Tuesday, June 8, 2010


It is serious business trying to find a legit ropa vieja recipe on the internet. Normally I refuse to trust a white person's recipe for a Cuban dish (or Asian) but in the end, the most reliable one we found was from - of all places- Williams-Sonoma. So I guess there's a lesson to be learned there.

I was first introduced to this meaty, stewy dish on a trip to Florida last January. Ropa vieja, loosely translated as Old Clothes, starts with slow cooked steak, stewed for hours in a mirepoix until it's insanely tender and juicy, which is then shredded and added to a colorful sofrito made with tomato, annato oil and bell peppers, where it is stewed once again, until it literally resembles old clothes. The stew is served on yellow rice and topped with capers. I like to think of little cuban ladies with lots of time and a huge family to feed making this in a ginormous stewpot. We found annato seeds at Stanley's and decided we had no choice but to make this, one of Benny's favorites. (This is how I got him to eat the coconut stir fry.) But, a favorite with good reason. This thing is incredibly savory, the steak is crazy tender, and you can eat it for days.

Since I thought it was interesting and this is my damn blog, here's some history in regards to ropa vieja-

Though the Cubans call it Cuban, this dish originated in the Canary Islands, where boats coming from and going to America would make a pit-stop. Due to heavy and continuous immigration to
Cuba and the Caribbean, ropa vieja arrived on the islands. Cubans then adopted it and added their own twist.

Spanish goods merchants, Dutch traders, slave traders, and rich Americans have all taken part in emigrating to Cuba and bringing plenty with them. In the same way that Cubans have put a uniquely Cuban twist on African rhythms, Spanish language, and American Cars, so have they made ropa vieja their own. Which makes Cuba the REAL melting pot.

From Wikipedia:

"There are many theories as to how the dish was named. One of the more popular ones is a story about a man whose family was coming to his home for dinner. Being very poor, the man could not buy them enough food when they came. To remedy his situation, he went to his closet, gathered some old clothes and imbued them with his love. When he cooked the clothes, his love for his family turned them into a wonderful beef stew."

So. Now that I've forced you to learn some Cuban/ropa vieja history, here's the recipe:

On a related note, if you felt like having a dexter viewing party and you felt moved to make dinner for it, this would be a perfect fit. I'm not sayin, I'm just sayin.

Recipe Soundtrack: "La TitimanĂ­a" by Los Van Van (On Benny's request. It's pretty 80's. And quite frankly, perfect for cooking Ropa Vieja)


Stewing Round 1:

2 1/2 lb. flank steak or lean chuck (Approximately)
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 cup white onion, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup peeled carrot
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 Tablespoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
Water to cover

Stewing Round 2:

2 Tbs. annatto oil (can be made by sauteing 1 part annato seeds in 2 parts oil until you get a steady bubble, remove from heat, let cool. Once you remove the seeds, you should have a nice red oil - It is easy to ruin. Overheating will yield burned seeds and green, useless oil.)
1 white onion, sliced thin
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups fresh tomatoes, sliced or canned tomatoes, drained
Pinch or so of ground cinnamon (depending on your tastes)
Pinch or so of cloves (also according to your tastes)
1 6 oz jar sliced red pimientos, drained
2 Tbs. capers, drained
Reserved stock from Stewing Round 1

Cooked yellow rice for serving (with sweet peas for color)

Annato Oil


Place ingredients from Round 1 in large dutch oven or stock pot. Set over medium heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Transfer the meat to a carving board and let cool. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and reserve. Discard the solids.

In the same pan over medium-high heat, warm the annato oil. Add the onion, bell peppers, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften.

Add the tomatoes and pimentos and render most of the water out of the tomatoes. While you are doing this, shred the beef and then add the stock, beef, capers, and spices. Let this stew as long as possible and when you can't take the great smell anymore, go on and eat it. (I'd say aim for at least an hour)

A good idea of what it should look like.

Serve over yellow rice mixed with sweet peas.

Oh and fried plantains if you can! (Recipe for that comin up sometime soon)


  1. this beef looks good! i've been looking for something like this to go with our venezuelan arepa meal. but what are annato seeds? will you help me arrange my blog. i'm confused and i need your web design help!

  2. you got it lady. Annato seeds are totally easy to find. Especially at mexican groceries. You should definitely try ropa vieja. its so good and totally delicious. Plus, most of the recipe is just doing one quick thing and then leaving it for a few hours.