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The Incredible Ropa Vieja We Made From 30 Top Recipes

ropa vieja recipe

My Puerto Rican husband Pat loves ropa vieja and there is never a time we go to a Cuban restaurant that he doesn’t order it. I set out to find a family recipe for ropa vieja so we can make it at home.

But I was unsuccessful.

Some family members said they have never made it before. Others had a good, but very basic recipe that looked more like Yankee stew without the potatoes. So my husband and I began to do a little research from our Cuban friends and online recipes. We found a ton of different techniques and ingredients, almost as if there really wasn’t a standard recipe.

The History of Ropa Vieja

To our surprise, we found out that ropa vieja can be traced back 500 years. Cuba’s national dish originated with the Sephardic Jews in Spain, who because of strict Jewish Sabbath laws, could not cook on Saturdays. They would slow cook a meal the day before that could be eaten as leftovers the next day, on the Sabbath. When the Spanish Jews began to migrate to Cuba from the Canary Islands off of the Iberian Peninsula in the early 1900s, they brought their recipes with them. The dish we know as ropa vieja today has been influenced by Morrocon, Spanish, Portugese and Turkish cooks. 

While Pat and I compared more than 30 ropa vieja recipes, we realized they all follow the basic recipe for a stew, while using a limited range of different ingredients depending on the country where the recipe originated from. So Pat and I developed our own version of ropa vieja with our favorite flavors and ingredients from the Middle East and Spain, as well as those that you would find in recipes closer to home: the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and of course: Cuba. Our ropa vieja includes a mix of spices and ingredients like allspice, achiote oil, lemon, cumin, adobo and cubanelle peppers. We married all the sabores and brought them together to make a hearty and flavorful dish that is not only delicious, but our new favorite recipe.

Serve ropa vieja with a side of white rice, arroz con gandules or plantains—maduros or tostones.

I told the story about the ropa vieja origin to my dad, and he said he already knew! He said my Sephardic grandmother, who was from Turkey, made it for Dad and my aunts and uncles in their tiny NYC apt in the 1940s! I never even knew. My dad said I have to make it for him the next time I visit. How is it possible that this recipe has so many connections to so many parts of our family?

Pat loves this recipe so much, he thinks it might even be better than the ropa vieja he loves to order at our favorite Cuban restaurant 45 minutes away. We’ll report back!

The Incredible Ropa Vieja We Made from 30 Top Recipes

5 from 1 vote
Recipe by Michelle Ezratty Murphy Cuisine: Cuban
Servings

8

servings
Prep time

20

minutes
Cooking time

3

hours 

Ingredients

  • 2 lb 2 skirt, brisket or flank steak, fileted into a thin flat cut

  • 2 tsp 2 kosher salt

  • 1 tsp 1 black pepper

  • 2 Tbsp 2 achiote oil

  • 1 1 onion, small, quartered

  • 1 1 cubanelle pepper, seeded and quartered

  • 5 cloves 5 garlic, peeled and smashed

  • 2 tsp 2 adobo

  • 1/4 tsp 1/4 ground cumin

  • 1 Tbsp 1 dry oregano

  • 1 package 1 sazón

  • 1/8 tsp 1/8 ground allspice

  • 1 cup 1 chicken broth

  • 4 cups 4 water, use more if needed to cover the meat

  • 2 tsp 2 soy sauce, low-sodium

  • 1/2 1/2 lemon, juiced

  • 3 3 bay leaves

  • The Stew Broth
  • 2 cups 2 strained caldo

  • 3 Tbsp 3 tomato paste

  • 3 cloves 3 garlic, mashed in a pilón with a pinch of kosher salt to make a paste

  • 1 tsp 1 pique, vinegar flavored with garlic, rosemary and hot pepper

  • 3 Tbsp 3 dry white wine

  • 2 Tbsp 2 Spanish olives with pimentos, sliced or diced

  • 1 Tbsp 1 capers, drained

  • 1 small jar 1 pimentos, drained and sliced

  • 1 Tbsp 1 cilantro, chopped

  • 1/2 1/2 red bell pepper, thinly sliced

  • 1/2 1/2 green bell pepper, thinly sliced

  • 1 1 white onion, thinly sliced

Directions

  • Start & Simmer the Stew
  • Prepare the skirt steak by cutting the meat with the grain into sizes that will fit into a your large caserola or Dutch oven.
  • Combine the salt and pepper in a small dish. Sprinkle salt and pepper both sides of the meat.
  • Heat your large pan to medium high heat and add the achiote oil. When the oil begins to ripple, it is hot enough to begin to sear the meat.
  • In small batches, carefully place the meat into the hot achiote oil in a single layer. Let the meat sear for about 2 to 3 minutes each side, until lightly browned. Remove the meat and place onto a cookie sheet. Repeat with all the meat, until all of it is browned. The bottom of your pan or Dutch oven will start developing brown bits. That’s a good thing. You want to build up these brown bits during the cooking process to develop the flavor.
  • Once all the meat is browned and removed, add to the pan: the onion, cubanelle pepper and garlic. Saute for one minute.
  • To the onion and peppers, add the adobo, cumin, oregano, sazón and allspice. Stir well to incorporate together. The bottom of the pan may look very dark, but don’t touch it. It’s a good, delicious thing—and necessary for flavor building.
  • Add chicken stock and begin to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to mix into your sauce.
  • Add the soy sauce and lemon juice. Stir well.
  • Return the browned meat back into the pan. Pour in the water, approximately 4 cups, or more if needed to cover the beef. Bring the stew or caldo to a boil.
  • Once it has come to a boil, add the bay leaves. Put the lid on half way to allow for the steam to escape and reduce heat to medium low.
  • Simmer for 2 1/2 hours, until the steak is tender and the liquid has reduced.
  • Reduce the Broth & Make the Flavors Shine
  • Once the stew has reduced to ⅓ of its original liquid, the next step is to make the caldo, the hearty broth.
  • Take the pan off the heat, and remove the tender meat onto a cutting board. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Using two forks, gently shred the meat, pulling it apart into thin strands about 2 to 3 inches long, and set aside.
  • Strain the broth into a 4 cup heat-proof measuring cup, reserving all the liquid. You should have at least 2 cups of broth. If not, add additional chicken stock (or water: up to you!) to the measuring cup so that you end up with a total of 2 cups.
  • Add the shredded meat into a shallow caserola or a large deep skillet with a lid.
  • Stir in the 2 cups of broth to the shredded meat.
  • Add the tomato paste and stir again, until it has fully incorporated.
  • Add the garlic, pique (vinegar sauce flavored with garlic, rosemary and hot pepper—you can buy it or you can make it), and white wine and bring to a boil.
  • Add the olives, capers, pimentos, cilantro, red and green bell peppers and onions.
  • Bring heat to low or medium low. Cover the pan completely and allow to simmer for 20 to soften the onions and peppers.
  • Your ropa vieja is ready! Serve with a side of white rice, arroz con gandules or plantains—maduros or tostones.

Notes

  • Most ropa viejas use chuck steak, including the recipe from my husband Pat’s family. I made this with skirt steak because I think it will shred better. It took a little longer cooking time than flank or brisket, but the end result is very different from chuck. It was delicious and we think worth it!
  • DON’T wear a white shirt (even with an apron on) when cooking with achiote. It stains! 😂
ropa vieja recipe

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