Posted by: A Part of the Solution | January 2, 2013

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja is a signature dish of Cuba. Ropa vieja is shredded beef in a stew of peppers and onions. Ropa Vieja uses flank steak, a great value cut of beef. Ropa Vieja means Old Clothes, and it kind of looks like that on the plate–albeit they’d have to be old barn clothes to do justice to their namesake dish.

Ropa Vieja makes well in a slow cooker, although the braising portion of the cooking time takes longer, it’s perfectly suited to starting in the morning and being ready for its final processing and transformation at the end of the work day.

I’ll include some optional ingredients you may add to your Ropa Vieja. Keep it simple, or go flat out for a great company dish. This also makes well in larger, and smaller, volumes. Don’t be shy about making the right amount for your needs.

Ropa Vieja

For braising beef:

2 1/2  lbs  flank steak, or skirt steak, trimmed of super obvious fat

1 1/2  quarts water

2 carrots, in 3 or 4 pieces each

1 large onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 celery stalks, in 3 or 4 pieces each

1 bay leaf

3 garlic cloves, crushed

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

1 hot pepper, seeds and all, whole–optional

For the final stew:

4 tablespoons olive oil, or bacon drippings

2 large onions, cut into 1/4-inch strips, red is pretty but not necessary

2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch strips

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 red bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch strips

2 yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/4 inch strips

2 cups braising liquid plus additional if desired

14- to 16-ounce can whole tomatoes with juice, chopped, or a similar size of crushed or diced tomato

1/2 cup pimiento-stuffed Spanish olive, drained and halved

1 cup frozen peas–optional

1-2 tablespoons of capers, roughly chopped–optional

salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a 5 quart pot over medium heat, place the trimmed steak and all the braising ingredients. Bring the pot to a simmer and lower the heat to a low seethe, where the liquid moves gently under the surface but doesn’t boil or bubble. Let this cook for 1 1/2 hours uncovered. If you’re using a crock pot, start it on high, lower the setting when you’re out the door and let it go all day with the lid cocked. Let the meat stand in the braising liquid another half hour off the heat.
While the steak stands, heat the oil or drippings in a large skillet. When the fat is hot, add the onions and give them about five minutes over medium heat. Now add the green peppers and the garlic. Lower the heat slightly and let everything cook about five minutes more.

Strain the solids from the braising liquid and return the braising liquid to the pan. Cook over high heat, uncovered, to reduce the liquid to about 2 1/2 to 3 cups. Meanwhile add the cumin, oregano and tomato paste to the skillet. Cook these in, stirring occasionally, until the paste darkens and the herbs become very fragrant. Now add the remaining pepper strips. While they cook, shred the beef along the grain, and cut it into about 3 inch lengths. Add the beef to the pan, along with the canned tomato product and 2 cups of the reduced braising liquid. Let this simmer 20 or 30 minutes. Add the chopped olives, the optional peas and the optional capers if you’re using them. If you added the peas, let everything have another five minutes so that the peas are heated completely through. Don’t add salt until the olives are in and stirred around, since they’re salty on their own and you may not want any extra. Use as much black pepper as you like.

This is great with rice, or corn tortillas. You may top the Ropa Vieja with sour cream or shredded cheese–but you don’t have to since it’s great as is.

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