Ropa Vieja is Cuba’s national dish, and it literally means “old clothes.” It gets its name from the way shredded beef resembles old shredded clothing.
I grew up eating lots of Cuban food! I am not Cuban, but my late grandfather was. We called him “Pipo,” and he was always the life of the party. Pipo was the cook in our family, and he really loved to feed everyone. I miss him so much.
Ropa vieja is one of the very first Cuban dishes I ever learned how to make. It is usually served with rice, black beans, and tostones (fried plantains). I used to order this a lot at Cuban restaurants, and I noticed that recipes are very different depending on the region it comes from. Some versions are heavy on tomato, and others barely have any. Keep this in mind when you are making this recipe- if you don’t like a tomato based stew, reduce the amount of crushed tomatoes and paste.
What cut of meat to use
Flank steak is traditionally used for this dish, but it is so lean and tough. I prefer to use chuck roast since it has a little fat on it and chews much easier. I also think it tastes better. Here are some options you can choose from:
Chuck roast- Has some fat (flavor), becomes very tender, and has great flavor. It also makes the best beef broth.
Flank steak- Traditionally used for ropa vieja. Takes a long time to get tender, a bit more expensive, and very lean.
Brisket- Great flavor and great for pressure/slow cooking, but has a sweet spot between juicy and dry. Be careful not to overcook.
Pork shoulder- Pork is not traditionally used for ropa vieja, but would be a great substitute for beef. It has tons of flavor and is excellent for pressure/slow cooking, but will taste slightly different.
Chicken breast– also not traditionally used for ropa vieja, but is a great alternative for those who do not eat beef or pork. Cooking method is the same but only needs about 10 minutes in the pressure cooker. You can use chicken broth in place of beef broth as well.
My favorite way to make Ropa Vieja is with a pressure cooker. It cuts the time by more than half- only 30 minutes! I also think pressure cooking does a much better job at producing tender beef than slow cooking.
If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can just use a stock pot for the boiling portion. It will take about 2 hours for the beef to be become tender.
The traditional way to make Ropa Vieja is to first boil the beef and then make the tomato stew separately. There are some recipes that call for cooking the beef directly in the tomato stew, and I’ve made it this way myself a few times out of curiosity. I do NOT recommend that method at all.
First off, tomato sauces can get quite salty after stewing for long periods of time, and it completely overpowers the dish. The bell peppers and onions also become so soft that they get lost in the sauce. Another important factor is the beef broth. It is much tastier to use the beef broth from our boiled beef than to use boxed or bouillon.
- 2 lbs chuck roast or flank steak
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 tbsp oil
- 1 medium onion sliced
- 1 green bell pepper sliced
- 1 red bell pepper sliced
- 2 tbsp garlic minced
- 1 1/2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp mexican oregano
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 14 oz crushed tomatoes
- 1/2 cup white wine chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, or pinot grigio
- 1 cup beef broth
- 1/4 cup Spanish olives with pimento optional
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro garnish
- 4 lime wedges
- Season the beef with salt & pepper on all sides then let it rest at room temp for 20 minutes
- Set your instapot to sauté mode and wait until it gets really hot. Add 1 tbsp oil and get a good sear on the chuck roast.
- Add two cloves of crushed garlic, 3-4 white parts of a green onion, and 4 cups of water to the pot.
- Set your instapot to pressure cook mode for 30 minutes, with the valve sealed. When it's done, quick release the pressure. If you are making this in a regular stock pot, cover and boil on medium-low for 2 hours.
- Remove the beef and set aside to cool before shredding. Throw out any excessive amounts of fat pieces.
- Strain and reserve the beef broth. You can skim off the fat if you prefer, but I like to keep some of it in. You will only need 1 cup for this recipe but you can save the rest for something else.
- Heat a dutch oven or deep pan with 1 tbsp oil (or you can use beef fat skimmed from the broth) and add the onions & bell peppers. Season with a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute.
- After 1 minute, add the garlic and spices. Sauté for 1-2 minutes.
- Deglaze with 1/2 cup white wine and let it cook off for about 1 minute.
- Add 1 cup of the beef stock.
- Add the crushed tomatoes and paste. Taste the stew and season with salt or beef bouillon to taste. (Knorr beef bouillon)
- Add the shredded beef and olives to the pot, mix well and cover on low heat for 15-20 minutes.
- Top with chopped cilantro and a squeeze of lime to serve. Enjoy with rice, black beans, and tostones 🙂