What is olla de carne?
Olla de carne is the ultimate beef stew of Costa Rica.
It consists of poached pieces of beef that are slowly cooked with vegetables to give a tasty, very aromatic broth, with meats and vegetables that are melting and delicious. It is a very comforting dish, served with white rice: one of the must-haves in Costa Rican cuisine.
So popular that Ticos (residents of Costa Rica) used to have it for dinner every day. Today, Costa Ricans consume it at least once a week for lunch or dinner on weekends since it takes a long time to cook. Olla de carne is served in popular restaurants, usually once a week.
This stew is particularly rich in local vegetables, both in terms of quantity and variety. Costa Rica is indeed a country of agricultural traditions with a very varied production.
Olla de carne used to reflect the economic situation of families, the diversity of ingredients in the soup was used to assess the wealth of households.
In this recipe, taro, sweet potato, corn and yellow plantain bring sweetness to the dish, which gives it a very special character.
What is the origin of olla de carne?
Like for many countries in Central and South America, Costa Rica’s gastronomy is the result of a multi-ethnic heritage. In fact, indigenous culture has mixed with the techniques and ingredients brought by European settlers. Africa has also influenced the cuisine of the country.
Olla de carne is a very good example of this mix: the beef and the cooking method come from Europe, the vegetables were grown by the natives before colonization and the plantains came from Africa.
The ancestor of this dish, immortalized in the novel Don Quixote by Cervantes, is olla podrida (literally “potpourri”), a Spanish stew from the Middle Ages, cooked in a terracotta pot, also called olla.
Olla de carne, translated as “pot of meat”, is just one of many versions of beef stews around the world.
It is reminiscent of French pot-au-feu, dating from the thirteenth century.
It was also a daily meal in the Middle Ages and for that. Its cooking was done continuously on the wood fire, by adding water to the broth when needed and by adding ingredients to replace those that were consumed.
There is a very similar version in Colombia called sancocho, a soup often made from chicken but that can be made with beef. There is typically more meat, plantain, corn and cassava.
What is salsa Lizano?
Lizano sauce is the essential sauce to complement dishes in Costa Rica. Everyone has a bottle in their kitchen, and restaurants always offer it to customers. It is found in particular in the recipe of gallo pinto, the national dish of the country. According to a Costa Rican saying: “Donde hay a tico, hay lizano” (where there is a Costa Rican, there is Lizano).
This condiment is as common as mustard in France, horseradish in Germany or wasabi in Japan.
It is a brown sauce, composed of onions, carrots, cauliflowers, cucumbers, salt, sugar and spices, as well as other ingredients. Its exact composition is in fact kept secret and today, it is truly known to only one man: Claudio Rojas Araya, the heir of the famous recipe.
It is sweet, salty, acidic and slightly spicy (5/10 on the scale of Scoville) at the same time. It allows to spice up the Costa Rican dishes because unlike most countries of Latin America, the cuisine of Costa Rica is not very spicy or salty.
How to serve olla de carne
This type of dish is always better the next day because the flavors will have time to harmonize. There is also another advantage to cooking it the day before, since after cooling, it will be very easy to remove the fat present in the broth that has hardened on the surface. The broth will be less oily but just as tasty.
This dish is often presented divided into 3 parts: a dish containing the vegetables, a large bowl of broth with meat and a rice dish.
Finally, you may accompany the olla de carne with slices of orange that will refresh the palate during the tasting, an interesting additional to the stew.
This recipe is validated by Chef Randy Siles Leandro, first Ambassador of Costa Rica’s National Plan for Sustainable and Healthy Gastronomy. Randy is the owner and creator of OS restaurant, cofounder of Autóktono and founder of Academia Artesanos de la Gastronomía in Costa Rica.
- 2 lb beef shank , cut into pieces
- 4 lb beef short ribs (with bone), cut into pieces
- 2 onions , chopped
- 2 stalks celery , diced
- 2 red bell peppers , diced
- 6 cloves garlic , chopped
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 sprig thyme
- 1 small bunch cilantro , finely chopped
- 2 lb potatoes , cut into large cubes
- 1½ lb cassava , cut into large cubes
- 1 lb sweet potatoes , cut into large cubes
- 2 taro roots , cut into large cubes
- 2 chayotes , cut into large cubes
- 3 carrots , sliced
- 4 ears of corn , cut into large slices
- 1 yellow plantain
- 1 green plantain
- Salsa Lizano
- In a large pot of boiling water, over medium heat, boil the meat with the onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, cumin, thyme, and cilantro (keep a little to serve). Season with salt and pepper.
- When the meat begins to soften, after about 45 minutes, skim, lower the heat to low and simmer for 3h30.
- After 1h30 of cooking, add the taro, the cassava, and the corn.
- After 2 hours of cooking, add the chayotes and the carrots.
- After 2h30 of cooking, add the potatoes, plantains and sweet potatoes.
- Add boiling water if necessary, as the liquid must always be at the height of the meat and vegetables.
- Serve with broth, pilaf white rice, hot sauce, orange wedges, fresh herbs and Lizano sauce (typical Costa Rican sauce).