You can not go wrong with this Ropa Vieja recipe. This succulent, flavorful dish will fill your kitchen with with an irresistible Caribbean aroma.There is a familiar saying you might have heard before: families that eat together, stay together. Nothing epitomizes this more than dinners surrounded by loved ones, seated behind home cooked meals and almost always, very lively conversation.
In many countries around the world, Sunday is a favorite time during the week to host these gatherings. Perhaps because Sundays fall on the weekend for most, and your favorite Aunt and Uncle, maybe with your cousins in tow, can afford the time to take a seat at your table and dig into familiar and tasty traditional foods. Whether you’re creating your version of Grandma’s famous roast or doing it Soprano style with a table filled with old world Italian classics such as pasta Bolognese, some dishes are just made to be had with close family and friends. The classic Cuban dish, ropa vieja (Spanish for “old clothes), exemplifies all of those sentiments, and then some. Which is why it’s a much loved dish in my home all year round.
I adore this comfort stew, not only because it is so simple to make – on a stove top or in my Crock-Pot – but it can feed a mass of people when the need calls for it. When it doesn’t, and all I’ve got are cravings that must be paid attention to, I can whip this savory stew up and store the leftovers for another day. It doesn’t get much better than that.
While ropa vieja is popularly known as a Cuban delicacy, it has made its way around the world and back again, becoming popular throughout parts of South America, the Caribbean, and in parts of its native Spain. Historians claim that the dish was first brought to Spain by Sephardics, as far back as the Middle Ages. There is something to be said about a dish that stands the test of time and earns it, in every way.
There are various ways to go about making ropa vieja recipe, but as always, I prefer the traditional route, which tends to require fewer ingredients than modern interpretations and celebrates the old school in a tasteful way. My version includes beef flank steak, a few vegetables and sofrito, a typical sauce base found in most Spanish and Portuguese cuisine.
Before I get into all the fine details, you must be wondering, how on earth could something called “old clothes” taste any good? Simply put: the name is derived from the colorful look of the meat once it’s cooked and shredded. Now that’s a fun fact to share at the table, for sure.
Ropa vieja recipe is traditionally made with beef flank steak. Many chefs agree that this type of beef is instrumental in making an impeccable stew. The reason for this is that flank steak is perfect for slow cooked meals, as the tissue and fat dissolve gently in the cooking process, allowing for the meat to become tender and shred very easily. When purchasing your meat, always be sure to buy the freshest cut you can find.
What ropa vieja recipe takes in cooking time (which can vary between 2 – 6 hours, depending on your cooking methods) it makes up in how few vegetables you have to chop up. With such a short list consisting of red bell peppers, onion, garlic and diced tomatoes (which you can buy in any store), your part is almost all done before you even begin. Keep in mind that your vegetables will spend quite a bit of time stewing with your meat so their primary purpose is to compliment the richness of the stew, rather than stand out as a superstar.
So basically, all the vegetables that I just outlined are what make up what is popularly known in Spain, Portugal, South America, and parts of the Caribbean as sofrito. A familiar base in many dishes throughout these regions, sofrito is what gives, in this case – ropa vieja recipe – its stand-alone flavor. Each region has its own version, and in Cuba, you’ll find sofritos consisting of not only basic vegetables such as finely chopped onions, garlic and bell pepper, but of aromatics such as cinnamon and bay leaf, and sautéed briefly in cooking oil.
It’s possible to find sofrito in your local food market, but it’s just as easy to create own your own, especially when making ropa vieja. You can quickly prepare it on your stove top once you’ve braised your meat or add the ingredients to the Crock-Pot, and let it all simmer beautifully for several hours.
There are so few ingredients that go into making your very own ropa vieja that it truly takes a load off of all the planning one sometimes has to go through when making big family meals. However, it does take a little bit of time – and it is well worth the wait.
If you choose to make ropa vieja on your stove top, using a heavy cast iron pot such as a Dutch oven is ideal. These pots tend to distribute the braising and stewing of meats and vegetables quite well. You will want to make sure to braise the flank steak on both sides first (be sure to just caramalize the meat), remove it and then sauté the vegetables. After a couple of minutes, add the meat back into the pot, the remaining ingredients that make up your sofrito (don’t forget to add either water or beef stock), and let the magic happen for a couple of hours.
Using a Crock-Pot for this Ropa vieja recipe is fairly similar in cooking process and less work (as it was meant to be when using this handy tool). Just season the flank steak with salt and pepper and add it to the Crock-Pot with all the other ingredients in the recipe. You’ll want to let it simmer for approximately 5-6 hours.
Once all is said and done, prior to serving, make sure the flank steak is fork tender and, once cooled a bit, shred it to strips with a shredder or your hands and mix it well with the remaining sauce.
I like to serve ropa vieja on top of a nice bowl of steaming hot rice, or with crusty bread or warmed tortillas.
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