Slow-cooked shredded beef and vegetables that resemble a pile of colourful rags is what Cubans call Ropa Vieja (or Ropa Vieja Cubana). From the Spanish term for “old clothes”, this rich shredded beef stew is one of Cuba’s most popular and beloved dishes. A filling and hearty Cuban Ropa Vieja Recipe is a great one for a delicious dinner on a cold evening!
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What is Ropa Vieja?
Ropa Vieja may sound exotic, but it’s the kind of meal that is universally accepted as delicious around the world. Essentially, it is a beef stew. Beef is first slow-cooked in stock and dry white wine, shredded and added to rich tomato, onion and pepper sauce. Ropa Vieja is best served with rice and beans, or some sweet plantains on the side.
There’s a legend surrounding the invention (or a miracle, I should say) of Ropa Vieja. The legend talks about a man who didn’t have any money for food for his family. Out of desperation, he shredded his own clothes and put them in a pan to cook. As the clothes bubbled away, the man was praying hard to God. When his prayer was finished and he looked at the pan, the old clothes had cooked to a delicious meaty stew that was enough to feed his family and more. And that’s how the name of the Cuban stew was born, soon becoming the national dish of Cuba. Ropa Vieja actually translates as ‘old clothes’ in English.
Why You Will Love Ropa Vieja
- Authentic Cuban Delight: Ropa Vieja is one of Cuba’s national dishes, showcasing the rich flavours and culinary heritage of the country. It’s a must-try for any lover of Cuban food or those looking to explore new cuisines.
- Versatile Cooking Methods: While traditionally made on the stove top, Ropa Vieja can be easily adapted to various cooking appliances. Whether you prefer the convenience of a slow cooker (crock pot), the efficiency of an Instant Pot (pressure cooker), or the traditional stovetop method, you can enjoy this delicious dish with your preferred cooking method.
- Budget-Friendly: Ropa Vieja is a fantastic option for those seeking economical yet tasty meals. It utilizes cheaper cuts of beef, such as chuck roast, which become incredibly tender and flavorful when slow-cooked. You can enjoy a hearty and satisfying beef dish without breaking the bank.
- Make Ahead and Freeze: Ropa Vieja lends itself well to meal prepping and batch cooking. You can easily make a larger quantity, portion it out, and freeze the leftovers for future meals. This makes it a time-saving option for busy days when you want a delicious homemade meal without the fuss.
- Comfort Food at Its Best: With its tender, shredded beef simmered in a savoury sauce, Ropa Vieja is the epitome of comfort food. It warms the soul and satisfies the taste buds with its hearty flavours and satisfying textures. It’s a dish that brings comfort and joy to the table.
- Crowd-Pleaser: Whether you’re hosting a gathering or simply cooking for your family, Ropa Vieja is a crowd-pleasing dish that will impress your guests. Its robust flavours and tender meat make it a favourite among both meat lovers and those seeking a taste of Cuban cuisine.
- Endless Serving Possibilities: Ropa Vieja offers a range of serving options. It can be enjoyed over a bed of fluffy rice, accompanied by black beans and plantains, or served with tortillas for a Latin-inspired twist. The versatility of this dish allows you to customize it to your taste preferences and create a memorable dining experience.
What Is Ropa Vieja Made Of?
- beef: casserole beef, flank steak or skirt steak will work well in this recipe. Read more about the best cut of meat for Cuban Ropa Vieja in the section below.
- white wine: choose dry white wine. Both oaky and fruity types work well in this recipe.
- beef stock: if you can, use beef broth. But chicken broth or even vegetable stock cube will work here too.
- spices and flavourings: bay leaves, black pepper corns, ground cumin, paprika, mixed dried herbs, turmeric
- tomato puree: also known as tomato paste.
- bell peppers: choose any colour you wish. We opted for yellow and red bell pepper. Green bell pepper will do a great job in this dish too though.
- onions: brown, white or red. You may also use shallots.
- garlic cloves.
What Is The Best Cut of Beef For Ropa Vieja?
When it comes to preparing the best Ropa Vieja, choosing the right cut of beef is crucial. The ideal cut should be able to withstand long cooking times while still resulting in fork tender, flavorful strands of meat. Here are some top contenders for the best beef cuts to use in this traditional Cuban recipe:
- Casserole Beef: This versatile cut, commonly known as stewing beef, works exceptionally well in Ropa Vieja due to its inherent tenderness and ability to break down and become succulent when slow-cooked.
- Beef Chuck Roast: With its well-marbled texture and rich flavour, beef chuck roast is a popular choice for Ropa Vieja. It becomes wonderfully tender and shreds beautifully after being braised or simmered for an extended period.
- Skirt Steak: Known for its robust beefy flavour, skirt steak adds depth to the dish while offering a delightful chewiness. Though it requires careful cooking to achieve tenderness, skirt steak can yield mouthwatering results in Ropa Vieja.
- Flank Steak: Another excellent option for this Cuban delicacy, flank steak boasts a pronounced beef taste and a distinctive grain. When cooked low and slow, it can deliver tender, juicy meat that readily absorbs the flavours of the accompanying ingredients.
