Updated: Jul 16
This dish is super traditional in Puerto Rico - thinly sliced beef cooked with onions, garlic and vinegar and simmered for a very long time until perfect tenderness is achieved. Jo's grandma made the best bistec, and this recipe gets really really close to that delicious recipe. I'm sure that love was her special ingredient and there's nothing like a grandma's love.
2 lb beef, thinly sliced (¼ inch) (traditional cuts are usually round or sirloin)
½ cup olive oil
6 tbs white vinegar
6 cloves of garlic (peeled)
4 medium onions, sliced thick (⅓ inch)
1 tsp fresh oregano
1 tsp whole peppercorns
4 tsp adobo
1 cup water
The first thing you’ll need to decide, is what cut of beef you want to use. In preparation for this video, Yomarie called a handful of butchers in Puerto Rico to ask them what their preferred cut was. The general answer was that people tended to prefer leaner cuts of beef, like the rounds or the sirloins, when making bistec -- although they also said it wasn’t uncommon to use chuck. In this video, I decided to use bottom sirloin, which is the same cut of beef you would get your tri-tip steak from. This is a great lean cut of meat, which is still really tender if you prepare it correctly.
Whatever cut of meat you end up choosing, have your butcher slice it thinly against the grain of the meat. How thin you get it sliced is a matter of personal preference, but generally between ¼ inch and ⅛ inch is a good place to start. The thinner you cut your meat, the more tender it will be at the end. Yomarie likes her bistec really tender, so I had my butcher cut the meat ⅛ inch thick. The only downside to the thinner slices is that it might take a couple to fill you up, so no shame in getting seconds.
Once you have your meat, you might need to cut it into manageable sizes. As a rule of thumb, I’d say that anything bigger than your hand is likely too big. Here, I’m taking pieces that were probably 12 inches long, and cutting them in half, ending up with pieces about 4x6 inches.
Once you’ve got your meat cut to the right size, you want to tenderize it. There are a couple ways to do this and I’m going to show you three ways. First, we’ll use a needle tenderizer. This device is just what it sounds like. It has a bunch of needles that you punch into the meat, breaking up the muscle fibers resulting in a tenderer piece of meat. When using the needle tenderizer, I like to first work the meat from size to side, then flip the tenderizer 90 degrees and work the meat top to bottom. Then flip the meat over and repeat on the other side.
A second way to tenderizer your meat is with a fork. This is basically the same thing as the needle tenderizer, just a little slower, since you cover less surface area at a time. But the strategy is the same. Repeatedly pierce your meat with the fork, breaking up the muscle fibers, as you work across both surfaces of the meat.
Finally, you can use a rolling pin to tenderize your meat. Take your meat, lay it on a flat surface and cover it with plastic wrap or wax paper. Then, give it a couple good whacks with your rolling pin. The physical impact from the rolling pin breaks up the muscle fibers and has the added bonus of relieving any pent-up frustration you might have from a long day at work. As with the other methods, you’ll get a better result if you work both sides of the meat.
With your meat ready, now we are going to prepare our marinade. Let’s start with the onions. Cut off both ends of the onion, then slice it in half and peel off the upper-most layer. I’m using yellow spanish onions, but you can use different varieties, depending on your preferences. You’ll cook these onions for plenty of time so they shouldn’t have any onion-y flavor at the end. But if you are particularly sensitive to onion-flavor, consider using a sweeter onion, like a vidalia.
Once your onion is peeled, go ahead and slice it between ¼ and ½ inches thick. Again, this thickness is just a matter of preference, as it will determine how defined the onion slices are in the end produce.
As I’m slicing these onions, you’ll notice that I’m just adding them right into a gallon sized plastic bag. This is where we’ll be marinating the meat, so no need to get something else dirty.
When you finish with the onions, go ahead and chop your garlic. No need to get it too fine, as it will start to fall apart when you cook it anyways. I like to crush my garlic first, and then just chop it loosely. Once chopped, go ahead and add it to your onions.
Finally, prepare your oregano. Peel the leaves off of the stems, and then give them a loose chop. If you don’t have fresh oregano, you can definitely use dried oregano, although you’ll want to use about ⅓ to ½ the volume, as the dried herb is more potent.
With our veggies cut, now we are ready to combine everything. Add your tenderized meat to the onions. Try to keep your pieces of meat separate, so that the marinade will cover them all evenly.
Then add your adobo, your pepper corns, your white vinegar, and your olive oil. Once everything’s in your bag, seal it and give it a real good shake, in order to incorporate all of the flavors together. Once mixed, throw it into your fridge for any wheres from 45 mins to 4 hours. I’ve found that any less than 45 minutes and you don’t get enough flavor and any more than 4 hours the vinegar starts to give the meat a strange texture.
After your meat is sufficiently marinated, pull it out and get it into your pot . The meat needs the most heat, so I like to put it into your pot first. This way it will be closest to the heat source; but this also ensures that it will stay submerged as you simmer it, soaking up all of the flavors.
Once you’ve layered in the meat, go ahead and dump the rest of the contents of the bag on top of the meat.
Then add a little water to the pot, enough to just cover the meat.
Now put your lid on and turn your stove on medium and cook until the liquid starts to boil. Then reduce the head to low and let it cook for 45 mins to an hour, depending on how tender you want the meat.
Check the bistec from time to time while its simmering. You want to make sure there is always water in the bottom of the pan; or else your meat will burn.
If the water level is looking low, just add a little more water and maybe turn down the heat a little.
Once the meat is tender to your liking, its ready to eat. For thinner slices of meat, this can be fairly quick. For thicker pieces of meat, or meat that has more connective tissue, it might take a little longer.
Try it from time to time. When it’s finished, you should be able to easily tear the pieces apart with your fingers.
Once your meat is tender, its ready to serve. Now while you could definitely just chow down on a bowl of bistec by itself, its most traditionally served over rice. Don’t forget to add some of the reduced onions and sauce on top, to really bring out all of the flavors in the meat. Then garnish it with a little fresh chopped oregano to top it off.
Check out our instructional video, showing how to make this recipe step-by-step HERE.