Ropa vieja literally means “old clothes”. Although the name may seem odd or off-putting at first, it’s generally explained through an old story, which recounts that “there was once a man so poor, he could not afford to feed his children. He became so desperate that he cooked old clothes as if they were meat. He gave so much love in the process that the strips of cloth magically turned into a delicious stew.” Another, albeit less imaginative explanation for the dish’s name is that the shredded beef in this stew resembles old rags.
However it got its name, it’s generally accepted that ropa vieja traces its culinary origins back to Spain, although some source claim it evolved from a Sephardic dish from the Middle Ages, while others believe the dish originated in the Canary Islands. However, today ropa vieja is better known as is one of the national dishes of Cuba, although variations exist across the Caribbean, from Puerto Rico to Venezuela (where it’s known as pabellon) to Panama.
This version of ropa vieja is made in the Cuban style, with tender shredded flank steak and a tangy sauce made from tomatoes and peppers, accented with olives and capers. To round out the meal, serve with plenty of white rice (arroz blanco) and black beans (frijoles negros), with some salty-sweet fried plantains (plátanos fritos) on the side.
This recipe makes 6-8 servings.
- 6 oz. bacon, roughly chopped
- 2 lb. flank steak, cut into 1 1⁄2″ strips
- Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
- 1 Cubanelle or green pepper, thinly sliced
- 6 oz. tomato paste
- 1 tbsp. cumin
- 1 tbsp. dried thyme
- 1 tbsp. dried oregano
- 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 1⁄2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 cup (16-oz.) can whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
- 1⁄2 cup halved, pitted, green olives
- 1⁄3 cup sliced jarred pimiento peppers
- 3 tbsp. capers, rinsed and drained
- 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar
- 1⁄4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
Render bacon in a 6-qt. Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Transfer to a plate, leaving fat in pot. Season steak with salt and pepper. Working in batches, cook until browned on both sides, about 6 minutes; transfer to plate. Add onion and peppers; cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add tomato paste, cumin, thyme, oregano, garlic, and bay leaf; cook until lightly caramelized, about 3 minutes. Add wine; cook, scraping bottom of pot, for 1 minute. Return bacon and steak to pot with stock and tomatoes; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook, covered, until steak is very tender, 2–3 hours. Remove steak, and shred; return meat to pot with olives, pimientos, capers, and vinegar. Cook until sauce is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Stir in cilantro before serving.
last updated August 17, 2023