Remember, regardless of the cut you choose, the key is to cook the beef for a long time, allowing it to become fork-tender and develop the signature textures and flavours that make Ropa Vieja one of the most extraordinary dishes Cuban cuisine has to offer.
Place the beef in a large pot with a matching lid. Pour the white wine and stock in, add the bay leaf and peppercorns. Place in low heat and cook for 3-4 hours, until you have fork tender beef.
Transfer beef out of the stock (reserve the stock for later) onto a chopping board. Shred the meat using 2 forks (when cooked, the meat should shred very easily). You should have long shreds of beef. Cover the shredded meat with aluminium foil or a plate and set it aside.
Heat 2 tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions and cook for 5-6 minutes, until softened. Tip in the sliced cloves of garlic and yellow and red peppers and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
Add the spices and stir until all the vegetables are covered, then add the tomato paste and stir for a minute. Pour the stock that the beef has been cooking in through a fine sieve, discarding the bay leaf and peppercorns. Add it to the sauce.
Add the shredded beef back to the tomato sauce and cook for another 10-15 minutes on medium heat, until the sauce has reduced by about a third.
In the meantime, cook the white rice following the instructions on a packet.
Serve the Cuban ropa vieja on a bed of rice (or try South African Yellow Rice) with some Cuban black beans (or kidney beans) on the side, some fresh coriander, sliced green olives (optional) and a lime wedge as a garnish!
Storage and Reheating
To store leftover Ropa Vieja, allow it to cool down to room temperature before transferring it to an airtight container. Ensure that the container is large enough to accommodate the meat and the accompanying sauce. The airtight seal will help preserve the flavours and prevent the dish from absorbing any odours from the refrigerator.
If you plan to enjoy your leftover Ropa Vieja within a few days, store it in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
If you have a larger quantity of leftovers or wish to extend its shelf life, freezing is a viable option. Ropa Vieja freezes well, thanks to its slow cooking process that renders the meat tender and flavorful. Transfer the cooled Ropa Vieja to a freezer-safe container or airtight freezer bag. Ensure that the container is tightly sealed to prevent freezer burn. The frozen Ropa Vieja can be stored for up to three months.
When you’re ready to enjoy the frozen Ropa Vieja, it’s best to thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. Once thawed, you can reheat it using either the stove top or the microwave. For stove-top reheating, place the defrosted Ropa Vieja in a large skillet over low heat. Add a splash of water or broth to moisten the meat, cover the skillet with a lid, and gently warm it, stirring occasionally, until heated through. This method helps to maintain the tenderness and flavours of the dish.
Alternatively, you can use the microwave for a quicker reheating process. Transfer the thawed Ropa Vieja to a microwave-safe dish and cover it with a microwave-safe lid or microwave-safe plastic wrap, leaving a small vent to allow steam to escape. Heat the dish in short intervals, stirring in between, until the desired temperature is reached. Be cautious not to overcook the meat to preserve its tenderness.
Ways to Use Leftover Shredded Beef Stew
Traditionally served with briny olives, beans and yellow rice, this classic Cuban dish is actually extremely versatile and can be served in many different ways.
- Fill soft tortilla wraps with long strands of ropa vieja, beans and fresh lettuce leaves for an effortless, easy-to-eat lunch.
- Make a beef rice salad, by simply mixing this rich meat stew with cooked rice, fresh tomatoes, beans, coriander and a spoonful of mayo.
- Pack the juicy beef into a toasted brioche bun and serve it as a Ropa Vieja Sandwich!
Other Beef Recipes
If you’re cooking beef, make it something special. Some of our favourite recipes are below:
- Traditional Beef Stroganoff
- Pasta Al Forno
- Beef Giniling (Filipino Beef)
- Crispy Chilli Beef | Home-Made Chinese Take-Away Favourite
Cuban Ropa Vieja
- 500 g stew beef or flank steak
- 200 ml dry white wine
- 450 ml beef stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon peppercorn
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon mixed herbs
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 4 tablespoon tomato puree
- 2 bell peppers cored and thinly sliced
- 2 onions thinly sliced
- 3 garlic cloves thinly sliced
- 240 g white rice
- 200 g black beans or kidney beans
- 5 g coriander roughly chopped
- ½ lime
- Place the beef in a pan with a matching lid. Pour the wine and stock in, add the bay leaf and peppercorns. Place in low heat and cook for 3 hours.
- Lift the meat out of the stock (reserve the stock for later). Shred the meat using 2 forks (when cooked the meat should shred very easily). Cover the beef and set it aside.
- Heat 2 tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions and cook for 5-6 minutes, until softened. Add garlic and peppers and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
- Add the spices and stir until all the vegetables are covered, then add the tomato paste and stir for a minute. Pour the stock the beef has been cooking in through a fine sieve, discarding the bay leaf and peppercorns.
- Add the shredded beef back to the sauce and cook for another 10-15 minutes on low heat.
- In the meantime, cook the white rice following instructions on a packet.
- Serve the Cuban ropa vieja on a bed of rice with some black (or kidney beans) on the side, with some fresh coriander and a lime wedge as a garnish!