How often do you scratch your head thinking what to do with some thin piece of steak? Think flank, skirt, cube or even sirloin steak. How about turning it into this Spanish flavor bomb with just a few ingredients. This is what a typical Puerto Rican or Cuban momma cooks regularly. Why? It’s easy, it’s quick and it’s delicious in its simplicity. Bistec Encebollado, simply meaning steak and onions in Spanish. If you don’t know Bistec Encebollado… well, it’s about time you learn. 🙂
Spanish Cuisine in Caribbean countries
Spanish food is very complex in flavor. It’s not hot or spicy, but always well seasoned and full bodied with the generous use of spices and herbs. Spanish speaking Caribbean countries like Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic and many others have their roots in Spain, along with influences that can be traced to African slaves and natives of the region. Food can be a little different from island to island, and one key difference is the mix and proportions of the herbs and spices used in their stews or curries. Cubans are partial to cumin, Dominicans to oregano, and Puerto Ricans can’t imagine cooking anything without their beloved cilantro and culantro.
The main essence of their cuisine is sofrito, which is nothing but a blend of a few herbs along with garlic, onion and some chili peppers. This mix forms the foundation of many dishes. Some islands have cooked sofritos and some make uncooked or raw. GypsyPlate has great Puerto Rican style Sofrito.
The other defining seasoning is adobo, which is a blend of salt and spices. Both of these Latin staples are very easily available in the Latin section of your grocery store, as can Sazon, which also goes in this recipe.
What is Bistec Encebollado?
The word bistec probably came into existence when Spanish speakers tried to say the English phrase “beef steak”. Bistec, when you abbreviate. Encebollado means “cooked with onions”. So put together it’s beef steak cooked with onions… simple.
Steak with onions is something that generations grew up on in many different countries and cultures. Everyone might have their own prefered go to recipe, and it can be called different names from country to country. They might call this Bistec Ranchero in Mexico, Bistec de Palomilla in Cuba, Bistec a lo Pobre in Peru, or Bistek Tagalog in the Philippines… Yes, they do have a Filipino version of this steak that comes with a pile of onions.
In most cases the piece of steak is marinated for quite a while with herbs and spices, olive oil, vinegar and lots of garlic. Vinegar not only helps tenderize the meat, but also imparts unbelievably delicious flavors.
Here is my Puerto Rican style version of this classic comfort dish. You would need some latin staples, but in a pinch can try it without… though I couldn’t guarantee those unmistakable latin flavors.
What cut of meat to use for Bistec Encebollado
We personally think any steak would be great when you smother it with the amazing gravy. But traditionally they use any thin cuts of steak like skirt, cube, flank or sirloin. We are using flank today. Something that needs to be either quick cooked in a stir fry or simmered for a long time to get the same tender melt in your mouth effect. Steaks can be such an unforgiving piece of meat and need some TLC, unless you want to eat a dried out rubbery mess. In this case, it’s a little easier, as it will be simmered into smooth submission for some time.
As I mentioned above, this is one of their key ingredients. It’s basically a quick blend of cilantro + culantro (optional) + onion + garlic + green peppers. You can check my Sofrito post for more details. I understand making it is an extra step, but you can make a large batch and freeze it. In a pinch, you can buy it from the Latin aisle in your grocery store. You can altogether skip it, but your Bistec might miss that latin punch. It can still turn up good if you increase the garlic and add chopped cilantro and onions to the marinade.
Ingredients for my version of Bistec Encebollado
- Goya sazon seasoning – Particularly Goya con culantro y achiote packet.
- Adobo – It’s Latin seasoning salt. In its absence you can use regular salt.
- Spices and herbs – Cumin, oregano, black pepper.
- Vinegar – Any vinegar is fine, we are using white vinegar.
- Tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes
- Olive oil
How to make Bistec Encebellado
Start by marinating the steak, the longer the better. We encourage you to marinate it at least 4-5 hours, or in the morning if you are cooking this for dinner. Some people prefer to use whole steaks, but we cut it into strips before marinating. Just mix olive oil, vinegar, adobo, sazon, oregano, cumin, pepper, garlic and sofrito. Marinate your beef in this mixture in the refrigerator.
When ready to cook, give the steak a quick sear on both sides before adding the rest of the marinade, along with some water and start cooking, covered. After five minutes, stir in some more sofrito along with tomato sauce and cook covered till it’s melt in your mouth tender. Easy?
Oh… Don’t forget the onions :). You can just add sliced or rings of onions over the steak in the last few minutes of cook time. I thought already caramelized onions would add more flavor to the dish, so sautéed them in a bit of butter and olive oil before adding over the steak. There you go. Unbelievable tasting steak with onions.
What to serve it with?
It is perfect with any kind of rice, be it over a pile of white rice, yellow rice or their Arroz con gandules. Stacks of tostones… check out our tostones post… or mudoros, their sweet plantains. It goes great with some kind of beans, or some avocado. Or you can have a piece of bread to sop up the gravy, but we skipped it to give more attention to Bistec. Ahmm… good decision!
- You can make it a drier version by just frying the marinated steak along with marinade without any additional liquid. In this case, you just give it a quick stir fry, rather than simmering.
- You can skip adding tomatoes and follow the same recipe.
- Play with whatever herbs or spices you often use when cooking.
- Many island countries top it up with fried eggs and scarf it down for breakfast or brunch.
- Try topping it with sautéed peppers.
We personally fell in love with Puerto Rican food after our introduction to Picadillo, one of our most popular recipes on GypsyPlate. That led us to explore more of what’s out there. We love sharing with you what we are discovering. Sharing is caring, right? Share GypsyPlate, subscribe to GypsyPlate and spread the love… love for good food. Thank you for making our mailing list increase as the days go by. We hope you make this amazing recipe and let us know when you share this with your loved ones. Take care…
Bistec Encebollado, on my Gypsy Plate… With onions removed for my onionphobic husband!
For more tropical flavors, check out my collection of the 40 best Caribbean Recipes!
- 1.5 lbs flank steak
- 1 Sazon Goya con culantro y achiote packet
- 1 tsp adobo seasoning
- 3 Tbsp sofrito
- 3 Tbsp vinegar
- 2 Tbsp garlic, chopped
- 2 tsp oregano
- 2 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp pepper
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
For Bistec Encebollado
- 8 oz tomato sauce
- 2 Tbsp sofrito
- 2 Tbsp oil
- 2 onions, sliced or cut into rings
- 1 tbsp butter
- Cut the steak into broad strips and marinate it with all marinade ingredients for at least 4-5 hours.
- Heat oil in skillet on medium high heat and quickly sear the steak without marinade on both sides. Once it is browned, add the rest of the marinade along with 1.5 cups of water and cook covered for 5 minutes.
- Stir in tomato sauce and sofrito. Mix well. cover and cook about 40-45 minutes, till the meat is tender. Stir occasionally. Adjust water according to the liquid consistency you want. Taste and adjust for seasoning like adobo.
- Sauté onion rings in butter and oil till slightly caramelized. Add in sautéed onions to the cooked beef in the last 5 minutes of cooking. (see note 2)
- Serve with rice along with tostones and black beans.
- Some make this recipe without tomato. Experiment and see which you like better!
- Sautéing the onions is optional, but adds great flavor. If you skip this step and just use raw onions, add them in the final 10 minutes to allow them to fully cook.
Nutrition InformationYield 4 Serving Size 1
Amount Per Serving Calories 594Total Fat 38gSaturated Fat 10gTrans Fat 0gUnsaturated Fat 22gCholesterol 142mgSodium 698mgCarbohydrates 12gFiber 3gSugar 5gProtein 51g
Nutrition information calculated by Nutritionix.
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