Ropa vieja is considered comfort food. I can totally see why. I first had ropa vieja on the Upper West Side of Manhattan at La Caridad. This traditional Spanish dish, which translates to “old clothes,” is so named because the shredded meat looks torn, like old clothing. Prepared like a stew, the primary flavors–tomato, beef, pepper, olive, onion–combine in a soul-warming way. Often described as a Cuban dish, ropa vieja originated in Spain–the Canary Islands, not the Spanish mainland, to be exact. It is believed that citizens of the Canary Islands immigrated to Cuba, bringing many cultural customs and food with them, this hearty dish included.
Ropa vieja is traditionally made with flank steak that has been shredded, then boiled or stewed in a tomato base. Most recipes call for the addition of green peppers, onions and olives–giving it a briny and distinct stew-like flavor and texture. It is often served paired with rice, beans and fried plantains. Depending on the region or even household, you may see ropa vieja served with fried eggs or even fried potatoes on top. Although a traditional preparation calls for sautéing the ingredients, more modern recipes have been adapted for slow cookers and crockpots, making this wonderful dish even easier for the home cook and great for families as well as larger social gatherings.
My ropa vieja recipe falls more on the traditional side, as I do not use a slow cooker; but it can easily be adapted for one. My recipe uses beef, but you can easily use chicken if you prefer. Like most “stews,” this recipe is often better the next day, so I suggest you make some extra.
- For the Beef:
- 1.5 pounds flank steak
- 1 small yellow onion, rough chop
- 1 beefsteak tomato, rough chop
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and rough chop
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- To Finish the Dish:
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
- 1 small onion, thinly sliced
- 1 large green bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
- ¼ cup tomato paste
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Step 1 Season the beef generously with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Step 2 In a large deep sauté pan add the beef, tomato, carrot, and garlic cloves. Cover with water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the beef is tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the meat from the cooking liquid and let cool. Reserve the cooking liquid to finish the dish.
- Step 3 When the meat has cooled enough to handle, using a fork, gently shred the meat and place in a medium size mixing bowl. Reserve.
- Step 4 Place the large sauté pan back over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and when hot, but not smoking, add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about one minute.
- Step 5 Add the onions and peppers and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until softened, about 4-5 minutes.
- Step 6 Add the white wine and simmer for an additional two minutes.
- Step 7 Add the tomato paste, white wine, shredded beef and enough of the reserved cooking liquid to help create a thin sauce.
- Step 8 Add the cumin and simmer for an additional 5 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken slightly and coat the beef.
- Step 9 Remove from the heat and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.