Beef & “Awful”


For millennia the peoples of the lower Americas have existed on miniscule portions of meat will no cultural or physical damage and amongst today’s average citizen it’s still the norm. The three food groups of meso/central America were and in most cases are sweet, starchy and spicy and, as I’ve stated early, it has been estimated that the average Panamanian eats less meat protein daily then the American house cat. Anyway today every part of the beef has its place hence the “awful” subtitle meaning offal like tripe, hoof, ears, tongues, tail and most internal organs as many of the following recipes illustrate. Early on during the colonial period since there was no refrigeration only the hides of the cow left the country and the beef was consumed locally AT WHAT HAS BEEN THOUGHT AS THE HIGHEST RATE IN ALL THE AMERICAS DURING THE PERIOD but now  many a meal uses a hoof, a head or a tail as the only protein component. It’s also hard for English speakers to identity meat cuts in Panama since the dialect spoken here is Caribbean Spanish and differs greatly from the patois used in Mexico or other South American countries. Without reservation I can state that if you examine the titles for the same cut of meat from 8 separate countries you’ll find six different euphemisms for the same cut or, due to the incomes and cooking technology of the locals, the muscle you’ve grow accustomed to purchasing in your local market is only sold in  unidentifiable small pieces



Tongue is a common dish is Europe where it’s pickled, corned, smoked or added to pates and sausage, think Oscar Meyer, and a nice slice between two pieces of whole grain bread is considered a treat. The Romans often served the tongues of flamingos, nightingales and larks at their banquets so why not a little beef, pork, lamb or cod? Anyway it’s no worse then raw fish, or an order of chicken nuggets, and it was a fairly common in North American before the advent of global feed lots but  today you’ll probably have to go to a Hispanic or Asian  market to find one. The procedure calls for braising the cleaned tongue till it’s tender and then removing the skin before serving. At that point you can also chill it and later slice it for a cold meat platter, or saute it either breaded or reheat it in a sauce.

1   pounds calf or cows tongue

2   whites of leek, cut into rounds and washed well

1 can peeled plum tomatoes with juice or 4 ounces chopped sundried tomatoes

1 small bunch culantro leaves

2 tablespoons fresh oregano chopped

1 tablespoon thyme

8 bay leafs

1 teaspoon chipotles or several minced spicy hot chilies

1 teaspoon achiote paste

1 teaspoon allspice

1 sprig green pepper corns, or 1 tablespoon brined

4 ounces balsamic, apple cider or red wine vinegar

To taste granulated chicken base

  1. Cover the washed tongue with water in an appropriate sized pot
  2. Bring the water to a boil, then discard, replace with fresh water, return to heat
  3. Add the remaining dozen ingredients, bring to a simmer and cover
  4. Cook tongue till tender about an hour per pound, remove from heat
  5. Remove tongue from stock, cool then peel skin off, keep warm till service OR
  6. Return to stock and refrigerate overnight for later service
  7. NEXT DAY; remove from stock, slice thin and reserve
  8. Bring the stock to a boil, reduce if necessary, adjust seasonings and thicken for sauce
  9. Saute the reserved slices after breading or dredging in seasoned flour

You can also incorporate some tongue into you picadillo for stuffing carimanola, tamales, arepas, bollos or empanada or simply throw a can of gandules into your sauce and serve a fried slice with rice, the sauce and some fired plantains very authentic. You could also put a slice on a Panamanian tortilla and top with a little queso fresco and some Alcapurria for a great lunch, along with of course some rice and fried plantains.


Myth has it that a soup of this genre sustained George Washington’s command at Valley Forge where it was invented by the continental’s army’s Baker General probably was actually formulated by the Africans in the baker’s corps since it was a common dish in most Sub Saharan cultures. The version in North America has been marketed since 1913 by the Campbell Soup Company as Philadelphia Pepper Pot Soup as was one of my favorites as a child although I’m sure that at the time tripe, which replaced the much more expensive turtle meat, was unknown to me. Although they both have the same heritage the pepper pot in Philadelphia is more of a soup often served with dumplings while the Caribbean version is more stew like using a condiment known as casareep. Casareep is the liquid obtained from grating and straining cassava root, which is then combined with cinnamon, cloves and  molasses and boiled down to a syrup known as pepper pot seasoning and it can be found in many US markets. Caribbean legend tells us that meat cooked in a pot of casareep can be kept indefinitely as long as it boiled once a day so be sure to let me know. As with most Caribbean rim recipes, just recently, codified the choice of meats changes from location to location the historical benchmarks utilized the hoofs, tails and leftover offal but our recipe will forgo them as it will salted or corned meats. There is also some confusion regarding weather or not you include greens which IMHO would turn the construct into a Callaloo which in Panama would probably just be called a “stew” anyway.


