This tasty and straightforward slow-cooked stew – whose name translates to the much less elegant “steak in a pot”- is a one-pot classic popular in the homes and cocinas economicas of Cuba and the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico.
Bistec is one of those anglicisms that are commonplace all over Mexico, it must have come from Beef Steak originally, but like, jonron (home run), bisnear (do shady business) or lonchería (lunch restaurant – often only open in the evenings!?!), it doesn’t bear much resemblance to the orginal.
Any kind o beef steak will do for bistec a la cazuela (skirt, rump, sirloin, ribeye), the fattier the tastier, and the thicker the slower. Bones aren’t a problem. The pot can be any large cast iron or earthenware casserole/dutch oven type dish with a lid, for maximum fonda or cocina economica authenticity use a Mexican brown clay pot like in the photo.
Steak approx 200g per person, no more than 1kg (not diced or chopped just whole steaks like you would throw on the bbq)
Onion 1 large, roughly chopped
Tomato 5 ripe, roughly chopped
Green Pepper 1 medium, roughly chopped
Potato 1 large, cut into wedges
Garlic 2 cloves, peeled whole
Chilli 1 habanero, 1 large jalapeño, 1 serrano
Coriander 1 medium bunch, finely chopped
Salt to taste
Bay leaf 1 or 2
Pepper to taste, but go heavy (even better, 1 teaspoon of recado blanco or recado para bistec mixed in with the next infredient)
Vinegar or sour orange juice (1 teaspoon half and half lemon/orange would work)
Start by heating the pot over a hedium/high heat. While it is heating you can pat dry and season the steaks with salt and pepper. Then add a good glug of oil to the pot.
Once the oil is on the verge of smoking, add the seasoned steak in batches of 200g and flash fry on both sides and remove to a plate when the fat is caramelized nicely and none of the meat is pink.
Once all the meat is flash fried and removed, use the same seasoned oil to fry the garlic cloves and whole chilli (find and remove the chilli at any point if you feel the dish is getting too hot), followed by the onion and keep frying and stirring until everything is starting to get a bit frazzled.
Re-add the meat and all the juices on the plate and mix the meat with the frying veg. Keep the heat on med/high and stir everything around to sizzle and combine flavours for a few more minutes. Add the bay leaf.
Add the dash of vinegar/citrus (ideally with some dissolved recado in it), the pepper and the tomato and half the coriander, add a cup of water to loosen things up, and slowly stir everything together without mushing up the chunks of veg. The pot should be quite full by now, so gently bring to a simmer, turn heat right down to minimum and leave it parcially covered for at least 1.5 hours until the meat is very tender and liquid is reduced by almost half.
Once the meat is nice and soft and the sauce is thick, turn off the heat and sprinkle on the remaining coriander. Add salt, pepper or a pinch of sugar if you think it needs those elements to be even nicer. If you think it lacks heat you can find the chilli swimming in the pot and make an incision without releasing all the seeds so that more flavour is released. Exercise caution, there’s no way back from making the dish too spicy at this stage. If there are few chilli fiends around the table just remove it and have it on a side plate
Serve in a flat bowl or on a plate with warm tortillas and plain rice on the side. The idea is to use the tortilla and a fork as cutlery, building your own impromtu taco over your bowl with the guisado, some rice and some avocado. Add extra chilli and squeezes of lime if that sounds mouthwatering.