Legend has it that a poor man cooked his clothes, his love transforming the fibers into a delicious stew to feed his hungry family. While the story and the dish, known as ropa vieja or "old clothes," hail from the Canary Islands, it is a meal commonly found on Cuban tables. On a recent trip to Havana, Cuba, we enjoyed this succulent and aromatic dish with a simple side of black beans and rice known as Moros y Cristianos (Moors and Christians). Below is a recipe for this slow simmered dish from The Cuban Table: A Collection of Food, Flavors, and History, a beautiful cookbook that celebrates the food and culture of Cuba.
Ropa Vieja: "Old Clothes" Braised Beef with Peppers and Onions
From The Cuban Table: A Celebration of Food, Flavors, and History by Ana Sofía Peláez and Ellen Silverman
For the Braised Beef:
2 pounds flank steak or brisket, cut into four pieces
1 large yellow onion, quarter
1 large carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 small red cabbage, quartered
1/2 small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, trimmed 1-inch above the stems, tender leaves reserved for garnish
2 sprigs fresh spearmint
4 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1/2 teaspoon cloves
2 dried bay leaves
For the Ropa Vieja:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
1 large green bell pepper, stemmed, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced
4 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 large pinch ground cloves
1 1/2 cups canned tomato purée
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 dried bay leaf
1 cup roasted red peppers, sliced
Fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves and tender stems, finely chopped
To prepare the braised beef, place the ingredients for the beef in a heavy 4- to 5-quart pot with 6 cups of water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to maintain a low simmer and cook, covered, until the beef is tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Remove the pot from the heat and allow the beef to cool in the broth, so it will stay moist and juicy. Drain and set aside a 1/2 cup of the broth and reserve the remaining broth for future use. Remove the beef and when cool enough to handle, shred by hand, pulling apart its fibers with your fingers. Set the shredded beef aside.
To prepare the ropa vieja, heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and green pepper and sauté until the onion is soft and translucent 6 to 8 minutes. Using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic, salt, black pepper, allspice, and cloves form a paste. Add the garlic paste to the skillet and continue to cook until fragrant, an additional 2 minutes. Add the reserved broth, tomato purée, wine, and bay leaf and return to a simmer. Stir in the shredded beef, reduce heat to low, and cook, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the sliced roasted red peppers and adjust the seasoning to taste. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley and serve over white rice.
Note: The photo was taken of ropa vieja in Cuba and is a representation of this recipe.