Ropa Vieja

published Jan 16, 2022
Ropa Vieja Recipe

The origin story behind this Cuban dish is just as rich as it's abundant flavor.

Serves4

Prep10 minutes

Cook1 hour 30 minutes

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Ropa Vieja (Shredded beef and vegetables that resemble a heap of colorful rags, one of the national dishes of Cuba, but originated in Spain and is popular in other parts of Latin America)
Credit: Shilpa Uskokovic

Ropa vieja is a dish of shredded meat stewed in a tomato-based sauce. Its an emblematic, popular Cuban recipe that uses simple ingredients and is relatively easy to prepare. 

Translating to “old clothes,” it stems from the Spanish legend of a man who did not have any food to feed his family. He looked in his closet for old rags, tore them, and made them into a stew. Then, an angel appeared and turned the rags into meat. Other versions of the story, particularly in Cuba, detail how the man did not have money for his family to eat meat. He sold his old clothes, and with the money, he bought meat to prepare dinner for his family. 

Flank Steak or Other Cuts of Beef?

Traditional ropa vieja recipes call for flank steak. A tough piece of meat, flank steak comes from the bottom hard-working muscle area of the cow and is very lean, with little fat. This means it has less flavor than other cuts of beef

Since it is tougher, stewing is required to soften the meat; it not only makes it more easily shreddable, but also easier to chew. Because it’s so lean, it can be dry and tough if overcooked or sliced too thickly. However, flank is still used in most ropa vieja recipes out of tradition because of the shape: The grains of the cut yield long strands of shredded beef resembling the dish’s namesake (torn clothing).

Flank steak is generally one of the least expensive cuts to purchase and is therefore a natural choice for those minding a budget. If you can’t find flank steak or prefer another cut of meat to achieve a similar shredded strands effect, hanger steak, top round, skirt steak, and tri-tip steak are comparable alternatives. (You may just need to adjust the cook time.) Another tasty, budget-friendly choice for slow-cooked shredded beef is chuck.

Credit: Shilpa Uskokovic

Should I Use a Pot, Dutch Oven, or Slow Cooker? 

This recipe uses a deep pot and pan to make ropa vieja. Compared to other recipes, the cooking time is considerably shorter. If using a Dutch oven, recipes will call for searing the flank steak before simmering for several hours, and slow cooker recipes take anywhere between four to 10 hours. 

Ropa Vieja Recipe

The origin story behind this Cuban dish is just as rich as it's abundant flavor.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 1 hour 30 minutes

Serves 4

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1 pound

    beef flank steak

  • 2

    bay leaves

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt, plus more as needed

  • 1

    medium yellow onion

  • 1

    medium red bell pepper

  • 2 cloves

    garlic

  • 2 tablespoons

    neutral oil, such as canola

  • 1/2 cup

    dry red wine

  • 1/2 cup

    beef broth

  • 1/2 cup

    tomato purée

  • 1 teaspoon

    dried oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cumin

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • Fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish (optional)

  • Serving options: black beans, rice, and patacones (fried plantains)

Instructions

  1. Bring 4 cups water and bring to a boil in a large pot over high heat. Add 1 pound beef flank steak, 2 bay leaves, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Make sure the steak is covered by the water and simmer until the meat is fork tender or soft enough to be shredded, about 30 minutes.

  2. Transfer the steak to a clean cutting board or plate and let sit until cool enough to handle. Meanwhile, halve and thinly slice 1 medium yellow onion. Trim and cut 1 medium red bell pepper into 1/4-inch wide strips. Mince 2 garlic cloves.

  3. Heat 2 tablespoons neutral oil in a medium high-sided skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Meanwhile, finely shred the beef with 2 forks.

  4. Add 1/2 cup dry red wine, 1/2 cup beef broth, 1/2 cup tomato purée, 1 teaspoon dried oregano, and 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin. Stir until well combined. Add the beef and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 12 minutes. Taste and season with more kosher salt and black pepper as needed. Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves if desired. Serve with black beans, rice, and patacones (fried plantains).

Recipe Notes

Substitution: Use an equal amount of Italian seasoning for the dried oregano.

Storage: Refrigerate leftovers in an airtight container for up to 3 days.