Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja, or “old clothes,” describes the shreds of meat, peppers, and onions resembling a mess of colorful rags. Robust stews such as this Cuban specialty are at the heart of West Indian cuisine.

Admittedly, this is a multi-ingredient multi-step labor of love (read HUGE PAIN IN THE BUTT here) to make but you will love the results! This dish can be made in advance and I believe it is even better if allowed sit covered over night in the refrigerator. Goya has made getting most of the Cuban spices pretty easy to find in most “Amerciano” grocery chains or you can find them online as well. Growing up in Miami, whenever Ropa Vieja was served, it never seemed to last very long. This skinny little American kid, impressed many of my Cuban friend’s Moms with my ability to put down serious amounts of homemade Ropa Vieja. If any makes it past the initial dinner, this stuff makes excellent sandwiches as well. Just heat and drain some of the meat, melt some good provolone or swiss cheese on top, add some pickles on a nice hard crust cuban bread and YUM!.


For braising beef:

3-4 pounds skirt or flank steak, or brisket (The cut of meat may determine how long braising will take to create the famous shreds)
2 quarts water (enough to cover beef completely)
2 carrots, chopped coarse
1 large onion, chopped coarse
2 celery ribs, chopped coarse
1 bay leaf
3 garlic cloves, crushed lightly
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon whole black peppercorns (1/4 tsp?? what is that like 4.5 peppercorns??!!)

For the sauce:

3 green/red or yellow bell peppers, cut into 1/4-inch strips
1 red onion, cut into 1/4-inch strips
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 Tbs dry or fresh cilantro (~3 springs) ( I like fresh and use it as garnish when serving)
2 Tbs dry parsley
1 4 oz can of roasted pimento diced
1/2 cup red wine
2 oz Capers drained.
1/2 cup (~20 small olives) pimiento-stuffed Spanish olive, drained and halved
1 large Lime juiced ( or 3 littler ones)
1 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tbs Apple cider vinegar
1 packet of sazon Goya seasoning with cilantro and achiote (add one packet for every four servings – so if your brisket is closer to 5 lbs than 3, add two more packets)
1/2 tsp Goya Adobe Seasoning (same deal as the packets…add a 1/2 tsp for each 4 servings
2 cups braising liquid plus additional if desired
a 14- to 16-ounce can whole fire roasted tomatoes with juice, chopped
3 Tbs tomato paste
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp dried oregano
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup catsup (optional)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)


  1. In a large dutch oven or pressure cooker, combine braising ingredients in cold water; I mostly go for brisket for Ropa Vieja but the other cuts will work as well. Do not worry too much about trimming as excess fat can be removed during the shredding process; cook for over medium flame until beef is fork tender (~2.5 hours on the stove or 1 hr in pressure cooker). When meat separates easily with a fork, remove from pot and allow to cool. Using two forks remove any excess fat and rip meat into shreds until shredded completely. Remove and dispose of vegetables and peppercorns from the braising liquid; Reserve and set aside for later the broth (can be saved for soups and sauces as well); Set aside shredded beef.
  2. In the dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat; add the onion, green peppers, garlic; sauté these veggies until onion is translucent; next add the parsley, cilantro and pimento. Then add the olives, capers and wine to the sautéed veggies; Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, Worcestershire sauce; vinegar; lime juice; bay leaf, and all the dry seasonings – Oregano, cumin powder, sazon packet(s), garlic powder, adobe seasoning; salt and black pepper, Keep cooking for about 2 minutes until all the seasonings are well mixed into the sauce. Now add the reserved broth until meat/sauce consistency is a thick or “soupy” as you would like. Stir very well and let simmer for about one more minute. Taste the sauce and adjust salt and pepper or you may want to add a little bit of ketchup for more sweetness or a kiss of cayenne pepper for a little kick. It’s up to you.
  3. Now add the meat to the sauce and mix very well. Stir the frozen peas. Cover and simmer while gently mixing from time to time so the mixture will not burn while you prepare the fluffy white rice, black beans and Plantanos Verdes or Maduros. Serve to your friends with a fresh salad, good red wine and enjoy