Real Deal Frita Cubana Recipe and History

I’m a giant fan of la Frita Cubana (pronounced free-tah), known as the Cuban burger in some circles. So, I’ve combined both the Frita Cubana’s history and my recipe in one post.

My Dad introduced me to la Frita Cubana via Morro Castle in Hialeah. While he watched me take my first bite, it was tense, but then he was relieved to find out I was in love.

My lifelong passion for the Frita Cubana and its history never subsides. So, I take it very seriously when someone slaps the moniker of Frita Cubana on their burger as a marketing gimmick.

A Frita Cubana is a Frita Cubana, accept no cheap imitations.

What is a Frita Cubana?

La Frita Original from El Rey de las Fritas in Miami, Florida
La Frita Original from El Rey de las Fritas

La Frita Cubana is a mix of ground beef (sometimes chorizo or pork is added), spices, julienne cut potatoes or potato sticks, diced raw onions, and ketchup (rumored to be tomato paste, not ketchup in Cuba). Some variations include cooked onions or no tomato-based products at all.

In Cuba, the julienne potatoes were sometimes substituted by some other root vegetable (cassava or malanga, for example) due to the scarcity of foods. However, after eating Fritas with some alternative veggies, I can confirm that potato is still the way.

The Friteros (fellas who made Fritas) cut up loaves of bread to fit the well-seasoned mini smashed patties. Once in the U.S., they first appeared in a burger bun. Later, Cuban rolls were introduced in Miami and are now the most common vessel for the Frita.

Adding cheese to your Frita is frowned upon by purists, but it is delicious.

Burger Beast’s Frita Cubana Recipe

Here’s the perfect Frita Cubana recipe from someone in Miami who knows about the topic, the Burger Beast. When I was a little kid at Morro Castle in Hialeah, my father introduced me to the Frita Cubana, Cuba’s favorite street food.

The Hijo de la Gran Frita recipe below has been served at some of my Cruz Diablo Pop-ups. Don’t forget, a shake goes great with a Frita!

Burger Beast 15th Blogiversary Frita Cubana
Burger Beast 15th Blogiversary Frita Cubana

Equipment

  • 2 Bowls
  • Cheese Grater
  • Cast Iron Skillet or Frying Pan
  • Knife for Dicing
  • Paper Towels

Ingredients

  • 1 pound ground beef (chuck)
  • 3 tbsp Spanish paprika
  • 2 tsp granulated garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • ¼ tsp cumin
  • 1 tbsp Crystal hot sauce
  • 1 large yellow onion (diced)
  • 2 medium russet potatoes
  • 1 cup cooking oil or as needed
  • 5 rolls, preferably Cuban rolls or hamburger rolls

Julienne PotatoesInstructions

  1. Shred the two potatoes on a cheese grater, then rinse them thoroughly until the water is clear.
  2. Drain and squeeze dry on paper towels. To get them crispy, you must remove as much moisture as possible.
  3. Add the cooking oil to a non-stick pan and heat to medium-high. Add the potatoes and cook until crispy.
  4. Let the potatoes dry on paper towels and season with salt according to your taste.
  5. The most challenging part of the recipe is getting the julienne potatoes right, but there’s a little cheat. Go to your local grocer and purchase Ore-Ida Shredded Hash Brown Potatoes instead. Another option is using Chifles Plantain Sticks.
Burger Beast Frita Dust Seasoning

Frita CubanaInstructions

  1. Mix the smoked Spanish paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, cumin, and Crystal hot sauce into the ground chuck.
  2. Make five equally-sized balls of seasoned meat.
  3. Take one of the Frita-seasoned balls of beef, and using a thick spatula, smash it onto a cast-iron skillet on a burner at medium-high heat.
  4. Grab a respectable large pinch of diced onions and place it on the smashed patty.
  5. Add salt as you would to any burger that you’re cooking.
  6. After cooking for approximately forty-five seconds to a minute, flip the Frita onto the onion side to finish.
  7. Place the bottom bun on the Frita while it’s finishing, and let it warm slightly. If you have the time or preference, you can toast the buns lightly beforehand.
  8. Slide the spatula under the deliciousness and flip it. The bottom bun will rest on your hand with the Frita and onions.
  9. You can add some raw diced onions and maybe a little dash of ketchup to bring out the flavor of the patty and the julienne potatoes.
  10. All that’s left is to add the top bun, and you’re good to go!

