Braised Ropa Vieja Recipe

If your ideal dinner plate features heaps and heaps of juicy shredded meat, then ropa vieja just might be the dish of your dreams. This rendition of the classic Cuban fare, which happens to be the country's national dish, is brought to us by recipe developer Ashley Altan and it features braised flank steak cooked to absolute tender perfection. "This recipe is enough to feed a hungry family," Altan says. "With only a few steps to prepare, I can put the pot in the oven and forget about it for a few hours, giving me plenty of time to prepare the sides."

Altan also explains the name of the dish, and if you're familiar with it or speak Spanish, then you'll recognize that it's quite an apt title. "Ropa Vieja is Spanish for 'old clothes,' and it's slow-cooked beef in a tomato sauce (some people use already cooked meat)," she explains, adding that "It's usually served with rice and plantains or black beans on the side." This recipe is no different, featuring heaps of meat piled high onto a bed of rice — for old clothes, this dish sure dresses up pretty well.

Gather the ingredients for braised ropa vieja

Naturally, the meat is the star of the show here, and Altan notes that you can use either flank steak or beef chuck. "Beef chuck is the cow's shoulder and has more fat than flank steak. Chuck makes shorter pieces of beef while shredding it," Altan explains. "Flank steak, on the other hand, is from the abdominal muscle and contains less fat, and must be shredded against the grain to create long, thin strips of meat." You really can't go wrong with whichever cut you choose, because as Altan says, "Both are delectable."

The meat may be an important component, but that doesn't mean that there aren't other critical ingredients at play. Tomato paste and crushed tomatoes will make up the bulk of your tomato sauce, and Altan explains that "the backbone of this recipe is smooth tomato sauce," which these ingredients will yield. That said, "If you want bits of tomato in your sauce, add canned diced tomatoes instead," says Altan, "Or try using canned fire-roasted tomatoes for extra flavor." 

To round out the ingredients list, you'll need olive oil, salt, pepper, thinly sliced onion, a few thinly sliced paprika peppers, garlic, dried oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and water. Finally, you'll also want some fresh chopped cilantro on hand for garnish.

Sear the meat

Get started by preheating your oven to 375 F and seasoning the beef with 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Next, place a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat and add in the olive oil. Once hot, place the meat in the pot, allowing it to sear for 5 minutes on each side. When the meat is nice and golden brown on each side, remove it from the Dutch oven and set aside. 

Sauté the onion and peppers

Add the sliced onion, sliced peppers, chopped garlic, and remaining salt and pepper into the pot. Give the onions a little time to soften, about 5 minutes, before adding in the dried oregano, cumin, cinnamon, and tomato paste. Cook until aromatic, about 30 seconds, then add in the crushed tomatoes and water. At this point, give the ingredients a good stir and be sure to scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the Dutch oven.

Return the meat to the Dutch oven and let the oven take over

Place the seared beef back into the Dutch oven, put the lid on top, then put the dish into the oven to cook for 3 hours. You'll know that the meat is done when it is fork tender. Do be sure to check on the dish every hour, ensuring that the liquid levels don't get too low. Add additional water as needed, but keep in mind that the liquid should have a thick, saucy consistency, so you also don't want to thin it out too much. 

Once the meat is done cooking, go ahead and shred it up, which shouldn't take much force at all. Just a couple of forks should get the job done, then stir the shredded meat into the liquid.

Serve the ropa vieja with rice

As Altan mentioned, rice is the ideal accompaniment for ropa vieja, so fill up a bowl with white rice before piling on some of that meaty goodness. You may also choose to serve the meat with black beans or perhaps some fried plantains — or maybe you'll serve it with all of the above, just be sure to sprinkle on plenty of cilantro to top it all off.

When it comes to leftovers, you have a few options. "Once the ropa vieja is cooled, store it in an air-tight container with a lid and place it in the refrigerator for up to 3 days," Altan notes. If you want to freeze the leftovers, that's also an option, and cooled ropa vieja will keep for up to three months in the freezer. "Refrigerated ropa vieja can be cooked in a saucepan over medium heat until hot," Altan advises. "Before eating frozen meat, it should be carefully defrosted. I thaw frozen ropa vieja by placing it in a dish and storing it in the refrigerator to defrost safely. Defrosting might take up to 12 hours."

Braised Ropa Vieja Recipe
5 from 30 ratings
Learn how to make this classic Cuban dish that features fork-tender braised beef in a smooth tomato sauce with onions and peppers.
Prep Time
Cook Time
ropa vieja in large pot
Total time: 3 hours, 25 minutes
  • 3 pounds flank steak or beef chuck
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 2 teaspoons pepper, divided
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 medium-sized fresh paprika pepper, thinly sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 cups crushed tomato
  • 3 cups water
  • ¼ cup lightly packed chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. Season both sides of the meat with 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper.
  3. Preheat a Dutch oven to medium-high. When the pot is hot, add the olive oil and meat. Sear for 5 minutes on each side, or until golden brown.
  4. Next, remove the meat and add the thinly sliced onion, peppers, chopped garlic, and the raining half of the salt and pepper. Stir-fry until the onions have softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Once the onions have softened, add the oregano, cinnamon, and tomato paste. Stir-fry until the spices are aromatic, about 30 seconds.
  6. Add the tomato sauce and water and stir scraping up any bits on the bottom of the pot.
  7. Return the meat to the pot, cover with the lid, and place in the preheated oven for 3 hours, or until fork-tender. Every hour, check the liquid levels and, if necessary, add additional water. When adding liquid, it's important to note that the result should resemble a thick tomato sauce.
  8. Once cooked, shred the meat and mix it into the sauce.
  9. Serve with rice, black beans, or a side of fried plantains and a garnish of fresh cilantro.
Calories per Serving 506
Total Fat 28.3 g
Saturated Fat 9.1 g
Trans Fat 0.0 g
Cholesterol 154.2 mg
Total Carbohydrates 12.0 g
Dietary Fiber 3.2 g
Total Sugars 6.1 g
Sodium 1,078.8 mg
Protein 50.5 g
The information shown is Edamam’s estimate based on available ingredients and preparation. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.
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