I love a good plate of bistec encebollado (steak and onions)! Sweet, caramelized onions mixed with tender bits of steak is simple, yet delicious. This steak and onion recipe can be used to make tacos, topped with your favorite salsa (a couple of mine are here and here), and sliced avocado. Or make these into a torta with a toasted baguette or telera (a Mexican style bread) and top with melted cheese. We serve ours with black beans and authentic Mexican-style red rice for a complete meal.
Where is bistec encebollado from?
I like to do a bit of research on the dishes that I make and share with you. It is interesting to understand where the dish is from, how it came to Mexico, and where the origin of the name comes from.
With bistec encebollado, the exact origin is unclear. There are many versions of this dish throughout Latin America and other parts of the world. In my research, I was able to find versions from Peru, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, and other Central American countries. Each region has its own particular twist on this dish.
And even in Mexico, this dish is made in a variety of ways, depending on the customs of each family or cook.
Interestingly, the word bistec in Spanish comes from the English words beef steak. And although steak is common throughout Mexico, cows were introduced only after the Spanish conquest.
Author Ricardo Muñoz Zurita explains that Mexico’s climate was favorable to producing beef, pork, sheep, and goat, which made these meats relatively inexpensive. Therefore, they gained popularity. Now, you can find tacos, stews, or dishes made with these meats throughout Mexico.
Where does this recipe come from?
Many of my recipes I have learned from cooks in Mexico, like my mother-in-law, Mexican host mother, or friends. However, this recipe for bistec encebollado is adapted from Mely Martinez’s recipe at Mexico en Mi Cocina.
My husband had asked for this dish one day for our afternoon comida (meal). I was in a hurry and had steak and onions on hand. So, I asked the lady who helps in our house to prepare this dish while I went to pick up our kids from school.
I got back to find an unappetizing skillet full of translucent, stewed onions and bits of steak. It was bland and flavorless. There were no sweet, golden onions that my husband was craving. He took a couple of bites and claimed he was “full.” Being the devoted carnivore that he is, I could tell he was unhappy.
I knew that this was a dish that I was going to have to learn and master. So, I did a quick internet search and found Mely’s recipe. Of all of the other recipes that I looked at, this one seemed the most straightforward and it included beer. I was definitely interested.
I have adapted this recipe to season the steak with salt and garlic powder (I don’t use any pepper in this dish). My preference is also to cut the steak into strips instead of leaving them whole as she does. I do this because it makes it easier to serve up for tacos, which is how we normally eat this dish.
Lastly, I don’t use any beef bullion cubes or broth for this dish. I fry the beef in a bit of oil, add some beer, cover, and allow the meat to release its natural juices to flavor this dish. The reason that I don’t use any beef bullion is simple. It isn’t an ingredient that I normally have on hand.
Tips for making bistec encebollado
Use separate pans for the steak and the onions
The best part about this dish for me is the onions. I find it much easier to get perfectly golden onions when I cook the steak and the onions separately. Start the steak in one skillet by frying the strips in a bit of oil. I move the steak occasionally to allow the pieces to brown up evenly. Once the steak is no longer pink, add in the beer. At this point, I reduce the heat down and cover the steak. The beer continues to season the steak while I work on the onions.
In a separate skillet, heat a bit of oil and once it is shimmering, add in the onions and diced garlic. I like to fry these, moving occasionally to keep the onions and garlic from getting too brown. Check your heat and adjust if necessary if things are moving too fast. The goal is a beautiful, golden-brown color, not dark and burnt. And typically, this process is slow. For me, it takes between 12-15 minutes to get the onions golden the way I like them. Take your time with this step and don’t rush it.
Once you have the onions ready, add them to steak and cook a bit uncovered to reduce the liquid and allow the flavors to blend.
Use lots of onions
I like extra onions with this dish. The onions are sweet, perfectly golden, and flavorful. And while it might seem like the number of onions is excessive, the onions will reduce as they cook. So what might seem like a lot to start with, will look like not so much once they are cooked. I suggest 3 large onions for this dish.
Typically, I have white onions on hand, but you could easily substitute with yellow if you prefer. Once these onions are sliced, I usually have around 6 cups of sliced onions. If this just seems like an insane amount, try starting with 2 large white onions (~4 cups sliced). I have made this dish with both 2 and 3 onions and can say that I preferred the dish with more onions. Of course, that is my own personal preference, but you can always adjust to your own tastes.
Use beer to cook with
I like the flavor that beer imparts to this dish. I am not using it as a marinade beforehand, just simply adding this as a liquid to help moisten and flavor the meat. Since I am in Mexico, I typically have a Mexican beer on hand. I have made this with whatever I have in the fridge at the time, Victoria, Corona, Negro Modelo, or Bohemia. You can use what you have on hand too, but I would say that you definitely want to use a beer that has some flavor. Something really light tasting isn’t going to give any extra oomph to this dish. And since we are only using a 1/2 cup, the bonus is you get to drink the rest of the bottle while you cook!
Adapted from: Mely Martinez at Mexico en mi Cocina
Bistec Encebollado (steak and onions)
- 1 lb thinly sliced sirloin steaks, cut into strips The cut that I buy is about 1/4 inch thick
- salt to taste
- garlic powder to taste
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
- 1/2 cup beer
- 3 large white onions, quartered and thinly sliced ~6 cups
- 2-3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium heat in a large skillet
- Season steaks with salt and garlic powder
- Add steaks to hot oil and fry, stirring occasionally, until no longer pink and meat has released its juices, about 5-7 minutes
- Add beer to the pan with the meat, cover, and reduce heat, simmering gently until ready to serve
- Add remaining oil to a non-stick skillet and heat over medium-high heat until shimmering, about 2-3 minutes
- Add onions and garlic, stirring occasionally, about 12-15 minutes or until onions are golden brown in color
- Add onions to steak and stir to combine. Continue cooking uncovered another 2-3 minutes to reduce remaining liquid and allow flavors to blend.
- Check for salt and adjust as necessary