              1 pound beef short ribs or stew meat

              8 ounces pork butt cubed or stew meat

              2   pound boneless chicken thighs

              2 ounces casareep, Maggi or Kitchen Bouquet or Pepper Pot Seasoning from most US markets

              2 onions diced or 2 large bunches whites of leek

              2 tablespoons minced garlic

              1 tablespoon allspice

              1 tablespoon each fresh thyme and oregano

             1 teaspoon chipotle or two habenero/aji peppers minced

             Stock or base fortified water to cover

              To taste granulated chicken base and black pepper

  1. Combine all solid ingredients in an appropriate sized pot
  2. Add stock or base enhanced water to cover
  3. Bring to a boil, skim then reduce heat to a simmer
  4. Cover and simmer till meat is tender
  5. Adjust seasonings with chicken base, pepper and a little citrus juice

This is a somewhat gentrified rendition and a more authentic version might use, ox or pig tale, tripe and some meats still on the bone but you’ll have to increase the cooking time or as they do in Panama use a pressure cooker. As I’ve said you might also add some greens like mustard, turnip or spinach for a sort of callaloo and serve with lentils, rice and fried plantains.


Picadillos are used throughout Latin America and therefore numerous regional recipes exist with some even including fruits in the mix.  It’s easy to consider this construct as a kind of hash or basic recipe that can be used to stuff a variety of starch or vegetable carriers and it can be made with left over or precooked meats like a roasted chicken, corned beef or some tasajo from the market. You could serve this over a Panamanian tortilla, with some rice, lentils and plantain chips or tuck in into an arepa for a canal style sloppy Joe or manwich. A majority of recipes include raisins but you could just as easily use cranberries, apricots, prunes or even dried apples all depending on what you’re going to stuff.


4 ounces of dried fruit, raisins, apricots, papaya or mango

4 ounces of stock, rum, water or citrus juice to rehydrate the fruit

1 large yellow onion or one cup whites of leek chopped

1cup diced sweet pepper

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon achiote paste or powder

1 jalapeño, habenero or 1 teaspoon chipotle pepper minced

2 pounds raw ground chuck or minced cooked beef

2 diced tomatoes or one can whole pear tomatoes

1 teaspoon cumin

2 ounces minced culantro or cilantro

1 small jar alcaparrado, or 1 tablespoon capers and 8 pimento stuffed olives chopped

4 ounces shredded coconut

4 ounces stock or water fortified with granulated base, adjust as necessary

  1. Cover the fruit with the stock or other liquid
  2. Saute the onion, pepper, garlic, achiote and chilies till softened
  3. Add the raw protein stirring to separate while it cooks
  4. Add the soaked fruit and liquid and mix
  5. Add the tomato, cumin, culantro, alcaparrado and shredded coconut
  6. Dust the construct with a little flour then add the stock
  7. Simmer till thickened

You can use the preparation for stuffing chayote’s, squash, empanadas, or carimanolas or just as a cover for rice or deep-fried plantains. If it’s to stand-alone you can also add some cubed squash, camotes, ote or cassava to the mix when you add the protein and increase the cooking time and the purchase of some store-bought plantain chips would turn it into the perfect nacho like dip.


Oxtail, no way, I rather eat worms or chicken wings or baby back ribs! Funny how we all have certain food aversions but if you’ve never had oxtail you really should try it for the rich meaty flavor which IMHO is probably the most intense of any cut eaten.  It makes a classic French consommé, a fragrant Chinese hot pot and a cherished Italian ravioli.  In Panama the tail is sold in one piece but in the mainstream US markets it’s disjointed and trimmed of excess fat and presents itself quite well the little yellow plastic meat tray.


