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With ribbons of slow-cooked, shredded beef tossed in a delicious and savoury sauce, this Carne Mechada will be an instant family favourite. It’s incredible with some rice and beans, stuffed into a freshly-made arepa, or alongside some crispy fried plantains and ripe avocado. If you didn’t know any better, you’d never guess it was Whole30 and Paleo.
What is Carne Mechada?
Carne mechada is a traditional Venezuelan dish consisting of shredded or pulled beef cooked in a savoury sauce. Although there are some differences, it’s similar in ingredients and preparation to other very popular South American, Central American and Caribbean recipes, such as Colombian carne desmechada, Cuban ropa vieja, Dominican carne ripiada, and Nicaraguan carne desmenuzada.
Although every household puts their own spin on the dish, carne mechada typically involves boiling flank steak with aromatics until it’s tender enough to be easily shredded into thin strings, resembling the wick of a candle. A savoury sauce is then prepared with sautéed onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes, spices, and some of the reserved cooking broth. The shredded beef is returned to the sauce and gently cooked to marry the flavours.
In Venezuela, carne mechada is commonly served as part of the country’s national dish, pabellón criollo, which consists of rice, stewed beans, and tajadas (fried sweet plantain).
It’s also very often used as a filling for arepas, or served with other side dishes, such as fried plantains (tostones or patacones). However it’s enjoyed, carne mechada is comforting, hearty, delicious and can easily feed a crowd. It’s also quite healthy and made with nutritious ingredients.
Ingredients You Need for the Carne Mechada
- Flank Steak: For best results, use flank steak because it’s easy to shred into thin ribbons. Other cuts, such as chuck or skirt, can also be used but they won’t give you the same length of ribbons.
- Aromatics: I like to boil the beef with a combination of onion, carrot, bell pepper, and garlic. You can use any colour bell pepper you like here.
- Bay Leaves: For added depth of flavour, add a couple bay leaves to the water.
- Red Bell Pepper: When it comes time to preparing the sauce for the carne mechada, I like to use red bell pepper for it’s colour and sweetness. I’ve tested this recipe with yellow and green bell peppers as well and while they’re both tasty, red bell peppers give the dish a much nicer colour and flavour in my opinion.
- Onion: Dice the onion the same size as the bell pepper so they cook evenly.
- Garlic: As always, measure this ingredient with your heart and don’t let anyone tell you there’s such a thing as too much.
- Spices: A simple combination of ground cumin and dry oregano help bring the carne mechada to life.
- Canned Diced Tomatoes: I’ve tested this recipe with both canned and fresh tomatoes and prefer the canned stuff. The juice from the canned tomatoes reduces down quicker and the texture of the tomatoes themselves are a bit juicier. Plus, it’s less work to use canned tomatoes.
- Fresh Cilantro: This is optional, but I like to add a little bit of fresh cilantro to the carne mechada right before serving. I find that it helps brighten up the flavours and adds a little pop of colour.
Ingredients You Need for the Fried Plantains
- Green, Unripened Plantains: For the crispiest fried plantains, you must use green, unripened plantains. If the plantains are yellow or brown, they will not get crispy.
- Coconut Oil: My absolute favourite oil to fry plantains in is coconut oil. If you don’t like the flavour of coconut, you can substitute avocado oil or any neutral-flavoured oil with a high smoke point.
- Salt: Immediately after coming out of the oil, lightly season the fried plantains with a pinch of salt.
Carne Mechada (Venezuelan-Style Shredded Beef) – Whole30, Paleo
For the Carne Mechada:
- 1 pound flank steak, sliced in half against the grain
- 2 medium carrots, roughly chopped
- 1 medium yellow onion, quartered
- 1 medium orange or yellow bell pepper, quartered
- 4 cloves garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 tablespoon avocado oil
- 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon dry oregano
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup canned diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
For the Fried Plantains:
- 4 unripened, green plantains, peeled and cut on a bias into 1.5” discs
- ½ cup coconut oil, plus more as needed
- Kosher salt, to taste
For the Carne Mechada:
- Add the flank steak to a large pot and add enough water to just cover. Set over high heat and bring to a steady simmer. Reduce the heat to medium and use a spoon to discard any foam that rises to the surface of the water, around 10 minutes.
- Add the carrots, onion, bell pepper, garlic, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon black peppercorns. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover with a lid, reduce the heat to low and cook until the steak can be easily shredded, around 1.5 hours.
- Transfer the steak to a tray and let cool. Discard the vegetables and pour the cooking broth through a sieve into a bowl. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking broth and set aside. Leftover broth can be stored in sealed jars and frozen up to 6 months.
- Wipe the pot clean and return it to a medium heat. Add the avocado oil and heat until shimmering. Add the diced red pepper and diced onion. Season with a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are soft and translucent, around 6 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin and oregano and cook, stirring, 60 seconds. Add the tomato paste and canned tomatoes and cook, stirring, until the liquid reduces by half in volume. Add the reserved beef broth and shredded flank steak and cook, stirring regularly, until the liquid reduces by at least half, around 10 minutes. Add the cilantro and stir to incorporate. Taste for seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as desired.
- Transfer the carne mechada to a large serving bowl and serve with the fried plantains and sliced avocado.
For the Fried Plantains:
- Preheat a frying pan over medium heat. Add the coconut oil and heat until shimmering. Add the plantains and cook until golden, around 3 minutes. Flip and cook the other side until golden, around 3 more minutes. Transfer par-cooked plantains to a tray. Using the bottom of a ramekin or tortilla press, gently smash each of the plantains into ¼”-thin discs.
- Working in batches, return the smashed plantains to the oil and fry until golden brown and crispy, around 2 minutes. Flip and cook the other side until golden brown and crispy, around 2 more minutes.
- Transfer the fried plantains to a tray lined with paper towel and lightly season salt. Serve immediately with the carne mechada or keep warm in a 200F oven until ready to serve.