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#15 Ropa Vieja: A Cuban National Dish

This recipe for Cuban beef stew is called ropa vieja, which means "old clothes" in Spanish. The name describes the pieces of meat and vegetables on the plate, which resemble strips of colored cloth.

Typically this dish is made with flank steak, which is lean and has long shreddy fibers, and is how the dish earned the name “old clothes.” It’s the traditional choice, but it can be a bit tough, even after it’s braised for a long time. This is why, most of us prefer the chuck roast for its fat, tenderness, and richness in flavor.


  • 2 pounds flank steak (or chuck roast)

  • 1 large onion (quartered)

  • 2 cloves garlic (smashed)

  • 1 large celery rib (chopped)

  • 1 tablespoon salt

For the stew:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)

  • 1 large onion (sliced into thin strips)

  • 1 large green bell pepper (sliced into thin strips)

  • 1 1/2 pounds tomatoes (diced)

  • 2 tablespoons dry sherry

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin

  • 1/4 cup cooked sweet peas (frozen and thawed are okay)

  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Prepare the ingredients. Place the steak into a large stockpot and add water to cover the steak completely.

  2. Add the quartered onion, smashed garlic, chopped celery, and salt.

  3. Bring ingredients to a boil, then reduce to moderate heat and cook until steak is tender for about 1 1/2 hours.

  4. Transfer the meat only to a platter to cool.

  5. Once it has completely cooled down, you may start shredding the steak. Set aside

  6. Prepare the ingredients for the stew.

  7. In a large skillet or pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and sauté until soft, about 1 minute.

  8. Reduce the heat to medium and add the sliced onion and bell pepper. Cook until vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.

  9. Stir in the diced tomatoes, sherry, bay leaves, cumin, and a pinch of salt.

  10. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook for 25 minutes, occasionally stirring to prevent sticking.

  11. Remove the bay leaves.

  12. Stir in the shredded beef and cook for about 10 minutes until the beef is heated through.

  13. Stir in the peas. Turn off the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with rice if desired.

Although Cuba’s identity is indisputably intertwined with Ropa Vieja, this dish actually originated in the Canary Islands of Spain, dating back to the Middle Ages. Colonization brought various Spanish influences to the Americas, and Ropa Vieja was one of them. However, the oldest document on the existence of old Cuban clothes did not appear until 1857.

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