Short Rib Stew with Yuca (Vaca Atolada)
This Brazilian Short Rib Beef Stew with Yuca is the ultimate cold weather comfort food! Slow cooked in a Dutch oven until the beef is succulent and fall-apart tender, this dish will quickly become a family favorite. Serve it over rice, buttered noodles or along a nice crusty bread to soak up the savory sauce.
A hearty beef stew that will warm you to the bones!
Who can resist a comforting beef stew? Tender beef that melts in your mouth, hearty starchy vegetables and a flavorful deep sauce that makes you want to lick the plate clean.
This version, born and raised in Brazil, uses short ribs and yuca, making it a rich dish that will warm and sooth your soul even on the coldest days.
And if you’ve never cooked with yuca root, don’t worry! I’ll teach you all you need to know about buying, preparing and cooking it.
In Brazil, this recipe is often made in a pressure cooker, but my version uses a Dutch oven instead. I find that nothing beats a stew simmering on the stove all day, filling your home with the most amazing smells. However, if time is an issue, you can easily adapt it to the Instant Pot or slow cooker.
What is Vaca Atolada?
This dish, typical from the state of Minas Gerais (Southeast of Brazil), is a beef stew made with beef ribs and yuca.
The name Vaca Atolada translates to “Cow Stuck in the Mud”. The funny name has a few popular explanations. The most believed one says that the dish originated in the XVII century, when the explorers – known as bandeirantes – started the expeditions to search for gold in Minas Gerais.
To survive the journey, they would carry meat immerse in fat in a saddlebag, so the food would be preserved. During that time, thunderstorms were common, so the cattle would often get stuck in the mud. When that happened, it was time for a pause and for a hearty beef stew.
Another version believes that the explanation of the name is in the dish itself. The “cow” would be the pieces of beef and the “mud” the thick sauce.
Ingredients to make Short Rib Stew with Yuca
Here’s what you’ll need to make Vaca Atolada:
- Short ribs – I buy boneless, but you can use bone-in as well!
- Yuca root
- Tomatoes – I use fresh tomatoes, but canned crushed tomatoes would work too.
- Tomato Paste
- Red Wine – The alcohol will mostly cook off, but you can omit.
- Beef Broth
- Flour – to thicken. Omit or use gluten free options, if necessary.
- Bay leaves
- Olive oil
What is yuca?
Yuca (pronounced joo-kah), also known as cassava or manioc, is a potato-like starchy tubular root, very popular in Latin cuisine. It is the root used to make tapioca flour and pearls, after it is dried and powdered.
The long brown root has a thick, bark-like skin and white flesh. It averages between 6 to 12 inches long and 2 to 4 inches in diameter. Here in the United States, you will often find it covered in wax to help preserve it during its long journey.
Where do I buy it?
Yuca can be found at the produce section of most grocery stores. If you can’t find it at your supermarket, try a Latin or Asian store. Or search the frozen aisle for the Goya brand, as they sell it already peeled and cut.
When buying fresh, make sure there are no mold or cracks. The flesh should be firm and white throughout, so if you see black specks, lines or blemishes (you might have to break up the end of the root to see) that run throughout the whole root, leave it behind as that yuca is no good! If the discoloration is restricted to only one or a few parts, you can cut it off.
How to peel and cut yuca
Peeling yuca can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be! All you need is a sharp chef’s knife and a cutting board.
- Start by cutting off the ends of the root and slicing it into smaller segments (about 2 to 3 inches).
- Stand each piece up on its flat end and, using a sharp knife, cut away the skin vertically until it has been peeled off. Keep rotating and slicing away the skin until it is completely peeled.
- Slice the peeled cassava root in half lengthwise to expose the woody core. Then, cut the piece lengthwise again, so that the yuca is now quartered into sticks with the core exposed.
- Since the core is not tasty and has a woody texture, I recommend cutting it off. Stand each long stick up and use your knife to slice the inner corner off.
- Your cassava is ready to be cooked!
How do I cook cassava?
Yuca can be cooked the same way that you would potatoes. You can boil, sauce, fry or roast it.
Here, we add them during the last 30-40 minutes of cooking time, and let it simmer in the stew until very tender.
Can I prep yuca ahead of time?
Yes! You can peel and cut the cassava and then store it in the fridge, covered in water, for up to 4 days. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.
How to make Short Rib Stew with Yuca
Despite the long cooking time, making this short rib beef stew is easy.
Here’s how to do it:
- Start by seasoning the short ribs with salt and pepper, and tossing with flour. The flour will act as a thickening agent for the rich sauce.
