Ropa Vieja

Printable Version (Recipe Only)

Ropa Vieja (ROpah vee-EH-hah) translates literally from Spanish as “old clothes,” so named because you cook the beef, then shred it up, like tattered old clothes. 

And with flavors of slow cooked beef stewed in a rich sauce of onions, tomatoes, peppers, garlic, cumin, bay, and oregano, it’s no wonder it’s among the best loved dishes in all of Cuban cuisine.

Some recipes call to braise the beef first with all the flavorings and then shred. I prefer to boil the beef first, cool and shred, and then stew it with all the seasonings. I find it cooks up more tender this way. There’s not that much active time to make the dish, but it does take about an hour and 30 to 45 minutes from start to finish. The part where you boil the beef can be halved by cooking it in a pressure cooker for about 30 minutes, if you have a pressure cooker.

Ropa Vieja

Serves 4 to 6
Time: About 2 hours, of which about half is inactive
Printable Version

*For efficiency, make sure to put the beef on the stove to boil before you start your knifework.

- 2.5 to 3 pound chuck roast cut into roughly 8 equal pieces (you can also use skirt or flank)
- ½ medium onion, cut in half
- 4 smashed garlic cloves
- 1 carrot, cut in thirds
- 1 celery stalk, cut in thirds
- 5 cups water, or enough to cover by about ½ an inch

- 2 Tablespoons oil (olive or vegetable)
- half a medium onion, cut into ¼” strips vertically
- 1 red bell pepper, halved, cored, and cut into ¼” strips vertically
- ½ green bell pepper, cored and cut into ¼” strips vertically
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
- ¼ cup green pitted olives, cut into thirds or quarters
- 1 teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon oregano
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 ½ Tablespoons tomato paste
- 1  15 oz. (or so) canned tomatoes
- 2 cups boiling liquid
- 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ⅓ cup frozen peas (optional)

1) Put the beef, the ½ onion, carrot, celery, and four garlic cloves in a 4 or 5 quart Dutch oven, pour in the water, cover the pot, and place over high heat, until the meat comes to a rolling boil (about 15 to 20 minutes). Then turn the heat down to medium, keeping the pot completely covered, and continue to boil the beef for another 40 to 50 minutes, or until the thickest part of the largest piece of beef is very easily pierced with a fork.

2) While the beef is boiling, do all your knifework and set aside. When the beef is boiled, remove all the pieces from the liquid and cool for at least 20 minutes or while you prepare the base of the stew. Save 2 cups of the liquid in a mixing bowl or other container. You can discard the rest, or save it, like I do, to use as soup or sauce stock.

3) In your Dutch oven, bring 2 Tablespoons oil up to slightly higher than medium heat and saute your onions, peppers, and garlic for 3 or 4 minutes, or until the onions are translucent and begin to wilt.

4) Add in the cumin, oregano, black pepper, and bay leaves and stir to distribute evenly. Then add in tomato paste, canned tomatoes, boiling liquid, 1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt, and ½ teaspoon sugar, and stir to completely dissolve the tomato paste into the liquid. At this point, your beef should be ready to shred. Remember the turn the heat off while you shred. :)

5) Loosely shred all the beef (See pics - it doesn’t have to be a fine shred, unless you insist on it that way, but it is a little more work. Besides, the simmering will continue to separate the meat fibers a little more.) and put into pot with the stewing liquid. Turn the heat up to medium high and stir to incorporate thoroughly.

6) With the pot covered, bring the Ropa Vieja up to a rolling boil for about 2 minutes (should take 7 to 8 minutes), uncover, stir a couple of times, turn the heat down to medium and simmer, fully covered, for another 15 minutes, stirring a couple of times halfway.

7) Remove the lid and simmer the ropa vieja for another 10 to 12 minutes, stirring a couple of times halfway through to ensure everything is evenly cooked. Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if needed.

8) Remove from heat and let cool for at least 15 minutes (this will give the flavors time to set and the sauce time to thicken). If you’re adding frozen peas, right after you cut the heat is when you would fold them in. Adding them in at the end helps them retain their texture and color better. 

Serve with steamed rice (in Cuban cuisine, they usually add a little salt and oil to their steamed rice). Alternatively, it would also be delicious over risotto or polenta. 

Leftovers are great in tacos and burritos. Use a little less liquid, and it makes a delicious empanada filling.

¡Buen provecho!


Full cooking album HERE.



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