A table can be a comfort. A restaurant can be an island set apart from the cares of life. When my husband and I moved to Port St. Lucie, Florida at the end of May, I needed just such an oasis.
“What is Port St. Lucie like?” Friends asked me before we moved. “I mean, is it a city, or the country, or what?”
“It’s just houses and strip malls and palm trees as far as the eye can see,” I said.
So after I moved, I needed an oasis because much of the Port St. Lucie landscape is monotonous. I looked for egrets and sandhill cranes by the roadside canals, just to break the relentless ugliness of supermarkets, office supply stores, pawn shops and fast food restaurants. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the convenience of being within a ten-minute drive of the nearest Target as much as the next person, but that convenience has its price, and in so many suburbs the price is an endless vista of bland uniformity.
So imagine my delight when my husband and I stepped into a local Cuban restaurant on our anniversary this past June. We had parked in a strip mall parking lot and entered through a strip mall door, but once we were inside the restaurant, I felt like I was in someone’s home. Bamboo shades blocked my view, and my memory, of the parking lot. White tablecloths adorned the tables, and antique chairs beckoned. The bar looked like it came from the set of Key Largo. I could smell savory seared beef.
A server joked with us like we were old friends. Life slowed down. I saw only vistas of beauty and comfort.
I looked at the menu and ordered vaca frita—“fried cow.” The Spanish language tells it like it is.
I don’t think it was just the fact that I felt so at ease in this restaurant that made the beef taste so good. Vaca frita is an amazing meal that starts with slow-simmed beef that is then fried in oil. The beef isn’t breaded the way most fried food is, but it gets crispy nonetheless.
Later that night, I texted a Cuban friend of mine: “I ate something called fried cow. It was so good I almost wept.”
A few weeks later, I had to try making vaca frita myself with Lone Star Farm’s skirt steak, sold in their freezer packs. I hope that whenever I serve this meal, my table will also be a comfort, creating an oasis for whoever eats there.
- 1½ lbs skirt steak
- 1 onion, thinly sliced
- 1 bell pepper, sliced
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- juice of 1 lime
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and pepper
- In a large pan, combine skirt steak, onion, bell pepper, bay leaves, oregano and onion powder, add enough water to cover, and bring to a boil. Then simmer for 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine lime, oil and garlic to use as a marinade.
- Once steak has simmered, remove it to a plate. Discard bay leaves and drain liquid. Fry the onions and peppers and set aside.
- Shred the steak once it is cool enough to work with. Toss it in the marinade to coat and let it sit 30 minutes.
- Working in small batches in a very hot pan, add shredded beef in one layer. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Let it get nice and crispy on both sides.
- Serve with fried onions and peppers.