- Heat olive oil in a large Dutch-oven, over medium high heat and brown the ribs on all sides. Remove and reserve.
- Add a little more oil, if needed, and sauté the onion and garlic, until softened. Then, add the tomatoes and cook for a few minutes, until softened.
- Pour the red wine to deglaze the pot, making sure to scrape all those delicious browned bits from the bottom. Cook until the wine reduces by half.
- Add the beef broth, tomato paste and bay leaves.
- Return the short ribs along with any juices to the pot, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper, cover and reduce the heat to a simmer.
- Simmer for 2 hours or until the meat is tender.
- Skim any fat that has surfaced from the stew.
- Stir in the prepared yuca, then cover and simmer until the short ribs are falling apart tender and the yuca is very soft, about 30 to 40 minutes.
- If the sauce is not thick enough, remove the beef and yuca and boil the sauce until reduced. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper. Return everything to the pot and stir to combine.
- Garnish with chopped parsley and serve!
How to serve short rib beef stew
This stew pairs great with:
- White or brown rice
- A crusty baguette or sourdough
- Dinner rolls
- A green salad
- Rice pilaf
- Buttered noodles
- A classic Brazilian combo: rice, beans (or tutu de feijão) and garlicky collard greens.
Can I make beef stew ahead of time?
Absolutely! In fact, I highly recommend it, as beef stew is the perfect make-ahead dish and the flavors will improve with an overnight rest in the fridge.
Just make sure to cool completely before refrigerating in an airtight container, up to 3 days.
You can then reheat it on the stovetop before serving!
Freezing short rib stew
I find that yuca, like potatoes, become grainy when frozen and thawed. So if you plan on freezing this stew, skip the yuca and add it later, when reheating.
Or, if you’re freezing leftovers, remove the yuca before freezing. You can add freshly cooked yuca when ready to eat.
Beef stew can be frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
- 2 pounds boneless short ribs, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1/4 cup all-propose flour
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 3 ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 2 cups beef broth
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- 1.5 pound yuca root, peeled and quartered (woody core removed)
- 1/3 cup chopped parsley, to garnish
- In a large bowl, toss the short ribs with salt and pepper. Add the flour and toss until every piece is coated.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large Dutch oven, over medium high heat, until shimmering. Working in batches, brown the short ribs on all sides, about 2 minutes per side. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- Add the remaining olive oil, if needed. Add the onion and garlic and saute until softened and starting to brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add the chopped tomatoes and cook until softened, 2-3 minutes.
- Pour the wine and, using a wooden spoon, scrape up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes.
- Add the beef broth, tomato paste and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, return the short ribs and any accumulated juices to the pot.
- Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours or until the beef is tender. If any fat raises to the surface, skim it off the top with a spoon.
- Once the beef is tender, stir in the prepared yuca. Cover and continue simmering until the yuca is very soft and the short ribs are falling-apart tender, about 30-40 minutes.
- If necessary, remove beef and yuca to a plate, and boil the sauce for up to 10 minutes to reduce to desired consistency. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as needed.
- Return everything to the pot, discard the bay leaves, and stir to combine. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve or refrigerate (once cool) for the flavors to mend.
SHORT RIBS - I like to use boneless for this stew, but you can use bone-in if you prefer. Just up the amount to 3 pounds instead.
RED WINE - The wine adds depth of flavors to the sauce. Any full-bodied red will work! It will mostly cook off, but if you are concerned, you can omit it.
MAKE AHEAD - As any beef stew, this short rib stew tastes even better after some time in the fridge. After it has cooled to room temperature, you can store it in an airtight container and refrigerate until the next day, or up to 3 days. Before serving, reheat it on the stovetop!
FREEZING - If freezing, remove the yuca as its texture will change considerably if frozen and thawed. You can add cooked yuca when reheating.
INSTANT POT/SLOW COOKER - This recipe can be converted to a pressure cooker or slow cooker. Just make sure to brown the beef before cooking.
SERVING SUGGESTIONS - This stew goes great with rice, buttered noodles and/or crusty bread. For a typical Brazilian meal, you can serve with rice, beans and collard greens.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 8 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 579Total Fat: 31gSaturated Fat: 12gTrans Fat: 2gUnsaturated Fat: 19gCholesterol: 113mgSodium: 359mgCarbohydrates: 41gFiber: 3gSugar: 4gProtein: 32g
Nutritional values are approximate, please use your own calculations if you require a special diet.