is the topic of this post, a dish I’ve had maybe two times at Lario’s (no coincidence it used to be partially owned by the Estefan’s).  This naming convention is not to be confused and does not translate from “Chicken Fried Steak” even if it is an accurate and literal translation.  Chicken fried steak is actually “Bistec empanizado” (recipe to day) oddly enough.

I’d hesitate to call this Nouveau Cuban as it’s really a classic Vaca Frita preparation with a different protein. I don’t see why you couldn’t make it with pork or lamb (fish, not so much). It’s very flavorful and the cubanocity rings in your mouth with each bite.

  • It’s goin down:

  • For the Mojo (“mo-ho” not “mo-joe”, Austin Powers be damned):
  • 3/4 CupFresh orange juice
  • 2/3 Cup Fresh lemon juice (lime works too)
  • 4-6 ClovesGarlic
  • 1 tbspSalt
  • Combine ingredients and stir to dissolve the salt.


  • Stage 1:
  • 2boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1.25 lbs.)
  • 1/2 chicken bouillon cube

Place the chicken breasts that you rinsed in a pot and just barely cover with cold water.  Add the bouillon and bring to a simmer.  Cook for 20-30 minutes (you really can’t overcook the chicken like this).  When the chicken is done, remove and set aside.   You can discard the broth you just made or you can strain and reuse at your leisure–chicken soup anybody?

When the chicken has cooled enough, shred, along the grain, with your fingers or a fork into 1/2 inch strips or if you like your chicken-fried-cow more crispy, shred even finer.   Place in a bowl and pour in Mojo, such that the chicken is immersed and covered by the mojo.  Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour but no more than 3 hours.

  • Stage 2:
  • 1medium onion, sliced into thin (approx 1/8th”) rounds
  • 2 tbsp Vegetable or canola or corn oil

Remove the chicken from the mojo and dry with paper towels on a plate. Important: Reserve the leftover mojo.

Place a heavy bottomed, shallow skillet or frying pan under medium-high heat.   Once the pan is hot, add the oil, it will shimmer and maybe smoke a little.  This is good.  Add the dried chicken shreds in one even layer to the pan.   Using my trusty Lodge 12″ cast iron pan,  I can only do about half the chicken at a time.  Do not stir-fry, allow the chicken to brown, nearly burn.  After about 2 or 3 minutes, turn over the chicken evenly in order to brown the other side (the higher the walls of the skillet, the trickier this is).


After another 2 or 3 minutes, toss in the sliced onion and stir fry a bit.  When the onions have begun to get soft ( about a minute) add a “chorro” of the reserved mojo and continue stir-frying.  Oh yeah, un “chorro” equals about 3 tablespoons.  You’ll get some nice steam action to finish cooking the onions along with mad flava.  Stir fry for another minute or so and once the mojo has mostly evaporated, pour out onto a platter.  I like this best with just white rice but I ain’t gonna complain about some frijoles negros over the rice.




  1. I must agree I wouldn’t call it “nouvea Cuban Cuisine” either. Very classic flavors. This would probably also be a good way to use leftover roasted chicken.

    Glad to see you post another great recipe 🙂

    My grandmother’s “Vaca Frita” is slightly different in preparation she doesn’t shred the flank steak she simply boils it with a bay leave, then removes, pounds it and seasons with lime or sour orange, lots of crushed garlic and salt then heats “Manteca” (lard) in a heavy skillet and browns on both sides in the leftover drippings she sautee’s a bunch of onions cut into rounds, deglazes with lime, some salt and serves over the Vaca Frita.

    Ropa Vieja made with Chicken is also tasty.

    Comment by Nathan — December 16, 2008 @ 1:13 am

  2. I love your blog! I am going to try to make this for my Miami-born hubby!

    Comment by Melissa (Shappy) — January 12, 2009 @ 11:08 am

  3. Wow- Jose, this dish + your rice + frijoles negros made for an awesome dinner! Can’t wait to try some more of your recipes!

    Comment by Melissa — January 16, 2009 @ 11:47 pm

  4. Thanks Shappy! I’m really glad you enjoyed it! 😀

    Comment by Jose — January 17, 2009 @ 8:30 am

  5. ok, this dish is quickly becoming a staple at our house! here’s a photo of the latest version:

    Comment by Melissa — February 2, 2009 @ 9:21 pm

  6. this looks SO fricken GOOOD!

    Comment by Michelle — March 23, 2009 @ 10:59 am

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