Bistec Encebollado, I’ve been told, is the “Puerto Rican national dish;” you could surmise this from its presence on the menu of every restaurant near my house in New York that’s run by Puerto Rican families. It is comfort food at its finest: steak and onions in gravy, with a Latino spin or two. It was prepared for me once by Wilo Benet, the chef of an upscale San Juan hotel called the Tanama Princess; his version was absolutely delicious, though he was tweakin’ away on the classic. I thought his tower of steak, onions, haricots verts and french fries was a little too much. However, I picked up a number of fabulous improvements from his recipe—and if you make it with french fries and string beans on the side, I’m sure it will raise your spirits higher than Benet’s tower.
Makes 2 modest main-course servings
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
8-ounce slab of filet mignon
1 large clove of garlic, peeled and smashed to a purée
2 tablespoons olive oil
8-ounce sweet onion, peeled and cut into 1/8″ rings
¾ cup beef stock
2 teaspoons white vinegar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup cilantro leaves
1. Blend together the cumin, oregano, garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper; reserve.
2. Cut the filet mignon into 4 even chunks. Place the chunks between pieces of wax paper, and pound with a mallet (or the side of a heavy knife, or the bottom of a heavy saucepan), until you have 4 wide and thin cutlets (each one about ¼” thick.)
3. Sprinkle both sides of each cutlet with the spice mixture evenly. Smear each side of each cutlet with the smashed garlic evenly. Wrap cutlets well, and place them in refrigerator. Hold for 4 hours.
4. When ready to cook, place the olive oil in a wide skillet (wide enough to hold the 4 cutlets in a single layer) over high heat. When the oil is smoking, add the cutlets. Brown as quickly as you can, not more than a minute per side. Remove cutlets and reserve.
5. Turn the heat down to medium. Add the onion to the pan. Stir well. Cover, and cook until the onion is medium-brown and just starting to soften (about 5 minutes.)
6. Remove cover. Add ½ cup of the beef stock to the pan. It will probably sizzle up and reduce significantly within 30 seconds. If so, add the remaining ¼ cup of beef stock. Add the vinegar and the butter. Cook, swirling the butter, for a minute or so; the goal is a moderate amount of lightly thickened sauce. Immediately add the reserved beef cutlets. Combine with the sauce and onions, making sure every cutlet is coated with sauce. Don’t allow the beef to remain in the pan for more than a minute.
7. Remove pan from heat, and toss in the cilantro leaves. On each of 2 dinner plates, place a bed of onions, a cutlet, more onions, another cutlet, and top with more onions. Serve immediately.
Photos: Ekke/Flickr Creative Commons & Dreamstime