Why this dish is called arroz a la Cubana in the Philippines has not been documented clearly. But, as food for thought, I am reproducing here a comment left long ago by a reader and fellow food blogger, Nathan, when I published my earliest recipe for this dish.
Hello, I just wanted to share some info I know about this dish.
“Arroz a la Cubana” would translate to “Rice Cuban Style”In Spain
“Arroz a la Cubana” is consumed with fried eggs, over rice, served with a tomato sauce and fried plantains. (my grandmother is Spaniard and lived in Cuba many years up until 1960’s and my grandfather is Cuban born of Spaniard grandparents since most Cubans of pre-castro before 1960’s had Spaniard parentage or grandparents, etc. until most of the population fled due to revolution)
In Cuba or “Cuban culture” and food, we don’t even call it “Arroz a la Cubana” it’s just “Huevo Frito Con Arroz” (translates to “Fried Egg with Rice”) , very simple just fried egg over rice and some salt, then break and mix, it can be eaten alone or with fried plantains or even fried sliced potatoes (cut in cubes or like french fries)
For a heartier meal, we make a Cuban ground beef hash, serve it over rice with 2 fried eggs on top and a side of plantains this is called “a caballo”
P.S. I think it’s interesting and cool how different cultures interpret or adapt different dishes
Based on that, it appears that Filipino arroz a la Cubana more closely resembles the Cuban “a caballo” or, perhaps, it should be considered a version of picadillo which is found in various Latin American and Caribbean cuisines.
But I doubt if arroz a la Cubana will be called by any other name by Filipinos. I’ve cooked it for years, I’ve modified my recipe countless times in an attempt to make it better each time, and I realized that the real secret is in exercising patience.
First, the ground beef has to be browned. IN ITS OWN FAT. Seriously. Lean beef just doesn’t work. You need that magic called Maillard reaction to coax the flavor from the meat.
When the beef has rendered enough fat, the spices go in. Chopped shallots, garlic and oregano. Then, season simply with salt and pepper. The mixture is cooked over medium heat, with occasional stirring, until the onion bits start to turn translucent.
The vegetables go in next followed by diced tomatoes. The pan is covered and the heat is turned down to LOW. The diced tomatoes liquefy to provide just enough liquid to soften the vegetables.
It is during this stage of simmering when flavors develop and blend. You’d think it’s just ground beef and it should cook in a short time. And the vegetables are cut into such small pieces they need even less time to cook. And that’s partially true. The ground beef and the vegetables will take no more than ten minutes to get fully cooked.
But if you want a flavorful picadillo, you wait. You stir the meat and vegetables occasionally until the mixture is quite dry. That means the water in the vegetables has evaporated and what is left are very tender beef, soft vegetables, meagre sauce that a bit on the fatty side and pure flavors.
Since the simmering takes a while, use the time to fry eggs and saba bananas. If you can manage it, time everything so that all the components of the dish are hot when you serve your arroz a la Cubana.
Arroz a la Cubana
- Heat a pan and spread the ground beef. Cook without disturbing for a few minutes.
- Stir, breaking up clumps, and cook until fat has been rendered.
- Cook the beef in the rendered fat until lightly browned.
- Add the shallots, garlic, oregano, a teaspoon of salt and a quarter teaspoon of pepper.
- Cook, stirring often, until the shallot pieces are just starting to turn translucent.
- Add the bell pepper, carrot and peas.
- Pour in the diced tomatoes and add the sugar.
- Stir until simmering.
- Cover the pan, set the heat to low and simmer for about ten minutes.
- Taste and add more salt and pepper, if needed.
- Cover the pan once more and continue cooking until the mixture is quite dry.
- Give your picadillo a final taste, adjust the seasonings, if needed, before assembling the dish.
- Ladle rice into shallow bowls and top with egg. Arrange the beef picadillo on one side of the rice and the fried saba bananas on the other. Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.