Being one of the most popular beef stews in South America, Olla de Carne is a symbol of Costa Rican culinary culture. It consists of an aromatic broth with meats and vegetables making it a very comforting dish. Locally grown seasonal vegetables are usually used in Olla de Carne.
Interestingly enough, Olla de Carne was so loved at one point that Costa Ricans would have it for dinner every day. However, today, it is usually a weekend lunch and dinner dish since it takes a while to cook. It is very popular as a special dish once a week in most restaurants as well.
History of Olla De Carne
The predecessor of Olla de Carne is Olla Podrida which means Potpourri. Olla Podrida Originated in Spain in the Middle Ages and was made in a terracotta pot or ‘Olla’. It was left to cook over the fire for a long time with water being added if needed. Additional ingredients were added to stretch the stew to last all day.
Costa Rican cuisine has several influences. Some dishes come from European settlers while others show African influence.
Olla de Carne is a perfect example of European and African influences. The beef, as well as the preparation method, comes from Europeans, while the vegetables are indigenous Costa Rican. The addition of Plantains to this stew has African origins.
Olla de Carne means a pot of meat and is one of the thousands of varieties of beef stews across the globe. It is very similar to the French Pot-au-Feu that emerged around the 13th century, as well as the Sancocho, which is common in many Latin American countries.
Olla De Carne Ingredients
Olla de Carne has a long list of ingredients which means there is a lot of prep work required. Nevertheless, once you eat the fruits of your labor, you will feel like all that prep was definitely worth it!
Water: Olla de Carne has a lot of natural flavors. Therefore, there is no need to use broth or bouillon cubes as it will give the Olla de Carne an overly beefy flavor. Water is perfectly fine.
Skirt Steak: Skirt steak has an intense beefy flavor. It also absorbs the flavor of the other ingredients in the soup. However, you can also use flank steak, hanger steak, or flat iron steak instead of the skirt steak.
Beef Ribs: Beef ribs also add beefy flavor to the stew but what’s even better is that they add an umami flavor to the broth.
Thyme: Fresh thyme adds a sharp, slightly minty flavor to Olla de Carne.
Aromatics: I used onions, celery, red bell peppers, and garlic. Onions add a pungent sweet flavor to the Olla de Carne. Celery adds a salty, slightly bitter flavor to the stew. Red bell peppers add a little sweetness and texture to the soup, while the garlic adds a robust flavor.
Bay Leaves: Bay leaves add a sharp flavor to the Olla de Carne that makes it taste amazing.
Cilantro: Cilantro adds a bright, floral, and herbaceous flavor to the Olla de Carne.
Seasonings: Salt ties everything together and enhances the natural flavors of the Olla de Carne. Cumin adds a rich earthy, slightly warm flavor, while black pepper adds a mild spicy flavor to the Olla de Carne.
Carrots: Carrots add a burst of color and sweetness to the stew, which helps balance the other flavors.
Cassava: Cassava adds a mild nutty flavor and helps thicken the soup.
Corn: Corn adds a sweet yet buttery flavor to the soup. Corn also adds a pop of texture to the soup.
Sweet Potatoes: Sweet potatoes add a sweet flavor to the stew. However, it only adds a mild sweetness, so it will not overpower the flavor of the other ingredients in the soup.
Potatoes: Potatoes add a savory flavor to the stew, but also soak up the flavor of the other ingredients.
Plantain: I used one ripe plantain and one green plantain. The ripe plantain adds a sweet flavor, while the starchy green plantain thickens the soup.
Pumpkin: Pumpkin adds a sweet, nutty flavor to the Olla de Carne.
Cabbage: Cabbage has a peppery flavor that only gets sweeter the longer it cooks in the Olla de Carne.
Chayote: Chayote’s flavor is a mix between cucumbers and apples. Therefore it adds a bright flavor that helps cut through the richness of the Olla de Carne.
How to Make the Perfect Costa Rican Olla De Carne?
While the preparation of Olla de Carne may take a while, the active cooking process is pretty quick. Once you have all your ingredients prepped and ready, start by bringing a large pot of water to a boil. Add in the skirt steak, beef ribs, and your aromatics and half of your seasonings, and cook for 45 minutes.
Add your vegetables to the pot now, with the harder vegetables going in first and the softer vegetables going in last. Stir the stew until all your vegetables are soft. Now you can add the rest of your seasonings, depending on your taste, and remove the Olla de Carne from the heat.
One of the best tips I can give you to excel at making the perfect Olla de Carne is to really spend time prepping your ingredients. This will not only save you time but will also help everything cook at the same time.
How is Olla de Carne served?
Traditionally, Olla de Carne is served in a large bowl so it can hold everything in one place including the broth, meat, and vegetables. On the side, there is usually white rice and a plate for bones and vegetable peels.
Why is Olla de Carne so popular in Costa Rica?
Essentially, Costa Rica is a country full of agricultural traditions and a variety of locally grown vegetables. These vegetables make this stew so delicious, which is why it is comforting and enjoyed by the whole family.
What kind of beef is best for Olla de Carne?
I chose to use Skirt Steak and Beef ribs for this recipe. You can use any type of beef that you have available. The only thing you need to remember is that it should be beef with a good amount of marbling and low external fat as this dish cooks for a long time and we want the beef to be soft rather than chewy or overcooked.
Can I use any vegetables for my Olla de Carne?
You can customize the vegetables in this recipe to your liking. Olla de Carne celebrates the local produce of Costa Rica and you can add whatever local produce you have. For the perfect consistency, however, I would suggest you use potatoes and yucca as they help thicken the soup.
What are the best side dishes for Olla de Carne?
Traditionally, Olla de Carne is served with a bowl of cooked white rice, but it is such a versatile dish that you can serve it with any side dishes you want. A fresh green salad will pair nicely with this hearty stew along with freshly baked bread. You can also serve it with black beans or brown rice.
More Delicious soups and stews
Olla De Carne (Costa Rican Beef Stew)
- 8 cups Water
- 1 pound Skirt Steak, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 pound Beef Ribs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 bunch fresh Thyme, leaves removed from stalks and minced
- 1 medium Onion, diced
- 1 Celery stalk, diced
- 1 medium Red Bell Pepper, diced
- 3 crushed Garlic cloves
- 2 Bay leaves
- 1 bunch Cilantro, minced
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1/2 tsp Cumin
- 1/2 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 medium Carrot, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 2 Cassava, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 2 ears Corn, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 2 medium Sweet Potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 4 medium Potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1 ripe Plantain, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 1 green Plantain, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 2 small Pumpkins, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- 1/2 pound Cabbage, sliced into 1/2-inch chunks
- 1 large Chayote, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- Add the water to a large pot and set it over medium-high heat, letting it come to a boil.
- Add the skirt steak and the beef ribs to the boiling water along with the onion, celery, bell pepper, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, half of the cilantro, salt, pepper, and cumin. Cook for 45 minutes, removing any foam or fat that forms on the surface.
- After 45 minutes, add in the carrots, cassava, and corn to the pot and let cook for another 30 minutes.
- Now, add in the potatoes, sweet potatoes, plantains, chayote, cabbage, and pumpkin. Cook for 20 minutes, constantly stirring until the vegetables are soft.
- Lastly, add in the remaining cilantro along with salt if necessary, and remove the Olla de Carne from the heat.
- Serve with rice and a spicy sauce. Enjoy!