Ropa Vieja
#Dinner #Entertaining #recipes #Sofrito Rojo

Ropa Vieja

A juicy & tender Cuban classic.

Nov 27, 2023

By: Ana Rosal | @virtually.ana

Growing up in a Cuban household, I was always surrounded by different Cuban dishes, like palomilla, arroz con pollo, picadillo, pan con bistec - all the classics! But my favorite dish was my grandma’s Ropa Vieja. Ropa Vieja, meaning “old clothes” in Spanish, is essentially shredded beef that has been slow-cooked in a medley of sofrito, vegetables, and tomato sauce.

The best way I can explain how good this dish is, is by telling you a little story. A few years back when I was with a (now ex) boyfriend, we were in Miami for a soccer game. Of course, I had to take the opportunity to go see my abuelita, and also introduce her to the guy I was seeing at the time. We went over to her house and she had a steaming pot of Ropa Vieja ready on the stove. My partner at the time (who was not Latin at all) had never even heard of Ropa Vieja, but the smell seemed to entice him. After he took one bite, he couldn’t stop. And pretty soon, his plate was completely empty and my abuelita was already putting second helpings on his plate. I can recall that about a month later or so, he said to me, “Hey, what was that dish your grandma made for us in Miami? That food was the bomb, I can’t stop thinking about it.” Just goes to show that abuelita knows (and cooks) best!

Fork tender ropa vieja from the pressure cooker
Throughout my childhood, I didn’t have this dish too often because my mom didn’t usually make it. I would tend to have it more whenever I was visiting my abuelita and she would always make it a point to have a meal ready when she knew we were coming. I grew up three hours north of Miami, so the distance always makes the time with my abuelita extra special. When she makes it, she usually pairs it with arroz blanco, plátanos maduros, and aguacate sprinkled with salt and a drizzle of olive oil. I like to serve mine the same way whenever I make this dish. Not only is it pretty easy to put together, but it also makes for great leftovers if you’re making this for yourself. I will typically put any leftovers in the fridge and make sure to eat it within 2-3 days for maximum freshness. For re-heating, I would definitely recommend heating up in a pan on the stovetop if possible - I think this helps get the flavors going more than a microwave does.

In this recipe, I used about one pound of flank steak which was enough for approximately four servings. If you’re cooking for more people, you might want to use one and a half/two pounds of flank steak to make sure there’s enough meat for everyone. No matter what sides you’re having this dish with, I feel like the perfectly tender meat is really the star of the show. I recommend shredding the meat using two forks so you can shred it faster, but also be able to control how small the meat pieces are getting.

Usually my abuelita cooks her Ropa Vieja on the stovetop, but traditionally my great-grandmothers would cook it in a pressure cooker. Back in those days, the pressure cookers weren’t as durable or safe to use so there was always some risk. But if you want to significantly cut down on cooking time, using a pressure cooker is the way to go. I used Our Place’s Dream Cooker, which has different features including pressure cook, slow cook, sauté, and a warm setting that will simply keep your food warm while serving. This made it really easy to sear the steak first, then sauté my vegetables, and finally, pressure cook it all in under an hour.



A key tip for this dish is making sure you slice your vegetables very thinly. As I mentioned, the tender meat is the star of the show, so when you scoop it up with a fork, you don’t want large chunks of pepper and onion getting in the way - at least that’s just my personal preference. In this recipe, I just let my meat marinate for about 10 minutes as I cut my vegetables, but if you have the time (and foresight) I always think it’s best to allow your meat to marinate overnight to make sure those flavors and juices of the seasonings infuse nicely.

If you don’t have a pressure cooker and you’re cooking this on a stove top in a caldero or dutch oven, the directions are pretty much the same. You can sear your meat in the pot, then set aside, and sauté your vegetables in the pot. Once the vegetables are softened, nestle your meat in, pour in tomato sauce, bring to a boil and cover. Then, reduce heat to low and simmer for about one and a half to two hours. If you look up different Ropa Vieja recipes, there are countless ways to do it, one way even includes cooking your Ropa Vieja in the oven. But this is my way, inspired by my abuelita’s way.

Pour tomato sauce onto ropa vieja before slow cooking
In terms of measurements, I usually just eyeball my ingredients instead of measuring everything out. For the sake of this recipe being easy to follow, I added in exact measurements, but I do encourage you to go with your intuition and your own tastes. If you love garlic, maybe add in one more spoonful. If you can’t get enough of the Sofrito Rojo, add in another spoonful of that too. When my mom gave me this recipe from my abuelita, she didn’t even include measurements so it’s truly whatever your heart (and stomach) desires!