The Secret Ingredient
My uncle is here with us visiting from Cuba. Of course that means that my entire family is going out of their way to show him a good time for the duration of his stay. We’re taking him places and showing him around Southern California and all that it entails.
“Que quieres ver?”
“Quiero verlo todo.”
He wants to see everything.
He wants to do everything.
I struggled with what to feed him.
“Que quieres comer?”
He wants a taste of everything.
Really? Cuban food? American food?
Rather than guess, I decided it would save me a lot of time and energy if I just asked if there was anything specific he was craving.
He responded that since I was asking, he was kind of looking forward to having a good old-fashioned steak.
I was ready to immediately go pick up some rib-eyes and slap them on the barbecue (which I’m sure he wouldn’t have objected to, but that’s not important right now), when he suddenly got a kind of wistful expression and launched into the description of the steak of his dreams;
Thinly sliced, tender, marinated with garlic and lime, smothered in crisp onions, and sprinkled ever so slightly with fresh parsley. He actually closed his eyes when he got to the part about the fresh parsley.
To be honest, it was a little heartbreaking.
“Con mucho gusto.”
I was going to do whatever it took to recreate that moment that was obviously stuck in his memory from much happier times. I went to the butcher and got some top sirloin and asked him to please slice it paper thin. He asked me three times if I was sure I wanted it sliced so thin. That beautiful cut? Was I sure? He almost cried, but did it according to my specifications. (If he had been a Cuban butcher there wouldn’t have been even a moment’s hesitation, but that’s not important right now).
I went home and I could barely prepare the steaks and marinade through my tears.
I served the steak and he took the first bite. It was perfect, he said. Just perfect. Exactly what he wanted and it tasted exactly how he dreamed it would. Even better, he said, because he could feel the love with which it was prepared. He was so, so very grateful. Of course he wanted to know my secret.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him that my secret ingredient was the ocean of salty tears that I cried while I was preparing the marinade. Apparently they must taste just like love. Who knew?
Bistec de Palomilla Recipe
- 3 lbs. Top Sirloin steak – sliced very thin
- 10 garlic cloves – diced
- juice of 2 fresh limes
- 1 yellow onion thinly sliced
- salt and coarse black pepper to taste
- olive oil (twice around the pan)
- 3 Tbsp. Fresh chopped parsley
1) Rub about 2/3rds of the garlic into the steaks on both sides
2) Squeeze the juice of one of the limes onto the steaks.
3) Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4) Place the steaks into a plastic ziplock bag.
5) Add the sliced onion to the bag.
6) Place the bag in the refrigerator and allow to marinate – preferably overnight, but at least for one hour.
7) Remove the steaks from the marinade and pat dry. Reserve the marinade. Set the onions aside.
8) Heat olive oil in a large frying pan.
9) Fry the steaks quickly about 1 minute per side and remove to a warm platter.
10) Squeeze the juice of the other lime into the pan and stir, this will “clean” any burnt bits from the pan.
11) Add the remaining marinade, onions and garlic to the lime juice and quickly stir together over medium heat for about 5 minutes. The onions should still be crisp and the garlic should not be brown.
12) Pour the onion mixture over the steaks on the platter. And garnish with the chopped fresh parsley.
VERY IMPORTANT: Close your eyes and savor that first bite and thank God for freedom.