This is another dish I hadn’t heard of before I went to Panama. Bistec Picado roughly translates to “Chopped Beef,” but is closer to the pepper steak I had grown up eating in Chinese-Cuban joints in NYC. This dish again shows the mixture of cultures in Panama, using soy sauce from the Chinese migration, and a tomato based sauce with strong flavors from the Caribbean (what the Panamanians called al estillo criolla, meaning the Creole-style.) In Panama, I have found that the meat is usually not as tender or flavorful as I would like, so I did some searching on Cooks Illustrated, and found that they use blade steak in their stir fry recipes. I thought this would work here, because I was using the same technique of cooking the meat in small pieces about 80% of the way, and then finishing it in a sauce built in the same pan in which I sautéed the meat. I like to get my meat from the butcher when I can, starting from as large of a cut as possible. Here, I got a little less than a pound of blade (my butcher calls it chicken steak.) There is a line of connective tissue that runs right through the middle of this piece. Cut the meat into two large chunks at this line, and then trim away the tissue before slicing up for the dish.
After butchering the meat, you will want to marinate it for a couple of hours. I used soy sauce, a little Worcester sauce, smashed garlic, chopped onion and culantro.
First, quickly cook the beef in olive oil, in two batches if you need to. We are not going for a brown here, just trying to get rid of the pink color on each side.
The Grub Blogger used a standard Panamanian sofrito here, with a little rift. Sofrito is like the Cajun trinity or mire poix, a mixture of aromatic vegetables and herbs to give the baseline flavor to a dish. Here I used red bell pepper, a cubanelle, onion, garlic and added herb de provence and cayenne to the mix. I have found these flavors work well with many Panamanian dishes, and I don’t think I am going to far off the reservation by adding a little to a food culture that carefully borrows good flavors from other palates. Sweat the sofrito. Then, you can put in a small can of regular tomato sauce.
We are not making a proper pasta-type sauce here, so you don’t want too much. I used a Panmanian brand, but you can use a standard small can of tomato sauce. Add a little water, and let this cook for a few minutes to marry the flavors. Then, add back in the beef with the accumulated juices (there is a lot of flavor in here), along with some water if the sauce is very thick.
Simmer for a few minutes to combine flavors and finish cooking the meat. You should have a fairly think sauce. We ate this with patacones and a little hot sauce.