Learning my Lesson from Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen

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I have a confession to make.
I’m really kind of embarrassed about this, but here goes. . .
I spent years being disappointed by good old-fashioned American-style meatloaf.
There. I said it.
Growing up in a Cuban household here in the U.S.A. brings with it lots of cultural confusion. Meatloaf is my own personal hot button. Every time I had meatloaf, I kept thinking it would be tender, moist and flavorful (that right there sounded like a cat food commercial, didn’t it? Sorry. =D)
I am still stinging from the pain and confusion of Meatloaf Disappointment. Does anyone out there know what I’m even talking about? (sigh – it’s lonely out here on this limb.)
I never met a meatloaf that matched what my taste buds were clamoring for. The dry, brown, meat-food that desperately needed ketchup (or “kachoo” in Spanish) just to make it palatable was so NOT what I wanted, that I finally just gave up.
That’s right. I grew up, got on with my life and just lived with the disappointment. I finally chalked it up to that no-one-makes-this-dish-like-my-mom thing. And so said goodbye to meatloaf altogether, until . . .
I finally asked my mom what she did to make it taste so good.
Lesson number one: American meatloaf and Cuban meatloaf are light years apart. We Cubans only call it meatloaf to give Americans a frame of reference. We call it Pulpeta. (which sounds like there should be an octopus involved, but that’s not important right now).
Lesson number two: It’s not baked in a loaf pan, but seared and then gently simmered in a savory Cuban-style sauce. Shut.Up. That, right there, makes ALL the difference! (This lesson is best learned with a sharp slap to the forehead and a hearty “Du-oh!”)
Lesson number three: It is OKAY if you’re Cuban to not like American-style meatloaf. Embrace it. It will save you years of therapy. =D
1 lb. Ground beef
½ lb. Ground pork
1 small can deviled ham (or you can grind your own ham)
1 cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 beaten eggs
1 tsp salt.
1 tsp. ground pepper
1 tsp. paprika
½ tsp. oregano
2 hard boiled eggs
Another cup seasoned bread crumbs
2 more beaten eggs
½ cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
½ green bell pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large can tomato sauce
1 cup dry white wine
1 small jar diced pimientos
1 small can sweet peas
1 bay leaf
Wash your hands and roll up your sleeves. Trust me. There’s no better way..
1) In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork and deviled ham.
2) To this meat mixture add 1 cup of breadcrumbs, 2 beaten eggs, salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and knead it together until it’s thoroughly combined.
3) Shape this mixture into an oblong loaf.
4) Take the 2 hard-boiled eggs and push them into the loaf, so that they end up right in the center of the loaf, end to end. Shape the meat back into its oblong shape.
5) Refrigerate for at least an hour.
6) Put the rest of the breadcrumbs on a flat plate.
7) Put the other 2 beaten eggs on another plate.
8) Carefully roll the loaf in the beaten eggs, then roll in the breadcrumbs. Repeat.
9) In a large shallow frying pan, gently brown the loaf on all sides in olive oil. You are basically searing the outside until it creates a nice, crunchy crust.
10) In a pot with a heavy bottom, heat the olive oil and add the garlic, peppers and onions. Cook until soft. Add tomato sauce, white wine, pimientos, peas and bay leaf.
11) Gently place the seared meat into this mixture and reduce heat to low.
12) Cover and simmer over low heat for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Spoon the sauce over the meat occasionally as it cooks.
13) Remove the meat to a serving platter and allow to rest.
14) Slice the meat into about 1 ½ inch slices and be prepared for the ooohs and aaahs when you slice it to reveal the hard-boiled eggs.
15) Pour sauce over meat if desired.
Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. I feel so much better now. =D

9 thoughts on “Learning my Lesson from Marta’s Cuban American Kitchen”

  1. My mom’s take on meatloaf was carne fria which was a spicy type meatloaf which you would have to put in the fridge and serve cold.
    got to try your recipe

  2. Thank you Marta for the pulpeta recipe!!!!!
    Do you have the Pasta para bocaditos recipe?(simple as in Havana birthday parties)
    The Bronx

  3. Jose –
    Cuban birthday parties! Carne fria, croquetas y bocaditos. Yes, I have the recipes. We’ll definitely do that another day. =D

  4. Hay Martica!! Even as I was reading the beginning of your post I was already formulating in my mind what to tell you about my secret ingredient to the perfect Meatloaf!!! Lo and behold – there it was, that little can of Deviled Ham. I don’t know why – but no matter what else you do or put in it, without that little can, it just doesn’t taste the same.

  5. A restaurant in the West Village NYC called “Deborah”…best.meatloaf.EVER!
    I must try making your pulpeta.

  6. American meatloaf does tend to be a little dull. Maybe add some garlic cloves and red pepper.

    Hmmm…I might try a version of this pulpeta with curry powder…

  7. This is both for Jose from The Bronx and for Marta, of course. I’ve been searching for that same ubiquitous Pasta de bocaditos Habanera from the 50’s; the one made from queso crema, pimientos morrones, algun tipo de jamon y no se que mas. AS soon as I find the right recipe, I’ll share it with all of you. Birthday parties have never been the same w/o that pasta de bocaditos.

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