Silpancho: Traditional Bolivian Food, Recipes and Main Courses
Silpancho is a large, traditional Bolivian main course meal that originates in the city of Cochabamba, known for it's delicious food and plentiful helpings. The word silpancho, comes from the Quechua word sillpa which means stretched, and refers specifically to the meat itself, which when pounded thin, stretches and increases in size. For this reason, silpancho is sometimes spelled sillpancho.
However, when one asks for silpancho, it is assumed that it refers to the entire meal which is always served with the same sides consisting of a very generous layer of white rice, topped by a large and very thin piece of breaded beef, that must be nearly the size of the entire plate. The meat, in turn, is topped by one or two fried eggs (usually sunny side up but sometimes over easy) and a small "salad" made of diced tomatoes, hot locoto peppers and red onions. Silpancho is not complete without a side of potatoes, cut into thick rounds or wedges and fried in oil.
For those who enjoy spicy food, all of this would ultimately be topped with llajua, Bolivia's staple hot sauce which is eaten on many foods.
The secret to a perfect Bolivian silpancho is to pound the meat until it is almost paper thin (seriously, think crepes) before breading it lightly with finely ground bread crumbs. In doing so, care must be taken when frying the meat because it can burn easily and the ultimate result should be a soft piece of meat that is just ever so slightly crisp around the edges. This is also what differentiates a silpancho from a milanesa (a thicker cut of meat that is also pounded and breaded) but not necessarily served with the same sides.
Silpancho is very filling, and very delicious. Bolivians use both a fork and knife to eat this meal, as it is customary to first cut a thin strip of meat, the add a little rice and egg to the fork before popping the food, in all its delicious glory, into one's mouth. There's just something about the meat and rice and egg yolk and onions and tomatoes that blend together into a sensational serving of savory silpancho.
2 pounds beef cut into very thin, large pieces**. Your butcher can do this for you - ask them to cut it "thin, like for making jerky". 6 large potatoes 4 eggs 2 cups bread crumbs, finely ground 1/2 cup fresh red onion, finely chopped 2 diced fresh tomatoes (firm, Roma tomatoes work best) 1 fresh locoto (the small green pepper pictured above—you can use a serrano or other chili pepper), chopped tiny 2 tablespoons of vinegar 2 cups of cooked rice Oil (enough to fill your pan 1/2 inch deep for frying) 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin Salt and pepper to taste One meat pounding hammer
Dice your tomatoes, onions and hot pepper into very small pieces and place them into a bowl. Mix with 2 tbsp of oil and 2 tbsp of vinegar along with a pinch of salt and pepper. Set aside.
Wash and peel the potatoes, and boil them whole until they are tender, but not fully cooked and not mushy. Cut each potato into thick rounds (between 1/2 and 1 inch thick). Heat a frying pan with 1/2 inch of oil covering the bottom and fry them until golden brown on both sides. Set them aside.
Boil 4 cups of water, set aside.
Toast the rice in a hot pan for 3-4 minutes with 1 teaspoon of oil, stirring constantly so it doesn’t burn. (You don’t want to actually toast it until it turns brown. Instead, it's just to remove any humidity from it for a few minutes, to ensure that after cooking, your rice will not be sticky.)
Add the 4 cups of hot water to the rice and a pinch of salt. Set your stove to the lowest possible setting, cover the pot of rice with a lid, and slowly simmer the rice until it is fully cooked. Do not stir the rice while it is simmering. Do not remove the lid or otherwise release the steam from your cooking rice. Just allow it to simmer for 20-30 minutes, then turn it off.
While the rice is simmering, place your breadcrumbs in a shallow pan or plate. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt, pepper, and cumin, and mix.
Take each thin piece of beef, place on a cutting board pound it until it is very tender. It will stretch out. You need it to be as thin as possible, no thicker than 1/8 of an inch. Do this on both sides of the meat. Then take your each piece of meat, cover it completely with your breadcrumb mixture on both sides.
Fill a fry pan with enough oil to cover the bottom with 1/2 inch of oil. Ensure your pan is not too hot, you don’t want it to burn or smoke.
For a second time, press the slices of beef into the breadcrumbs and ensure each piece is completely coated with breadcrumbs, and pound again, then place into the hot oil. Fry on both sides until the beef is cooked. Because the meat is thin, this will happen quickly, in 2-3 minutes per side depending on how hot your frying pan is.
Carefully flip the meat once so that the breadcrumbs don’t burn. When the meat is fully cooked, still soft and flexible but also crisp along the edges, remove from the oil and set aside.
Fry your eggs sunny side up or over easy. It's up to you how well-cooked you like your eggs. Bolivians typically like a runny yolk because they mix it with their rice.
On a plate, place a large amount of rice, enough to fill the entire bottom of the plate. On top of the rice place one silpancho (the beef) which should be the size of your plate. On top of the silpancho place one or two fried eggs and “sprinkle” with the mixed tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers. Place a few of the fried potatoes on the side, serve and ENJOY!
It's not the traditional way to make sillpancho, but some people just don't have the patience to pound meat so they use ground beef instead. Place a handful of bread crumbs and seasoning on a sheet of waxed paper. Place a handful of ground beef on top. Flatten with your palm and add more breadcrumbs on top of the beef. Using a rolling pin, flatten the beef until it is very, very thin (no more than 1/8th inch or so), then proceed as usual.
The following video features a restaurant in Cochabamba that is well-known for its ground beef silpancho. While it is in Spanish, you'll be able to follow along easily as the visuals are lovely to use as a guide.
Everyone has their own little variation to this recipe. Some people add garlic or paprika, for example. Others add beets to their salad, as you can see in the video above. The most important thing about silpancho is that to be true to tradition, the meat must be very, very, very thin and should cover the entire plate.