              1 large oxtail, disjointed about 2 pounds

1 quart stock or water fortified with granulated base

8 ounces diced pepperoni, Spanish chorizo or linguica

2 cans gandules/pigeon peas

2 large tomatoes, diced or 1 can peeled pear tomatoes including juice

1 pound plantains cut into rounds

1 cup whites of leek or yellow onion, chopped large

2 sticks cinnamon

1 teaspoon each cumin and coriander

1 teaspoon garlic, minced

  1. Dredge the oxtail in seasoned flour
  2. Saute the oxtail till browned
  3. Add the stock or fortified water
  4. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and skim the foam off
  5. Add the sausage, pigeon peas, and tomato
  6. Add the plantains, onions, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and garlic
  7. Bring to a simmer , cover and simmer till the meat is falling of the bone
  8. Thicken as needed with corn starch slurry or roux
  9. Adjust seasonings with granulated base and pepper



“I would never eat tripe she squeaked” but god I love Oscar Mayer all beef hot dogs!  This is the last of our awful recipes and I include it because in Panama when you finish putting up the your roof you place a red flag on top and celebrate with a mondongada where a version of this stew is served to the workers and possibly some friends or neighbors. Honeycomb tripe, one of the stomachs of a cow, is the type sold in the US but I’ve seen all four types offered up in Panama where as I’ve said hunger still writes the menu for two fifths of the population. This construct, like Mexican menudo, is said to be a hang over cure and is even sold in cans in the soup section of the local markets and a rendition of this recipe is served all over Latin America.


Some cooks will add other meats or a cows hoof or pig trotter to enrich the stew but I think that’s a little overkill although you can throw in some chorizo or ham if you like.  The choice of vegetables is defined by what’s available so don’t fret if you can’t find otoe or cassava just toss in some other squash or potatoes or even leave them out.  You can eat the tripe like a tapa and if you’d like to make the stew a little thicker just slowly stir in about 4 ounces of corn meal, and you could as they do in Mexico add a can of yellow or white hominy.

2 pounds honeycomb tripe, cut in ½” strips, ask the butcher

1 tablespoon achiote paste

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 teaspoon chipotle pepper, minced/processed

1 bunch culantro processed or cilantro chopped

1 cup chopped sweet peppers like bells or Anaheim’s

4 large leeks, whites only, or 1 large yellow onion chopped

8 ounces recaito, store-bought like Goya or home-made

8 ounces alcaparrado, Goya or home-made, chopped

3 quarts stock or granulated base fortified water                      

8 ounces each cassava, acorn squash, and plantain, peeled and cubed

To taste white pepper, granulated base and fresh lime juice

1. Cover the tripe with water, bring to a simmer for 10 minutes

2. Remove from heat, drain, rinse and reserve tripe

3. Add and saute, achiote, garlic, chipotle, culantro till fragrant

4. Add peppers, leeks, recaito and alcaparrado saute till softened

5. Add stock or fortified water and the vegetables, bring to a simmer

6. Simmer till the tripe and vegetable are cooked about 2 hours

7. Adjust seasoning with pepper, granulated base and lime or citrus juice

To expedite the process you can soak the tripe in a light slurry of 1 table-spoon baking soda to one cup of water for about an hour before the blanching step.  You can serve this construct with one of the Panamanian condiments from the rice chapter like Chimichurri, Chein, Encurtido or Aji sauces or as The Mexican version is with a dish of onions, avocados and oregano.



What quail eggs?  Well raw and cooked types are readily available in Panama larger markets and certainly continue a millennial old tradition of living in the jungle. Today they are served hard boiled along with ceviche in little pastry baskets as an appetizer or fried, a dozen at a time sunny side up, as a side dish. In the US they are easy to find hard boiled and canned in the gourmet section but you could certainly us some good old grade A’s in their stead. Furthermore I’ve tweaked the recipe which was originally used  corned or bouilli beef as did many of  the constructs of the post colonial period since originally salted beef was a staple fed to imported Africans from the 16th century Cork, Ireland until it became a global industry in Uruguay and Argentina. Any way as we’ve discussed in our eight grade report  corned beef, tasajo and cecina were probably the precursors to fresh beef in  most post canal Panamanian recipes although a great deal of beef was enjoyed by all during the colonial period. So break out the ground turkey, chicken, fish, spam or luncheon meat for these protein enrobed quail eggs served for breakfast, brunch or as an appetizer.

