Biftec Empanado - Breaded Beefsteak

 For the longest time in Puerto Rico, before the advent of  American style fast food joints, breaded steaks were a popular staple in mom-and-pop takeout places. These emporiums were called cafetines or "little cafes," and almost every town had one. Here the breaded steaks were enjoyed by the regulars. The idea transferred to the mainland and the cafetines became cuchifrito places, and they abounded at one time in what was called Spanish Harlem in New York. Today the term used is East Harlem, and most of the cafetines are gone, along with the migration of second generation Puerto Ricans to Florida.

I'm nostalgic for those old take-out places. They would serve the breaded steaks with french fries, or as a sandwich in a roll or Italian bread. At home we would have it as an entrĂ©e with rice and beans. In the old neighborhood, biftec empanado was prepared two ways: either with bread crumbs or cracker crumbs. I knew of one individual who mixed cracker crumbs with corn flakes. And the rule of thumb was always that the meat should be cut thin. Some neighbors pounded the meat into the thinness of  scalopine. In my family, we preferred thicker bictec empanado--and I still make it this way. Let me add that, for those who are shy of beef, chicken breasts or cutlets can be substituted.

In the recipe given, we do it the traditional criollo way by pounding all the spices in a mortar and pestle. If you're a modernista, or don't own a mortar and pestle, you can blend minced garlic cloves, the oregano, black pepper and salt to taste, along with olive oil and vinegar, and rub that onto the steaks. Then follow the rest of the recipe as given.

   (Breaded Beefsteak)

4 club steaks or beef round steaks (8 ounces per steak, about 1/2-inch thick)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried
12 whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
Vegetable oil for frying

1. Rinse meat under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.
2. Put garlic cloves, oregano, peppercorns and salt in a mortar. Pound with a pestle until crushed.
Add olive oil and vinegar and mix thoroughly.
3. Rub the seasoning into the steaks.
4. Dip each slice in the eggs, then coat with bread crumbs, pressing crumbs into both sides with the heel of the hand.
5. Heat oil in a large skillet, frying pan or deep fryer until golden brown (about 4-5 minutes depending upon thickness). Drain on absorbent paper towel and serve.
    Yield: 4 servings.