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I’ve never tried Cuban food! Can you believe that? One of the most loved world cuisines here in the US, and I totally missed it!
Thankfully, one of the lovely folks down at my local Savory Spice suggested I try a classic Cuban dish called ropa vieja – an entree made with shredded beef and bell peppers, similar to a stew. Thank you, Samanthia – you introduced me to one of my favorite new dishes! 😀
Wanting to get the dish right the first time, I turned to my favorite, trusty recipe source – Cook’s Illustrated, and found this fantastic, and really pretty-darn-easy recipe for ropa vieja. It’s succulent, meaty, and savory, loaded with earthy spices and herbs, and spiked with just enough vinegar and briny olives to bring everything to life. Serious yumm! I mean really, I considered diving into the pot and swimming around for a while. 😉
Anyway, whether this is your first venture into Cuban food (like it was mine), or you’ve been enjoying it for years – I suggest you give this tasty dish a try!
3/4 teaspoon white wine vinegar, plus extra for seasoning
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.
Cut brisket against grain into 2-inch-wide strips. Cut any strips longer than 5 inches in half crosswise. Season beef on all sides with salt and pepper.
Heat 4 tablespoons oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown beef on all sides, 7 to 10 minutes; transfer to large plate and set aside.
Add onions and bell peppers to the Dutch oven, and cook until softened and pan bottom develops fond, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer vegetables to bowl and set aside.
Add remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the now-empty pot, then add anchovies, garlic, cumin, and oregano, and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in wine, scraping up any browned bits, and cook until mostly evaporated, about 1 minute. Stir in broth, tomato sauce, and bay leaves. Return beef and any accumulated juices to pot and bring to simmer over high heat. Transfer to the oven and cook, covered, until beef is just tender, 2 to 2 1/4 hours, flipping meat halfway through cooking.
Transfer beef to a cutting board. Remove and discard bay leaves. When beef is cool enough to handle, use 2 forks to shred into 1/4-inch-thick pieces.
Meanwhile, add olives and reserved vegetables to the pot, and bring to boil over medium-high heat; simmer until thickened and measures about 4 cups, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in beef. Add vinegar. Season with salt, pepper, and extra vinegar to taste.
Enjoy with rice and beans!
Recipe shared with permission from Cook’s Illustrated
Notes from Cook’s Illustrated: Traditional ropa vieja recipes require making a beef stock and then using the meat and some of the liquid to make a separate sauté with onion and pepper slices and spices. To simplify, we combined the two cooking methods into the ease of braising in a Dutch oven, which also meant that all of the beef’s juices ended up in the final dish. We eschewed traditional flank steak in favor of brisket, which contains the right mix of beefy flavor and collagen to guarantee just-tender, flavorful juicy shreds. We cut the brisket ahead of time into 2-inch-wide strips to speed cooking and make shredding a breeze. To mimic the meatiness that commonly comes from an MSG-spiked seasoning blend, we chose to sear the meat before braising, and we added two glutamate-rich anchovies to the mix. We found that slowly caramelizing the onion and pepper strips mimicked the deep flavor of a traditional sofrito without requiring an extra step. The final addition of briny chopped green olives and a splash of white vinegar brings all the flavors into sharp focus.