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What Is Frita?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 23 August 2016
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In Cuba and some of its American outposts like Miami, a popular style of hamburger is called the frita Cubana. Blending more complex and distinctly Cuban spices, the dish is just as, if not more, popular among Cubans as the more standardized and prevalent western version. With a bun made of Cuban bread or even the bland, enriched-white variety, this burger builds off a patty made with ground beef and often pork chorizo, then topped with shoestring potato fries, onions, lettuce and a spicy ketchup-based condiment.

The meat used in a traditional frita is most often a blend of ground beef and ground pork or chorizo. Many chefs knead the meat with some variety of grated onion, minced garlic, paprika, cumin, Worcestershire and ketchup, and then let it marinate for a few hours before grilling the patties. Bread crumbs or an egg can be used to thicken the burger's consistency, but it should not be added until just before grilling.

The spice blend in the meat is not the only uniquely Cuban characteristic of frita. Another distinctly Cuban component is its generous level of shoestring fries. This is the theme in a few native sandwiches, like pan de bistec, which substitutes the ground meats for seasoned steak.

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The lettuce and sliced onion on top of the frita are common to many western burgers. The sauce, however, is a different story. A spicy ketchup sauce is the most prevalent condiment used when putting the frita together. The sauce blends some water, vinegar and tomato paste with more paprika, garlic and cumin as well as some sugar, salt and often some pepper flakes or chili oil. It is brought to a boil and then simmered on low heat for at least 10 minutes. Many Cubans maintain that without this sauce, the Cuban burger would not be complete.

Some restaurateurs use simple, white-bread buns to wrap their frita, but connoisseurs tend to prefer Cuban bread, which has a tougher husk and saltier flavor. Another variation is a creamier sauce that adds some milk and Thousand Island dressing to the ketchup and other ingredients. Some chefs even grill the onions or add another layer with tomato slices.

Roadside stands and restaurants throughout Cuba, Miami and other South Florida cities sell fritas as if they were hot dogs or gyros. These chefs often recommend that the sauce not be skimped and a fresh Cuban bun be used. Using shoestring fries is also important, since thicker fries may not have a comparably crunchy texture.

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