I don’t know about you, but when I feel like “half of my heart is in Havana” it’s usually because I’m craving one of my all-time favorite dishes of all cuisines ever in the whole world. I’m talking about Ropa Vieja. In my opinion, this simple beef stew truly is a Cuban treasure, right up there with Cuba Libre, Cohiba cigars, and Celia Cruz.
ROPA VIEJA, A LOVE STORY 💕
I still remember the very first time I had Ropa Vieja. I was having dinner in New York City with my dear friend, Maria, who is of Puerto Rican descent. She suggested we go to Victor’s Café in Midtown, a Cuban cuisine legend near our office at the time. “They have the best Ropa Vieja there, ” said Maria with longing in her voice. The name of the dish didn’t sound appealing to me (it means “old clothes” in English… mmm… yum). However, knowing what a formidable cook my friend is I decided to trust her on this one. And was she ever right! I can still see it and smell it: the Ropa Vieja arrived beautifully served in a toasted tortilla bowl paired with a classic side of tasty black beans and white rice. I licked my lips, took a hefty forkful and… it was love at first bite!
HOMEMADE ROPA VIEJA IS THE BEST!
Since that first time at Victor’s Café, I’ve had Ropa Vieja countless times in different places and different cities, including Miami where I live now, which is steeped in rich Cuban culture. Then last year, I finally had it in its birthplace, La Habana, where I easily found it made with pulled beef or pork in all the Paladares (privately run local restaurants). I even had it at the famous La Bodeguita del Medio in Havana, which apparently is a must for tourists. So many slightly different versions over the years, all of them delicious, but… for me nothing beats homemade Ropa Vieja. The recipe is simple, and tweaking it to my liking makes it even more special. Plus, when I make it myself I know every single ingredient is fresh and top quality. Never underestimate the source and quality of the ingredients you use in any recipe. It accounts for 80% of the outcome of your efforts in the kitchen. And speaking of ingredients, here they are!
All fresh and ready to be chopped and paired with our meat. I’m using flap steak, but you can also use skirt steak or flank steak (these beef cuts all come from the same area, but flap is usually slightly more affordable).
YOUR ROPA VIEJA SHOPPING LIST
- Beef Flap Steak
- Vidalia Onion (or your favorite onion)
- Tomato Paste
- Fresh Cilantro
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Green and Red Bell Peppers
- Poblano or Jalapeño Pepper
- Olive Oil
- Himalayan Salt
I like to roughly julienne the onions and bell peppers leaving the strips nice and thick, so they don’t completely melt and disappear in the stew. I also like to add a diced Poblano or jalapeño to give it a little kick. Then, I prepare all the ingredients next to my pan as you see them below, and the rest of the work is dumping, flipping & stirring.
READY, SET, COOK!
Just to prove how simple it is to make this dish, I shot this video for you. The name Ropa Vieja sounds exotic, I know, but it’s really the same process as for any other old stew with meat-pulling at the end. As with any other stew, the bulk of the work is really for your stove.
TIP # 1: ONE PAN ONLY
For some reason, some recipes call for searing the meat and sauteeing the vegetables in one pan and then transferring everything into a slow cooker or crockpot to simmer and stew for a few hours. Maybe it’s the former New Yorker in me (I lived without a dishwasher for 15 years in the city!), but I’m against using extra pans when they’re not needed. It’s not just the wash-up and clean-up, it’s the extra-steps too. And for what? I promise you, if you follow the steps in this recipe and use just one big pot or pan, depending on what you have at home, your Ropa Vieja will be super tender, juicy, and delicious! You’ll just need two forks to easily pull it apart.
TIPS # 2: ROPA VIEJA DIETARY TWEAKS
For my AIP Paleo peeps, you can easily tweak this recipe and make it compliant, even if you have not reintroduced any eliminations. Just leave out the peppers and the one spoonful of tomato paste, then substitute ground coriander for cumin. Feel free to add compliant vegetables you like and even other spices. This cut of beef is so flavorful, it doesn’t take much to get a super tasty and satisfying dish no matter what.
For food lovers on Keto, great news! This recipe is very Keto-friendly. Enjoy!
TIP #3: SERVE ROPA VIEJA WITH YOUR FAVORITE SIDE
I made this batch of Ropa Vieja for my dinner guests last night, so I indulged all the way and made my favorite sides: Arroz Blanco con Frijoles Negros y Calabaza. That is White Rice with Black Beans cooked with Calabaza Squash. It’s sooooooo good! Here is that recipe for you. The Calabaza is a game changer, as far as I’m concerned.
Having said all that, if you are completely off grains, not just off gluten, ditch the white rice and replace it with cauliflower rice. I know for a fact that it will be just as scrumptious. For my dear AIP Paleo peeps who have not reintroduced beans yet, you can substitute ripe Plantains, which are insanely delicious. (I’m sure I’ll soon post that recipe, as well. I feel a craving coming on!)
Here is the full recipe for you. I really hope you will give it a try and fall madly in love with your own version of Ropa Vieja.
As they say in Cuba, BUEN PROVECHO!
- 2 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
- 1 tsp Himalayan salt
- 3 lbs Beef flap or skirt steak
- 1 Vidalia onion very large
- 4 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 tsp cumin adjust amount to liking
- 1 red bell pepper julienned
- 1 green bell pepper julienned
- 1 small Poblano pepper or Jalapeño diced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp fresh cilantro
- Heat a large pan or pot and add olive oil
- When oil is hot but not smoking add the meat to sear on both sides until brown (about 3-4 minutes per side)
- Add chopped garlic and sliced onion. Stir and let then sweat for a couple of minutes
- Add all peppers. Stir and let it go for a couple of minutes
- Add salt, cumin, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar and half of the chopped cilantro (just 1 tbsp, reserve the rest for garnish)
- Stir everything together and add 1-2 tbsp of water if needed
- Cover with a lid and simmer on low heat for 3 hours, making sure to flip meat now and then and to keep the liquid level in the pan barely covering the flap steaks
- Take out the meat, pull it with two forks (it will shred effortlessly once the meat is cooked perfectly). Return it to the pan, stirring everything together. Cover and preferably keep cooking the stew for 5 more minutes.
- Remove from the stove and serve immediately or let it rest for a few minutes. It is delicious no matter what and will be even tastier the next day if you have leftovers. Enjoy!!
Disclaimer: Absolutely Flavorful is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program. Some of the links on this site are affiliate links. Should you click and make a purchase, I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you. Thank you for your support, and enjoy the experience!