Ropa Vieja is a zesty and delicious dish of beef with peppers, braised in a rich tomato-based sauce. It’s considered one of the national dishes of Cuba, and the Spanish name “ropa vieja” translates to “old clothes” – a nod to the long shreds of beef in this delicious dish.
Ropa Vieja is traditionally made with flank steak – a very flavorful cut of beef. Flank steak is, however, a fairly tough cut of beef so it requires a long cooking process to make it tender enough to eat. (Many Ropa Vieja recipes online make this dish with brisket – and that certainly can be used as an alternative – but to keep with true Cuban tradition, flank steak should be used.
Our Ropa Vieja is oven-braised for four hours in a heavy, cast iron baking pan – and in the end, we were rewarded with tender shredded beef a wonderful tomato and roasted red pepper sauce with a gentle heat from the addition of jarred pimento peppers. (If you can find fresh pimento or cherry peppers at your local market – use those instead of the jarred pimentos. Char them over an open flame to remove skin and discard seeds and stem.)
The Ropa Vieja sauce is complemented by the addition of anchovies and green olives – giving the finished dish a briny zesty flavor that is wonderful with the rich beefy tomato sauce.
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
5 pounds flank steak (we bought two pieces, each 2 ½ pounds)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large Spanish onion (yellow onion), at least one pound in weight, sliced thick
1 tablespoon anchovy paste or two anchovy fillets (should be just anchovies, oil and salt)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon dry cumin
1 tablespoon dry oregano
1 28-ounce can kitchen-ready ground tomatoes
1 quart beef stock or broth, see our recipe here
3 bay leaves
1 6.75-ounce jar green stuffed olives, drained and cut in half
1 cup diced jarred pimento peppers, drained (we found them in 4 ounce jars)
1 12-ounce jar red roasted peppers, drained and cut into thick strips (Or, make your own, see note* below.)
¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F.
Salt and pepper both sides of the beef.
Heat a wide heavy bottomed pot or roasting pan with two tablespoons of the oil over medium high heat and once hot, sear meat about four minutes on one side.
Add another tablespoon of oil as you flip and sear the other side then remove to a platter.
You may need to do this in two batches.
Add the remaining oil to the pot and add the onions and cook for three minutes.
Add the anchovy paste, garlic, cumin and oregano and cook for one minute.
Add tomatoes and beef stock and bring to low boil.
Add the beef and any juices that accumulated along with the bay leaf, cover and oven roast for 3 ½ hours, turning the meat half way through.
Remove the meat to a platter and shred with two forks keeping the meat stringy.
Using a strainer or spider, remove solids from pot and add to the beef platter.
Cook the liquid in the pan on the stove top to reduce to three cups. Ours took about 15 minutes.
Remove and discard the bay leaves and add the olives, pimento peppers, roasted red peppers and parsley.
Stir in the meat and solids from the platter, heat and serve with the saffron cauliflower rice.
*Note: You can roast your own peppers by buying one very large red bell pepper. Place it over an open flame on your stove or grill to char the skin black. Then place the hot charred pepper in a sealed plastic zip bag for about ten minutes. Remove from the bag and scrape off the skin, pull off the stem and remove the seeds. Additionally you could buy fresh pimento or cherry peppers and do the same if you preferred not to buy jarred.