2 dozen canned cooked quail, or 1 dozen hard-boiled hens’ eggs, peeled

1 pound ground pork or other protein

1 teaspoon fresh oregano chopped or two teaspoons dried

1 teaspoon + chipotle chili pepper, minced or processed

2 ounces purchased recaito sauce, probably Goya brand

2 teaspoons granulated chicken base

As needed a breading station, eggs/flour/coating

Panko bread crumbs or purchased masa flour

  1. Mix the pork, oregano, chipotle, recaito and granulated chicken base
  2. Make a patty and place in egg in the middles, shape to cover
  3. Dredge the meatball in seasoned flour, then beaten egg and finally crumbs or masa
  4. Deep fry, in enough oil to cover, till cooked through
  5. Serve either hot or cold


Simply put steak in pieces with peppers and onions the steak is usually an extremely tough cut something we might call Swiss, minute or cube steak except in this case it hasn’t been run through a mechanized swisser to tenderize and takes a long cook time. The dish is prevalent and you can buy sliced meat in Panamanian markets called “steak picado” and occasionally you see steak entero on menus simply meaning our braised Swiss steak and basically it’s a stew not really a steak.  Onions and peppers are usually added and occasionally a tomato product and the construct is then stewed and served for breakfast along with some fried bread actually a nice repast. The use of top round or flank steak will decrease the cooking time and tooth of the dish and , as is the case with many indigenous preparations, a pinch of unrefined sugar is often added to sweeten the pot along with a goodly splash of “English” aka Worcheshire sauce. This is a very maudlin recipe but was the one dish I spoke about to others returning from my first trip to Panama because it was served everywhere and quite cheap like $3.


                1 pound Swiss, chuck or top round cut into strips

                1 teaspoon achiote powder or paste

                1 teaspoon garlic, minced

                1 large yellow onion, sliced

                1 large green pepper, or several Anaheim or Fresno chilies, deseeded and sliced

                1 medium tomato, diced or 2 ounces of tomato product

                1 cup stock, or granulated base fortified water

  1. Dredge the beef in seasoned flour
  2. Saute till along with the achiote till lightly browned
  3. Add garlic, onion, peppers and tomato
  4. Stir well and saute till soft adding more oil if necessary
  5. Add stock, reduce heat to a simmer, cover cook till tender


As the naming myth tells it a man learns his family is coming to diner but he is too poor to feed them so he takes some of his old clothes from the line and cooks them up, well his love for his family turns the rags into something quite wonderful. Another well-known Latin rendition that probably morphed from the dried/ salted beef of the cecina or tasajo family since when either is shredded the result does look like the namesake old clothes or fabric. Basically you’re making a pot roast, or think carnitas and in reality you could use pork, lamb or venison. After the selected meat has been thoroughly cooked and cooled you shred, or “jerk”, the meat by hand and then combine it with the vegetables, herbs and spices to make this well-known dish. I suggest you use beef chuck for the meat but you could use a more expensive but less flavorful steak cut if you wish. Again be open as to how you embellish, use coconut milk

here’s a video in Spanish … but you can get a visual idea of the construct

3   pounds flank, skirt or chuck steak

Equal parts carrot, onion and celery, about 6 ounces each, chopped coarsely

1 tablespoon fresh, or 1 teaspoon dried, oregano

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

A pinch each ground cinnamon and cloves or ½ teaspoon allspice

8 bay leaves

Stock or base fortified water

  1. In a large pot combine the meat, vegetables, spices and stock
  2. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer till very tender
  3. Remove from fire, cool to room temperature
  4. Remove meat, cool to room temperature, then pull apart by hand, refrigerate
  5. Strain the brazing stock  reserving the  strained vegetable
  6. Process the vegetables and return to the stock, then reduce to about 2 cups, refrigerate

You can accomplish braising the meat a day ahead of your production or on the same day if wished, in either case it’s easiest to shred the meat shortly after it’s been cooked while still somewhat warm. The next step is to saute the following ingredients and then add the meat and vegetable thicken brazing liquid a thickening technique you can use with other Panamanian recipes. In completing the construct as is done in Panama, you can finish the construct with some citrus juice and unrefined sugar known as raspadura seems to go in everything.

1 cup sliced onion or whites of leek

1 cup sweet peppers sliced your choice; bells, wax, jarred cherry or pepperoncini

1 tablespoon garlic, minced

1 can peeled pear tomatoes and their juice

All the braised shredded meat

2 cups vegetable thicken braising stock

To taste granulated base and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Saute the onions, pepper and garlic till limp
  2. Add the tomatoes, meat and stock
  3. Simmer to the desired consistency
  4. Adjust seasoning with granulated base, pepper, citrus and sugar


%d bloggers like this: