This Cuban steak with onions or bistec encebollado is a family-favorite in the Illinois home of Ana Osadzinski (Colet). This abuela cocinera learned how to make this traditional recipe from her mother, when Ana was growing up in Bayamo, in Cuba’s Oriente province.
Traditionally, Cuban cooks use palomilla or top-round for this dish. The beef is thinly sliced in half (palomilla means “butterflied”), tenderized with a meat mallet, seasoned, and pan fried with silky sweet onions. This dish is Cuban comfort food at its most classic. It is so delicious, says Ana. And best of all: ”It’s so simple! You take a steak, pan fry it with onions, and that’s it.”
Ana’s Cooking Tips for Making This Cuban Classic
And here’s the secret to getting the beef and onions tender, flavorful and juicy, says Ana. Be sure to 1) marinate the beef and 2) cook it over low heat—both for a long time. She likes to start seasoning the carne in the morning and put it in the fridge all day long to lets the flavors steep before cooking that night.
Bistec encebollado is one of the family-famous Cuban dishes specially requested by her kids for big occasions. “It’s my daughter in law’s favorite,” says Ana, reporting she will make it for Crystal’s birthday feast later that week. Her whole family loves it when she makes it. ”I also make ropa vieja for them. I make them arroz con pollo. I make them my picadillo with yuca and mojo on the side,” says Ana. ”They love all the traditional dishes.”
The 3 Tweaks She Made to the Cuban Recipe
Since Ana moved with her family to the States at age 14, she has been eating and making this dish. Over the years, Ana has made several tweaks to her mother’s traditional recipe.
First, instead of palomilla, she prefers to use cube steak, an inexpensive cut of beef that’s already been flattened and tenderized. “You buy it at the store, already cubed,” Ana explains. “You know, they pound it, they put it through the machine. That’s how it gets all that flavor.”
Second, Ana has been known to use cubed pork instead of cubed beef. Saves her time, she says. Starting with pork cuts down the cooking time by more than half. “When you use beef, the steak has to cook more slowly, so that it’s tender,” says Ana. ”The pork is the easy way out”—and just as loved by her family.
And third (here’s the big cambio!), Ana breads the beef, dipping each steak in flour, egg and seasoned bread crumbs. Her classic of bistec encebollado should technically be called: bisctec encebollado y empanado. Coating it in the bread crumbs makes the meat extra juicy, Ana says. “It’s almost like a chicken-fried steak.”
How to Serve this Classic Cuban Dish
When ready to serve at your family feast, pile the sauteed onions high on the steak, says Ana. Add a side of freshly made white rice, stewed black beans, and plantain maduros or tostones for an authentic Cuban meal. Ana and her family also made one last, fourth tweak to the recipe. ”I like my onions on top of the rice. With ketchup,” she told us.
If you prefer to keep things traditionally Cuban, you can squeeze a little fresh lime over the steak and onions, grins Ana. She’ll stick with the ketchup, thank you. “Every family has their own thing.”