Ropa Vieja: Slow-simmered Cuban Shredded Beef

"Old clothes.” That’s the approximate translation of ropa vieja from Spanish, but don’t let the name deter you from making this mouthwatering Cuban dish.

by John D. Ivanko
Ropa Vieja: Slow-simmered Cuban Steak - Photo by Rachael Brugger (
Photo by Rachael Brugger

“Old clothes.” That’s the approximate translation of ropa vieja from Spanish, but don’t let the name deter you from making this mouthwatering Cuban dish. The name is probably connected to the slow-stewing process that causes the tender meat to literally fall apart. Absorbing the rich flavors of the spices and vegetables, the shredded beef is traditionally served up with white rice, or, as they say in Spanish, arroz blanco.

We’re big believers that tasting is big part of traveling, so you can’t—or shouldn’t—visit Miami without grabbing a table at Versailles Restaurant in Little Havana, where we first tried Ropa Vieja. While the restaurant’s ornate décor, with mirrored glass and chandeliers, is over the top, the food here looks and tastes like it came out of a Cuban grandmother’s kitchen—even though tidy and attentive wait staff deliver it your table piping hot. It was the perfect getaway from the insanely cold winter up north.

We sampled a bunch of traditional Cuban dishes, including a dish called fried pork chunks served with sweet plantains (not to be confused with bananas), black beans and rice. The super tender and flavorful Ropa Vieja was our hands-down favorite, along with rice and a side of their boiled yucca with mojo, a garlicky citrus sauce. Once you’ve had it, you’ll want to order more.

Maybe it’s Cuban thing, or more likely a Versailles thing (being “world famous” and all), but we couldn’t get the restaurant’s owner to share her recipe for this popular dish. Lucky for us, however, our good friends in Monroe, Wis., Luis and Brenda Carus—urban farmers featured in Farmstead Chef (New Society Publishers, 2011) put us in touch with Luis’ mom and dad who happily shared their Ropa Vieja recipe.

Recipe: Ropa Vieja
Courtesy José and Carmen Carus

Yield: 5 servings

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  • 2½ pounds flank steak
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large green pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 cup white wine

Place steak and 1 bay leaf in large saucepan. Cover with salted water, and cook over medium heat covered until meat is tender, approximately 1 to 1½ hours.

Remove meat and set aside to cool at room temperature. Cut meat into 2-inch chunks and shred with fingers.

In large skillet, heat oil over low heat. Cook onions, garlic and pepper, stirring until onions are tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add tomato sauce, white wine and remaining bay leaf. Cook, uncovered, 10 more minutes.

Add the meat to the other ingredients, and mix well. Taste meat and add salt to taste. Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes.

Remove the bay leaves. Serve immediately with white rice.

Try more recipes from our trip to Florida:

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