A pastel-hued Cuban diner in Philadelphia was the site of my last fragrant bowl of Ropa Vieja, and I have been plotting to recreate this succulent dish ever since. For me, nothing compares to a slow braised, big flavored, meat dish swimming in a pungent, aromatic sauce. This is my protein paradise!
Versions of Ropa Vieja, Spanish for old clothes, can be found throughout many Latin cuisines. This dish originated as a way of using up old stew meat and often contains additions of chickpeas or potatoes depending on the regional variation. I like the simplicity of this Cuban/Creole version best.
A note about cooking, with advanced prep, this dish felt very manageable to whip up for guests on a weeknight after work. I particularly appreciated the use of our slow cooker for the first stage of this recipe, and it resulted in meltingly tender meat without any bother on my part: no stirring whatsoever. You can hold the cooked meat for a few days in the fridge, and quite frankly the mellowing time only serves to deepen the flavors. On serving day, all I needed to do was some chopping, and in 30 minutes had finished the Ropa Vieja.
- 2 pounds flank steak cut into 3 inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 medium onions, chopped
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 4 garlic gloves, crushed or minced
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 allspice berries
- 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 large red bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced into long strips
- 2 large green bell peppers, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced into long strips
- 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5 medium garlic cloves, crushed or minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1/4 cup capers
- 2 teaspoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (or to taste)
Meat (one-three day(s) prior to serving)
- Mix together the oil, onion, tomato paste and garlic in a large mixing bowl and microwave on high for approximately 5-7 minutes, until the onions appear translucent.
- Season the raw meat with salt and pepper on both sides and place in the slow cooker.
- Pour the onion mixture over the meat and add the remaining ingredients; water, soy sauce, bay leaves and allspice berries.
- Cook the meat dish in your slow cooker on low for 10 hours. Once the meat is done cooking, it will be easily shreddable and very tender.
- At this point you are going to want to remove fat from the surface of the meat as well as pick out the bay leaves and allspice berries. Reserve 2 cups of the meat cooking liquid. Refrigerate the cooked meat and 2 cups cooking liquid separately.
For the Sauce
- Heat oil in a large pan or medium stock pot over medium-high heat, add the bell peppers, onion and salt, cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes.
- Add the garlic, cumin, oregano and allspice and cook for 1 minute stirring the whole time to prevent burning.
- Stir in the wine and swirl around the pan to remove any browned bits.
- Add the crushed tomatoes, capers, and 1-2 cups (see note) of the reserved meat cooking liquid, bring to a simmer and cook 10-15 minutes until sauce is slightly reduced in volume.
- Add the vinegar and reserved meat, stir until the meat is heated through. Taste at this point and adjust the amount of salt, pepper and vinegar to your preference.
- Garnish with parsley and serve.
- We used the Ropa Vieja for tacos, but this can also be served with rice, beans, and fried yucca. If you plan to serve this with rice, make sure to save more of the meat cooking sauce in the first phase of cooking.
- Some versions of this include cooked eggs, potatoes, mint and chickpeas, so feel free to add other ingredients and experiment to make this dish a less meat centric and perhaps more stew like dish.
- Cilantro or another herb can be substituted for the parsley.