Notes

This is not a replacement for hitting up your favorite Frita Cubana restaurants, but trust me, this recipe will eventually come in clutch. Next, you should read about how I cook my burgers on an outdoor grill.

Download the recipe HERE so you can print it out.

Frita Cubana History

Puesto de Frita aka Frita Cart by PONG
Puesto de Frita aka Frita Cart, a illustration by PONG

The Frita Cubana dates back to 1920s Cuba. Back then, it was street food. Propane-fueled stoves in hot dog-type carts lined the street selling Fritas to customers.

The Fritas were only about 2 ounces and were the perfect afternoon snack. One of the mysteries of the Frita Cubana is when exactly did it disappear from Cuba? In March of 1968, all Frita Cubana Stands or “Puestos de Frita” as they are referred to disappeared.

Dagoberto Estevil brought the Frita Cubana to Miami in 1961 when he opened up in Little Havana (8th Street and 12th). He named his restaurant Fritas Domino. Unfortunately, the original location is no longer open.

However, in the late 1980s, Estevil’s children opened a Fritas Domino on 8th Street and 67th Avenue in Miami. You can primarily find Fritas in Cuban cafeterias in South Florida. Now, the good ones are harder to find.

El Rey De Las Fritas is a mini-chain of Frita restaurants in South Florida. Their best-known location in Little Havana burned down ten years ago but has been re-opened in a different spot.

The restaurants known to have the “Best Frita in Miami” are Chug’s Diner, Cuban Guys, El Mago De Las Fritas, El Rey De Las Fritas and Morro Castle.

R.I.P. to Frita Man, Frita Queen, Fritas Domino, La Palma and the original Morro Castle in Little Havana.

Is the Frita Cubana Still Available in Cuba?

I’m always digging through archives trying to find information about not old school burger joints and, of course, the Frita Cubana.

I found an El Nuevo Herald article from August 13 of 2008, entitled, “Vuelven a saborearse en La Habana las inolvidables fritas” by Wilfredo Cancio Isla. It also mentions they they’re back on the island.

As of June of 2008 the Frita Cubana was again available at the cafeteria attached to Restaurante Puerto de Sagua in La Habana Vieja. They are served traditional style with soft bread and julienne malanga (not potatoes like you find in Miami).

Malanga?

It’s not the first time I hear of malanga or even sweet potato being used in place of regular potatoes. I have not been able to find out if this was just regional thing throughout Cuba or just because of scarcity of product.

The current cost for a Frita Cubana is $1 US (24 Cuban Pesos) but this was more than ten years ago so don’t hold me to that.

Polarizing Cuban journalist Max Lesnik is the man behind the Frita Cubana’s reappearance in Cuba. He somehow secured the original recipe that famed fritero Sebastián Carro Seijido of the Puerto de Sagua cafeteria used.

The recipes calls for 60% Beef and 30% Pork mixed with old Bread soaked in milk, pimenton (a mild Spanish paprika), diced onions, garlic and as previously mentioned, julienne malanga fries.

In 2013, my fried visited Cuban and guess what he ate? You guessed it, a Frita Cubana.

A Frita Cubana in Cuba
A Frita Cubana in Cuba

The Frita Showdown

The Frita Showdown was an annual event I held at Magic City Casino to celebrate the Frita Cubana from 2013 to 2017.

Burger Beast’s inaugural Frita Showdown happened on Wednesday, August 14th, 2013. El Rey de las Fritas was crowned the winner by a panel of judges.

Below are the Frita Showdown winners from 2013 to 2017:

Frita Showdown 2013 Judge’s WinnerEl Rey De Las Fritas
Frita Showdown 2014 Judge’s WinnerEl Mago De Las Fritas
Frita Showdown 2014 People’s WinnerEl Rey De Las Fritas
Frita Showdown 2015 Judge’s WinnerEl Rey De Las Fritas
Frita Showdown 2016 People’s WinnerEl Rey De Las Fritas
Frita Showdown 2017 People’s WinnerEl Rey De Las Fritas

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