Growing up, this dish was not made too frequently because my brother Ozzy was a really picky eater. Unfortunately, this meant my mom would not make dishes that he didn’t like too often. This was one of those dishes. Now, he’s grown up and his palette has changed thankfully. One day I was making this for dinner and he showed up. He raised the lid of the pot and said “Oh you’re making Brain for dinner” He calls this dish “brain” because the center is stuffed with cheese and as the meatloaf cooks in the sauce the cheese oozes out. Don’t let that bizarre introduction turn you off. This dish is absolutely delicious- and it’s one of those more obscure Cuban dishes that is definitely worth sharing. I think it my duty to preserve these family recipes so that we can continue to pass them down throughout the generations. Oh yeah and did I mention that it’s delicious?
Side note- This recipe calls for ground beef. Lately I have been using the food processes to grind up my own meats. It gives me a little peace of mind to know that there’s no “mystery meat” or fillers in the meat I’m using. I had no idea that the food processor could do this until recently and it’s my new favorite kitchen trick.
3 lbs. Ground Beef (I ground up my own, using brisket)
4 eggs (two for the meatloaf mixture, and two for the breading station)
2 cups plain breadcrumbs or cracker meal (1/2 cup for meatloaf mixture, and 1 1/2 cups for the breading station)
8 mozzarella string cheese sticks (four per loaf)
2 large onions
1 green pepper
6 cloves garlic
3 tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive oil
1/2 cup canola oil
2 small cans tomato sauce
1 can petite diced tomatoes
2 tbsp. ketchup
2 1/2 cups dry white wine
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
My first step was grinding up the beef in the food processor. You’ll skip this step obviously if you’re using beef that’s already ground. Another advantage to using the food processor is that after you’re done grinding the meat, you can just add all of the seasoning and blend instead of having to use your hands and a separate bowl. This is a shortcut, and it’s the first time I’ve done it this way though. I added the two eggs, salt, garlic powder, and 1/2 cup of bread crumbs to the food processor and blended everything. If you’re not using a food pro, then just mix everything in a bowl. Next remove the beef mixture and transfer to a cutting board. Press the meat down like if you’re making a massive hamburger and then add four pieces of string cheese in the center of the patty. Fold the sides and ends over to create a large loaf. Make sure to seal the sides well so that the cheese doesn’t all ooze out during the cooking process. You will have some cook out, but that’s just part of the beauty of this dish. Who doesn’t like cheese oozing out into sauce??
Next create the breading station for the loaves (as shown above). I made two, loaves. This is a great meal to keep for leftovers. You can make pulpeta subs the next day. Begin breading the loaves.
Next, we’ll brown the loaves. Add the canola oil to a deep pot with a lid- preferably non-stick. Make sure to turn the loaf on all sides to brown evenly.
Transfer the loaves to a cutting board for now so that we can begin on the sauce.
Discard the canola oil we used to brown the pulpeta. Add the olive oil to the pan and turn up to medium heat. Begin chopping the onion, green pepper and garlic and add to the pan to begin sauteeing.
Allow the onions, peppers and garlic to cook for about 10 minutes. Next add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, ketchup, wine and bay leaf. I know ketchup sounds weird huh? But I find that whenever I make any tomato based stew or sauce adding a little ketchup balances out the flavors and adds a really slight sweet touch to the sauce.
Allow the sauce to simmer for about 5 minutes before putting the loaves back into the pan.
Cover with a lid and allow the pulpeta to cook for about 40 minutes on medium low heat. When you remove that lid you’ll find that the sauce has thickened beautifully, the cheese has begun to ooze. This is a thing of beauty my friends… you’ll just have to trust me on this.
The next thing you’ll do is ever so gently, remove one of the loaves to a cutting board and cut into slices. Then transfer the pulpeta back into the pan so it doesn’t dry out.
Serve a slice with lots of yummy sauce and white rice.