Tasajo is made from jerked beef that’s stewed in a tomato-based sauce with lots of peppers and onions. I love this dish! Every time I have a bite of Mami’s tasajo, it brings me back to the Formica dining table in our old duplex in Westchester, one of the most Latin neighborhoods in Miami (outside of Little Havana and Hialeah, of course). What I love about this dish is the saltiness and the texture.
How to best describe tasajo? It’s the salty cousin to Cuban ropa vieja. While using the same ingredients and preparation as ropa vieja, the texture and taste are transformed by the salting and drying process.
What is Tasajo Cubano?
Tasajo is beef that is salted, macerated, cured, and set to dry. It does not require refrigeration and it’s a throwback to time when most homes did not have a way to refrigerate foods. Horse meat was traditionally used in Cuban tasajo, but the tasajo you find in the US is made with beef, and that’s the one I grew up eating.
You may be able to find tasajo in the meat section of your local supermarket, but not always. You’ll have much better luck finding it in Latin supermarkets, sold in vacuumed sealed packages. But if you can’t find it locally, you should be able to purchase it online. (I have not purchased from this company before and this is not an affiliate link.)
Start this recipe the day before
Not gonna lie, this dish takes a while, but it’s worth it! First, you need to remove it from its packaging and soak overnight to remove some of the salt. The tasajo meat is covered in an orange layer of fat. The orange color is due to the beta carotene.
You can remove this layer of fat and soak it, but I don’t usually bother removing it (call me lazy… but Mami does it the same way). For those of you who are more industrious, you can remove the orange layer by scraping it off and washing with warm water. Divide the meat into 2-3 pieces, cutting against the grain.
Cooking and prepping
The next day, drain the tasajo and place in a pot with fresh water. Turn up the heat until the water begins to boil. Lower and simmer for 20 minutes or so. The orange layer will melt away. Drain and repeat the process, boiling for another 20 minutes. Drain once more and let it cool. If you’re in a hurry, you place it in the refrigerator to cool.
Once cooled, shred the meat with your fingers and remove any fatty pieces you find. Taste for saltiness and rinse over warm water if it’s too salty for your taste. From this point on, the process is very similar to making ropa vieja.
Cut half an onion, and a red bell pepper into slices and crush two garlic cloves. Set a sauté pan over medium heat, add a few tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the onions and peppers until translucent. Add the crushed garlic and cook for another minute. Then, add the tomato sauce, cooking wine, cumin, oregano and pepper. Add the shredded beef and simmer for 20-30 minutes. Adjust seasonings as needed and serve. Que rico!
What To Serve with Cuban Tasajo
Serve this dish with congri rice and boniato, a Cuban sweet potato. The dry, cured beef is rather salty so the mild flavor of the rice and beans and the sweetness of the boniato truly balances the dish… and I would argue it’s a must.
You can make congri rice with black beans or red beans. For this blog post, I paired this dish with the red bean congri, but it’s just as tasty with the black bean congri. Actually, the black bean version, also known as Moros y Cristianos, is the more popular rice dish.
Boniato is a Cuban potato that is white and slightly sweet. If you can’t find it, substitute with sweet potato. You can cut into chunks or rounds and boil it, roast it, fry it or stew it along with the meat. If you decide to stew it, you’ll need to add a little more sauce to the dish, so double the tomato sauce and cooking wine. Also add a bit of water if you notice the sauce is drying up.
As I was working on this recipe, I thought about the importance of balance. The salty tasajo really needs the counterpoint of the sweet boniato to really shine.
We all need a little balance in life, like ying and yang, sweet and salty, fire and ice.
Community helps us find this balance. Friends, family and significant others require us to make changes, to compromise, to let go of some things to accommodate others. We may not always like how messy this can be, but just like with cooking, a messy kitchen can lead to a spectacular feast.
So the next time you’re wishing someone would see things your way, do things your way or let you have your way, just think of how delicious it could be to embrace a different perspective, a new approach, a road less familiar to you.
Savor every moment, every bite, every fork in the road.
Tasajo is dry cured beef that’s stewed in tomato sauce with onions, red bell peppers and savory spices. It’s the salty cousin to Cuban ropa vieja.
1 lb tasajo (dry, cured beef) See note
½ a small onion (1/2 cup), chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Half a red bell pepper, cut into strips
½ cup tomato sauce
2 tablespoons cooking wine
½ teaspoon oregano
½ teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Start the day before. Remove the tasajo from its vacuum sealed package and cut into 2-3 pieces, across the grain. Set in a bowl and cover with water and let it soak overnight. You can leave it out or refrigerate, whatever you prefer.
The tasajo is covered with an orange fat layer. You can rinse this off or leave it on, either way it’s OK.
The next day, drain the water. Add the tasajo to a pot filled with water. Boil for 20 minutes. The orange layer will melt away.
Change water and bring to a boil and boil for another 20 minutes.
Remove the beef from the water and let it cool. Shred the beef with your fingers and remove any fatty tissue.
Chop the onion, cut the red bell pepper into slices, crush the garlic.
Take 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté onions and peppers until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beef, tomato sauce and cooking wine. Cook for about 15-20 minutes (if it’s a bit dry, add a ¼ cup of water).
Serve with congri and fried boniato. See note.
Tasajo is sold in vacuum sealed packages, and it’s covered with a bright orange layer of waxy fat. Don’t be put off by this, this layer helps preserve the meat and it melts away when you boil it. You should be able to find this specialty beef at most Latin supermarkets.
Boniato is a Cuban sweet potato that’s traditionally served with the tasajo. The sweetness of the potato helps balance the saltiness of the beef. If you can’t find boniato, substitute with sweet potato. Cut the potato into chunks or quarter inch think rounds, then roast or fry. You can also boil the potato (I never boil, though. It’s so much tastier when it’s fried or roasted.
Keywords: tasajo, cuban tasajo, tasajo cubano, cured dry beef