Friday, December 26, 2008

Ropa Vieja: Come to me, mi amor !

I love to cook. Hours spent in the kitchen are not only a soothing balm for my jangled nerves, but I also get the thrill of creating something from start to finish. A bunch of tomatoes, chiles and some onions, an hour or so in the kitchen, and presto: enchilada sauce! With the added bonus: we can eat this! This would contrast starkly with my adventures with yarn. For instance, the shawl I'm knitting for my sister, and have been knitting, since Christmas 2003. Sigh. I have too many unfinished knitting projects lying around to count.

My Darlin' Companion (DC) is extremely fond of Ropa Vieja, the famous Cuban dish. Recently we've had the pleasure of trying out some Cuban restaurants around town, and sampling the various versions of ropa vieja. Witnessing the level of ropa-induced delight on my DC's face, I decided I must consult Google for a good recipe.

Two hours and one YouTube video later, I'm feeling confuzled and frustrated. Ropa Vieja traditionalists decry Michael Chiarello's use of jalapeno peppers. Red bell peppers: yes or no? Or only green ones? To olive, or not to olive? What about peas? And most importantly, cook the meat first and then add to the stew, or start the dish with raw beef? If the beef is cooked first, should it be cooked in plain water, or seasoned water? Or beef broth, or chicken broth?

The use of pre-fab ingredients such as packaged seasoning mixes, beef bullion cubes, and "garlic powder" in some recipes totally scares me. OK, granted, what else would you expect from a recipe developed by the Goya company? However, the Cuban mom (she's delightful!) on YouTube uses garlic powder too. I completely mistrust garlic powder, as it always tastes rancid and "off" to me. I'm not saying it IS rancid, I'm just saying that's how it tastes to me.

After perusing what I unscientifically consider a representative sample of the recipes out there, I have decided I'll just have to make up my own version. Though I think I might need to visit Carmen's again and sample theirs, as I can't remember if there are olives or not. (No sacrifice too great for the cause!)

In my quest to make the most delicious ropa vieja on the face of the earth, and to earn the undying accolades of my DC, (and lacking the quintessential ropa recipe), here is what I plan to do:

I will begin with 3 lbs. of Whole Foods' finest, not too thin, flank steak. I will simmer it in the pressure cooker along with 2 qts of water and my standard repertoire of "stock" veggies. This includes onions, celery, carrots, garlic, peppercorns, and a bay leaf. (I usually add a parsnip, leek, and various herbs when I make stock, but I don't think these would harmonize with the Cuban flavors I'm aiming for.) From what I can tell, most people who make Ropa with a pressure cooker simmer the beef at high pressure for 20 minutes, and allow the pressure to release on its own. I want it to be falling-apart-tender after its stint in the pressure cooker, so I'll start with 20 minutes and then see if it needs more time.

Then, let the beef cool in its own broth until it's cool enough to shred. I will strain and reserve cooking broth too. I'm also thinking of reducing it as well.

Then the real fun begins!

Saute a large onion and a green bell pepper in 2 T of canola oil until tender. Olive oil might be better here, but a lot of Latin American recipes don't use it. I will add 4 chopped cloves of garlic, cumin to taste, 1/4 t. of oregano and salt and pepper to taste. After sauteeing for a couple of minutes, I'll add the tomato component. I've seen various products used, but I'm going to try 2 cans of Spanish-style tomato sauce (and add tomato paste if it needs more oomph). Then, 2 c. of the reduced braising liquid, 1/2 c. red wine, and 1 T red wine vinegar, and the shredded beef. Simmer until the flavors meld.

Hope it turns out well!


  1. Hi, I saw your comment on my blog and decided to drop by, I have to say I'm impressed really nice recipe for Ropa Vieja and yes you are right many many cooks do it different.

    I do however highly suggest using olive oil in Cuban cooking, it makes a difference, if you wish you can add pimiento stuffed olives to your "Ropa Vieja" and peas to garnish.

    In my Ropa Vieja recipe I boiled the meat with a lot of stuff, but to be honest all you really need is water, beef and salt, if you wish throw a bay leaf in there. The only reason I flavored my stock more is because I wanted to use it to cook some rice with the beef stock.

    P.S. Love the dialogue, I really suggest adding pictorials and pictures it would livin it up, I am gonna try your recipe for Ropa Vieja just by reading it I know it good!

  2. Hi, Nathan--

    I just saw your comment! Thanks so much for your advice! If you check out my post from New Years, you'll see the final version of the recipe I came up with. I served it with your arroz amarillo and frijoles negros and both were FANTASTIC!


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