The Frita Cubana, pronounced free-tah, emerged in Havana, Cuba, during the 1930s. Over time, it has evolved into a delectable cross-cultural delight. This Cuban hamburger boasts an intricate blend of ground beef and pork, accentuated with garlic, yellow onion, cumin, and both sweet Spanish and smoked paprika. The melange is generously topped with a special sauce, lettuce, and the crowning glory, shoestring potatoes, all sandwiched between warm, crusty Cuban rolls.
Origin and Evolution: The Frita Cubana’s Story
The Frita Cubana owes its origin to the vibrant streets of Havana, where local vendors, known as Friteros, used to sell these unique burgers from their stands or ‘Puestos.’ This hamburger gained fame for its distinct flavor, a result of its ingredients and the unique method of preparation.
In 1962, the Frita Cubana’s popularity crossed borders when Ramon Estevill introduced it to Miami’s burgeoning food scene by opening his small eatery. Today, Miami takes pride in the ‘El Rey De Las Fritas,’ arguably the most popular Frita joint in the city. Here, the legacy of the Frita Cubana thrives, offering a bite of Cuba’s culinary tradition to the city’s diverse population.
Frita Cubana ~ An Ode to the Cuban Hamburger
For the Special Sauce
- 1 cup ketchup
- ¼ cup water
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar or white vinegar
- 1 ½ tsp sweet Spanish paprika
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ tsp sriracha
For The Shoestring Potatoes
- 4 russet potatoes
- 1 cup vegetable oil for frying or more as needed
For the Burgers
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 lb ground pork
- 2 tbsp garlic finely minced – about 4 cloves
- 1 ½ cups yellow onion finely minced – divided (1/2 cup will be used to top the cooked burgers)
- 3 tbsp ketchup
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp sweet Spanish paprika
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika sweet not spicy
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- Black pepper to taste
- 8 Cuban rolls brioche rolls or hamburger buns, toasted
- To make the sauce, mix all of the ingredients together in a small saucepan: 1 cup ketchup, ¼ cup water, 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar, 1 ½ tsp sweet Spanish paprika, 1 tsp ground cumin, 1 tsp salt, ½ tsp dried oregano and ½ tsp sriracha. Cook at a gentle simmer, partially covered, for 5 minutes. The Sauce can be made a day ahead and refrigerated until ready to use.
- Peel 4 russet potatoes and shred them on a box grater or in your food processor with the coarse shredding blade. Swish them in a bowl of cold water, pour out cloudy water, and repeat until the water is clear. Just before frying, drain them in a colander and dry them well by squeezing them between several clean absorbent dish towels. The dryer the better for getting them crisp and brown. Pour 1 cup vegetable oil into a heavy, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat and fry the potatoes, in small batches, until they’re golden brown. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and sprinkle with salt.
- Make the meat mixture in a large bowl or in a food processor. Combine 1 lb ground beef, and 1 lb ground pork with 1 ½ cups yellow onion, and 2 tbsp garlic. Mix by hand or pulse a few times in the food processor, to combine. Add 3 tbsp ketchup, 1 tsp ground cumin, 2 tsp sweet Spanish paprika, 2 teaspoons smoked paprika, and 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt. Mix by hand or pulse just until combined. Form the meat into 8 thin patties.
- Cook patties in batches, on a preheated flat griddle or in a frying pan coated with a little vegetable oil, over medium heat, for 2-4 minutes per side or until they’re cooked to your liking. (I suggest medium rare to medium). Season with salt and Black pepper, to taste.
- To assemble the fritas, spread some special sauce over the bottom half of a 8 Cuban rolls. Place a patty on top, add more sauce, some finely chopped raw onion and a big pile of shoestring fried potatoes. Spread a little sauce on the inside of the top bun and place it on top. Repeat with remaining burgers. Serve immediately.
Indulging in the Cuban Flavors
As you take a bite into the Frita Cubana, the distinct flavors transport you to the sunny streets of Havana. The richness of the ground meats blends perfectly with the sharpness of the garlic and the sweetness of the onions. The spices lend a smoky depth to the burger that is simply irresistible.
The special sauce, a blend of ketchup, spices, and a hint of vinegar, ties the flavors together while the shoestring potatoes add an unexpected crunch, making every bite a surprise. Whether you’re preparing this for a family dinner or an informal gathering, the Frita Cubana is sure to be a showstopper.
As the saying goes, “coman bien mis amigos” or “eat well my friends.” Enjoy the flavors of Cuba from your kitchen, and remember, every dish has a story. Happy cooking!
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