Bistec a caballo is the kind of hearty, Colombian chow that will feed a child with a full grown appetite – and grow the appetite of an aged person. The seasoned steak and eggs are as easily gobbled up by children on the back porch (barefoot from playing in the creek, their minds already on the next adventure), as they are sliced up during a late summer dinner party (complete with twinkling candles, and bottles of Cerveza Ancla – a popular Colombian brew).
Feeding children’s imagination
Though I had an overactive imagination as a child, I was never much good at certain types of pretend. I specifically remember trying to make myself have an imaginary friend because all the other kids had one.
I drug a rope around as a leash for two pitiful minutes before I gave up.
Even though I couldn’t conjure up characters, going on adventures in character was one of my favorite pastimes. My brother Michael and I ran the neighborhood as any number of characters. Often he was the Lone Ranger and I was Tonto – mostly because I loved Tonto’s brown and white horse named Scout. We didn’t have a creek to play in but our feet were chalky from running in the playground sand across the street. We were gone from the house for hours – finding rocks, sticks, and questionable scraps to play with – until we were so hungry we’d gobble up anything mom made.
Little cowboy Michael loved when Mom made steak.
Colombian thoughts on childhood
As I prepared to make my first-ever batch of Colombian bistec a caballo, I couldn’t help but think about Michael’s love of steak. And I found myself wondering about the Colombian experience of childhood.
I stumbled across a snippet of poetry from the Colombian modernist poet José Asunción Silva (1865-1896) – the man immortalized on the 5,000 pesos bill.
After experiencing the death of his 4 siblings (3 by the age of 10) Silva certainly had conflicted feelings about his early years. He wrote in his poem Childhood that the “hazy memories / Time so generously glorifies” help us maintain a “fantasy of happy childhood days.”
But the poem ends beautifully:
Childhood, hallowed valley
Of blessed calm and coolness,
Where rays that will later blast our days
So softly shine,
How saintly your pure innocence,
How fleeting your brief happiness,
How sweet in hours of bitterness
To turn back to the past
And call upon those memories!
Excerpt from “Childhood” by José Asunción Silva
I can relate to Silva’s impassioned sentiments. Michael has been gone since 1992 – just a boy himself when he died – but my hallowed memories of long afternoons romping through the neighborhood on an imaginary horse are certainly sweet… even if they are part fantasy.
What does bistec a caballo mean?
I’d like to think bistec a caballo is the kind of meal Michael would have gobbled up. Sure, the seasonings are different from what Mom would have used – cumin, garlic, oregano, and cilantro – but the spirit of the thing is right up his alley.
But alarm bells might go off if you know Spanish. After all, caballo means horse.
But have no fear. Tonto’s beloved Scout was not harmed in the making of this dish.
Bistec means beefsteak – and, in poetic terms, bistec a caballo is a Colombian cowboy feast… a dish on horseback, so to speak.
To make it, most Colombians add flaps of steak to a pan along with onion, tomato, and the occasional crush of garlic. But I was drawn to the recipes that marinate and grill the steak – this gives it an unctuous crust and deeper flavor – before topping it with pan-fried onion and tomato.
So, who is the rider?
It could be the smothering of onion and tomato.
Or it could be the fried egg.
I happen to think it’s all three.
How to make Bistec a Caballo
First, marinate a tender cut of steak in oregano, garlic, cumin, oil, salt, and pepper.
Let the steak rest this way for a good hour. Overnight is fine, too.
When you’re almost ready to eat, cook up some rice.
Meanwhile, add a pile of onion to a well-oiled pan. This Colombian clay skillet keeps the onions moist, even as the turn golden.
Once they soften, add some garlic and chopped tomato.
Season well and cook until the tomatoes have just begun to slump into the onion’s sweet warmth.
Look for golden hues…
Next: grill the steak and fry some eggs.
I like to grill my steak over high heat for several minutes per side. Cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of your cut – but mine was medium after 5-7 minutes per side.
Finally, assemble the dish!
Each person gets rice topped with steak, the onion mixture and a fried egg (don’t forget to add a sprinkling of fresh cilantro).
Enjoy for brunch, lunch, or dinner.
Oh, and vegetarians (like my daughter) can substitute a portabella mushroom for the steak … just marinate it the same way!
Colombian Entertaining Prize Package
One of you will win Colombian cookware and plates for your very own dinner party, generously provided by Colombia es Mas Cookware (CEM Cookware). To enter, simply leave a comment sharing what you’d like to cook in the casserole! A winner will be selected by 8/24/2015 and announced in this post.
The Colombian Entertaining Prize Package includes: