Ropa Vieja (Cuban Shredded Beef)

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What is Ropa Vieja?

Have you ever eaten old clothes? Well of course not! However, this Cuban dish is named just that. Ropa Vieja (vee-ay-haa) means old clothes in Spanish. Let me tell you, old clothes have never tasted so good!

Join me as we step into the vibrant world of Cuban cuisine and prepare to treat your taste buds with the iconic dish, Ropa Vieja, a culinary masterpiece packed with flavor and history. Literally translating to “old clothes,” Ropa Vieja gets its name from the shredded beef that resembles tattered fabric. But don’t let the name fool you – this dish is anything but ragged. Tender shreds of beef are braised to perfection in a savory tomato sauce, infused with the flavors of bell peppers, onions, and garlic, creating a harmony of tastes that delivers a symphony of flavors with every bite.

So legend has it that a poor penniless man couldn’t afford to feed his family. It’s said that he shredded and cooked his old clothes in a pot over a fire and prayed for a miracle. As he prayed the pot bubbled and slowly turned his clothes into a delicious meat stew.

While the story may be mythical, it symbolizes the resourcefulness and ingenuity of the Cuban people, who have had to make do with limited resources throughout history. Today, Ropa Vieja is considered the national dish of Cuba, representing the country’s rich culinary heritage and the resilience of its people. So, while we won’t be cooking up our old clothes, we will be using a delicious piece of flank steak to make shredded beef for this recipe. And let’s not forget about the broth – save it for the soup (sopa de res) that accompanies the Ropa Vieja. With this dish, you get two culinary experiences in one, as the rich, decadent beef broth is used to create a flavorful soup with fresh vegetables, potatoes, malanga, and fideo. Get ready to savor the flavors and embark on a culinary journey like no other!

Tips for making the perfect Ropa Vieja at home

Creating an authentic Ropa Vieja at home may seem like a daunting task, but with the right techniques and ingredients, you can achieve a mouthwatering result that will transport you straight to the streets of Havana. Here are some tips to help you make the perfect Ropa Vieja in your own kitchen:

1. Choose the right cut of beef: The key to tender and flavorful Ropa Vieja lies in the choice of beef. Opt for cuts that are well-marbled and have a good amount of connective tissue, such as flank steak or skirt steak. These cuts will become incredibly tender when braised, making them perfect for this dish. Remove the membrane from the flank steak or it will not get tender as it cooks. After it has cooked and cooled remove any veins that are running through the meat.

2. Take your time with the braising process: Ropa Vieja is a dish that requires patience. The beef needs to be cooked low and slow to achieve that melt-in-your-mouth texture. The beef is first seared to lock in juices and develop a caramelized crust. It is then braised in broth, allowing the meat to slowly absorb the flavors and become tender over time.

3. Let it rest and reheat: Like many stews and braised dishes, Ropa Vieja tastes even better the next day. The flavors have a chance to meld together and intensify, creating a truly memorable eating experience. So, make a big batch and enjoy the leftovers. When reheating, be sure to do it gently over low heat to prevent the beef from becoming tough. Leftovers are perfect for Stuffed Plantain Cups (Tostones Rellenos)

4. Tomatoes: Whether in the form of canned crushed tomatoes or fresh tomatoes, they add richness and acidity to the dish, balancing out the flavors. This recipe calls for fresh cherry tomatoes but tomato sauce can be substituted.

Alternate Cooking Method – An Instant Pot or any type of pressure cooker can be used. Depending on the size of the flank steak, cook for 30 minutes on high pressure. Let the steak rest before cutting so as not to release the natural juices from the meat.

Popular accompaniments and side dishes for Ropa Vieja

  1. White rice, which serves as a neutral base for the flavorful sauce.
  2. Cuban black beans (frijoles negros) and rice
  3. Red Bean Congri
  4. Congri (Moros y Cristianos)
  5. Maduros (fried sweet plantains)
  6. Tomato and avocado salad
  7. Cuban bread

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Ropa Vieja (Cuban Shredded Beef)

Difficulty: Beginner Prep Time 150 mins Cook Time 20 mins Total Time 2 hrs 50 mins
Servings: 4
Best Season: Suitable throughout the year


Cook Cuba's national dish named Ropa Vieja. Tender pieces of shredded beef braised in beef broth cooked in a classic sofrito sauce is how to make this traditional Cuban dish.


Braising the Beef

Finishing Sauce


  1. As you get to know me I love cooking in a Dutch oven and this recipe is no exception. However, if you don't have one or you are short on time an Instant Pot or a pressure cooker can be used too. Either of the cookers will have the steak done in 40-45 minutes. For either way first season the steak with kosher salt and black pepper on both sides. Then sear the flank steak in some olive oil on both sides about five minutes per side. If using the Dutch oven sear the meat in the pot and add  2 boxes of beef broth which is about 64 ounces. If you don't have any broth on hand plain water can be used but I like the added depth of flavor from using beef broth. Add a whole bell pepper that has been seeded and the stem removed. Add the bay leaf. Cover and cook in the oven at 325 degrees for 2.5 to 3 hours. When the steak is done let it rest and cool in the broth for about 30 minutes so it stays moist and tender. Remove and discard cooked bell pepper and bay leaf.

    If using an Instant Pot sear the meat in the Instant Pot using the Saute function. After sauteeing on both sides add the beef broth and bell pepper. Set the Instant Pot to pressure cook for 20 minutes. When it's done allow it to natural release the pressure.
  2. While the steak is resting chop an onion and a bell pepper. Smash or grate 15-20 cloves of garlic. Puree the cherry tomatoes. 

    Sofito ingredients for arroz con pollo.
  3. Remove steak to a cutting board and reserve 1 cup of broth for the Ropa Vieja and save the rest for the soup which I will show you how to make next. In a saute pan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil on medium heat and start cooking the peppers and onions. After they are tender add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Stir in the tomato paste. Next add 12 ounces of pureed cherry tomatoes and continue cooking. Season with salt and pepper. 

  4. While the sauce is forming cut the flank steak into 1 1/2 inch pieces and as shredding the meat remove any veins that you might find.
  5. Add the meat to the sauce. Add in the cup of reserved broth Add salt to taste. Add 2 tablespoons of finely chopped cilantro. Cover and continue to cook on low for another 10 to 20 minutes. Let the meat reabsorb all of the flavors of the sauce we just made. Serve over a bed of white rice with maduros and a side of avocado salad and enjoy!

Keywords: flank steak, dinner, shredded beef
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