Cooking with Mom: Pabellón Part 1 - Carne Mechada


 My mom is an amazing cook.  Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of trying her food will agree. And I’m about to start revealing her secrets.

Mary is the exception to the “never trust a skinny cook” rule. I don’t know how she does it because she doesn’t really eat much, but through some magic 6th sense that allows her to bypass tasting, her food always turns out delicious.

We obviously try to take full advantage of her talents, so whenever Mary comes to town, some serious cooking goes down.  Usually, the first thing we ask her to make is Pabellón Criollo.  Pabellón is basically the Venezuelan national dish. Its components are similar to what you’ll find in a lot of other places in the Caribbean and throughout South America -- but this is our version.  This plate consists of shredded beef, black beans, rice, arepas, and maybe plantains and a couple of other accompaniments. 

It has always been one of my favorite feasts, however, I think Greg’s love for it has gone beyond mine.  Moreover, when we make it he gets very possessive over it – in particular as regards the Carne Mechada, or shredded beef.  (In some places, versions of this dish are also known as Ropa Vieja.) While my mom was visiting, we made a big batch. Thinking there was plenty to go around, I invited a friend and his family over to enjoy it with us.  This caused some very conflicted feelings for Greg. He was happy to see our friends, but was not so happy that they would be eating his meat.

I tried to ease his pain, and the day my mom left I went out and bought more of everything to lovingly make him a batch of his very own. Did he later remember this kind gesture on my part? Nope.  I recently decided to make it again for dinner with some friends. Greg told me not to bother unless I was going to make enough to leave him lots of leftovers.  Despite the fact that my normally loving husband was turning into Gollum with the carne mechada as his ‘precious,’ I decided to placate him once again and I made four pounds of the stuff.

Hopefully, he’ll remember this time.


CA
RNE MECHADA

(Venezuelan Style Shredded Beef)

Here is the recipe pretty much as my mom gave it to me. I’ve added pesky little details such as cooking times.  As with many skilled home cooks, Mary has little use for these and usually directs to “cook until done.”

1 to 11/2 lbs flank or skirt steak
3 to 4 onions
4 to 6 tomatoes
6 to 7 garlic cloves
4 celery stalks
4 bouillon cubes
salt  (to taste)
1 to 2 tsp cumin

Place the flank or skirt steak in a Dutch oven or other large heavy pot and pour enough water on top to cover.

Flank Steak


Roughly chop and add 1 onion, 1 to 2 tomatoes, 3 garlic cloves, 4 celery stalks and 2 bouillon cubes.

 

Bring to boil, then reduce heat and allow to simmer until beef is tender (1.5 -2 hours.) Allow the meat to cool and shred. Discard boiled vegetables and reserve liquid.



Meanwhile sauté 2 to 3 diced onions and 3 to 4 chopped garlic cloves until tender.  Add 3 to 4 diced tomatoes and let cook until saucy.

 

Add shredded meat, mix well and add 2 cups of the beef liquid.  Add 2 bouillon cubes simmer until it's done. (At least another hour, but it’s even better if you leave it on low heat for several hours to allow the flavors to blend.) Test for salt and add 1 to 2 tsps of cumin powder.  If you need to, add more of the liquid.


Slow Cooker Method:

This is a great dish to make on a lazy weekend day.  However, I don’t always have endless hours to hang out about the house while the meat cooks and then stews together with the veggies.  I’ve gotten around this by preparing it in my slow cooker. The great thing is that both the recipe and the slow cooker are really flexible. You can’t over-cook it and the flavors only benefit from leaving them alone for a few hours. 

You can do either or both phases in the slow cooker. For the meat's initial cooking phase, you’ll want to leave it on for at least a couple of hours.  Cook it on the high setting for the first hour, and then switch to low for the rest of the time.  For the second phase when the meat stews with the veggies, I sauté the veggies on the stovetop, and once cooked, return them with the shredded beef to the slow cooker for another couple of hours. 

During either phase, you can feel free to leave the beef in the slow cooker overnight or while you’re at work during the day, just keep it on low.

Quick Tips: 

The liquid leftover from phase one makes an excellent broth to use for soups later.  I particularly like it as a base for onion soup. Store in Tupperware and freeze for later use.

This dish is easy, but it does take time. Luckily it freezes really well.  I often make double batches and store it in the freezer for a certain demanding hubby.

Serve this dish with the rest of the Pabellón feast, or serve it simply with rice to soak up all the sauce and a side salad.

3 comments:

  1. Thank you for posting your mom's recipe for carne mechada!! I've been messing around with a few others I found online and thought yours was excellent. I substituted a red pepper for some of the tomatoes because I like the taste, but turning the beefy water into a beef broth by adding mirepoix (-carrots +tomatoes) is genius. Once the beefy water comes to a boil, I'm assuming you skim the nastiness off right? I usually add the meat to cold water, bring it to a simmer and skim off that first raft of gunk. Once that's done, I then add the mirepoix. Don't know if you do that, but it makes life a lot easier.

    Pabellon criollo was a childhood favorite of mine, so it brings back good memories. Just out of curiosity, do you use the Maggi brand for the beef bouillon cubes? I remember that brand as the one my mom used.

    Now if your mom would only share her guasacaca recipe.... : )

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    2. So Sorry this response is so delayed--I was traveling a lot this month -- but I'm so glad you like the recipe!!! I like your idea of using some red pepper --- I bet that gives it a pretty color too. Will have to try. To your questions 1) The Beef Broth -- yes, definitely! Skim, skim, skim. I normally put the meat in with the rough chopped veggies (see pic) and then strain and skim once I've pulled the meat out to shred it. I'm not reusing those veggies, so this way just lets me get away with one round of straining/skimming and the flavors from the veggies start getting into the meat right away. A little gets used in the sauce with the sofrito and the rest is saved. 2) Maggi is definitely the go to. I've used a few others, but like for you, this is the one my mom used.
      Also, as to quasacaca -- I did a version on this post: www.nibblinggypsy.com/2012/01/fci-menu-project-venezuelan-food.html. Here I smoothed it out into a puree, but if you just leave it chunky it would be like the classic version.
      Thanks so much for your comment!

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