Bistec Encebollao makes use of under-appreciated cube steak. Normally tough steaks are seared quickly with fragrant onions after marinating, which later creates a simple, flavorful pan sauce.
Raise your hand if you’re still having a difficult time locating the cuts of meat you want. Some people think a virus means a “beef shortage”, so, these days, getting my hands on ground beef is difficult. Thankfully, I have a recipe that uses a cut of meat most people shy away from. Bistec Encebollao (or, if you’re a “posh” Spanish speaker, encebollado) uses cube steak. Cube steak often goes unnoticed because some people aren’t familiar with how to cook it. I consider that a blessing for those of us who do know how to cook it. I’m going to invite you into the secret society of Cube Steak makers with this recipe. We are the chosen.
What is Bistec (Cube Steak)?
Cube steak, which is what bistec (bee-STEAK) is, most often comes from the forequarter of the cow, namely the chuck (or shoulder). It can also come from the round- or booty- of the cow. The steaks are considerably tough because of where on the cow it comes from. As a result, butchers send the steaks through a mechanical tenderizer that creates cube-shaped indentations in the meat. The indentations break up the tough connective tissue and fibers that makes meat tough.
Your meat market has all sorts of beef cuts that may come cubed. Tenderized skirt steak and flank steak are the most popular cuts in my area. Because you’re going to tenderize them even more, avoid purchasing expensive cuts of steak (like ribeye or sirloin). This recipe is not for those expensive cuts.
Most Puerto Ricans call this recipe Bistec encebollao (en-seh-boh-YAO), which means in (or with) onions. In proper Spanish it’s bistec encebollado. It’s also called biftec con cebollas, filete encebollado, or simply, beefsteak with onions.
What do you need to make this Bistec Encebollao?
For this recipe, you’ll need at least two pounds of cube steak, or 4 steaks. You’re going to make a marinade from crushed garlic, oregano, black peppercorns (or ground pepper), Ádobo seasoning (or salt), Sazón, and white vinegar. Yellow onions will finish the dish.
Simple, no? Serve Bistec Encebollao with white or yellow rice, or mashed potatoes, another great side to serve with it.
Prepare the Spice Paste
Because this cut of meat is so tough, we’re not only going to marinate it for a few hours, we’re also going to pound it thinner.
Add the Sazón to the pilón with the other spices.
Finally, add the roughly chopped garlic to the pilón or blender.
Garlic, oregano, pepper, and Ádobo (or salt) marinades are the flavor backbone of most Puerto Rican dishes.
Pound to create a thick paste
Pound the spices to smithereens after adding them to the pilón. It shouldn’t be difficult, as we all have some sort of pent up rage to unleash now. Pulvering spices is better than pulverizing people, I always say.
The mixture will form a thick paste.
Add the vinegar to the paste
Add the white vinegar directly to the paste in the pilón. I always make my marinade in the pilón for two reasons. First, it saves on dishes. Second, the acid in the vinegar helps sanitize the wooden pilón.
If you want to experiment, try making this marinade with white wine or red wine vinegar instead of plain white.
Use the pestle (the thing that looks like a club) to stir the marinade together in the pilón.
Pour the marinade into a large mixing bowl.
Pound the Bistec to tenderize it
The tough meat used for bistec encebollao remains chewy, even after it’s mechanically tenderized. To cut down on the toughness, we’re going to use a meat mallet to pound it out a little bit more.
Sandwich your piece of steak between two sheets of parchment paper (or plastic wrap). Parchment paper protects your countertop from a smattering of cow flesh as you pound out the meat.
A meat mallet is a weighted tool- some have two sides- used to pound meat out, or to cube/tenderize meat. If you have one like mine, you can purchase tough cuts of meat and cube them yourself. I use a meat mallet only to pound the steak thinner since my bistec has already been tenderized.
Pound the meat out until it’s 1/4″ thick. When pounding meat to thin it out, you’ll whack down and smooth out towards the edge of the parchment paper.
Continue pounding out the steaks until they are all the same thickness.
Marinate the Bistec for 2 hours or overnight
Turn the thinned steaks in the marinade a few times to coat them well.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate the meat, in the fridge, for 2-3 hours (or overnight). Obviously, the longer you marinate the meat, the more flavor your final dish will have.
Flavor the oil with the onions
The marinade provides most of the bistec encebollao‘s flavor. The rest of the flavor will come from a hefty amount of sauteed onions. While the recipe calls for yellow onions, you can use white onions if that’s all you have.
Heat cooking oil over medium heat in a large frying pan. Once the oil begins to shimmer in the pan, add the sliced onions. Sauté the onions for 5-6 minutes over medium heat, or until they begin to wilt and take on a teeny-tiny bit of color. You’re not going to caramelize the onions, you just want to take the sting and crunch off of them, as well as use them to flavor the oil.
Once the onions are soft, use a set of tongs to move them from the pan to a separate bowl or platter.
Fry the Bistec in the flavored oil
Drain all but a tablespoon of the flavored oil from the pan. Return the pan to the stove and increase the temperature to medium-high.
Lay the bistecs into the hot oil, then pour the marinade over them in the pan. Now sear the meat for 3 minutes. You’ll only need to cook the steaks for a couple of minutes per side because they are so thin. You should never bastardized beef by cooking it to well-done, anyway.
Use your tongs to flip the steaks over after they’ve seared for 3 minutes on the first side. Sear the meat on the second side for 4 minutes.
Finish with the sauteed onions
Towards the end of cooking, return the sautéed onions to the pan. Turn the heat off and- if you have a lid- cover the pan to allow the onions a chance to warm through.
Serve in the classic way
Enjoy your Bistec Encebollao while piping hot. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to two days.
Pin this recipe and be sure to share it with your friends and family.
Bistec Encebollado (Cube Steak Smothered in Onions)
- small blender or pilón
- 4 cups steamed white or yellow rice
Prepare the Marinade
- Add the garlic, Ádobo, Sazón, peppercorns, and oregano to a pilón or a small blender. Pound the spices until a thick paste forms.
- Pour the white vinegar into the pilón. Use the pestle to stir the marinade together. Pour the marinade into a large mixing bowl.
- Add the steaks to the marinade in the bowl, turning them in the marinade a few times to coat them well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and marinate the meat, in the refrigerator, for 2-3 hours (or overnight).
Finish the Bistec Encebollao
- In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Once the oil begins to shimmer in the pan, add the sliced onions. Sauté the onions for 5-6 minutes over medium heat, or until they begin to wilt and take on a little color.
- Once the onions are soft, use a set of tongs to move them from the pan to a separate bowl or platter.
- Drain all but a tablespoon of the flavored oil from the pan. Return the pan to the stove and increase the temperature to medium-high.Lay the bistecs into the hot oil, then pour the marinade over them in the pan.
- Sear the meat for 3 minutes on one side. Flip the steaks over and sear the meat on the second side for 4 minutes.
- During the final minute of cooking, return the sautéed onions to the pan. Turn the heat off and- if you have a lid- cover the pan to allow the onions a chance to warm through.
- Enjoy your Bistec Encebollao while piping hot. Store any leftovers in the fridge for up to two days. Reheat in the microwave or on the stove top just until warmed through.