Cuban Ropa Vieja, the popular national dish of Cuba, is made with beef flank steak or skirt steak braised in the most flavorful sauce made with red bell peppers, onions, tomato paste and pimento stuffed green olives. Cooked until fall-apart tender and then shredded into long strands, this Ropa Vieja recipe can be made on the stove top, oven, the slow cooker/crock pot or Instant Pot.
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Cuban Ropa Vieja
Cuban Ropa Vieja shredded beef stew is a dish I grew up eating quite often. This classic Cuban dish is hearty, flavorful and one of my favorite comfort foods.
The secret to making the best Cuban Ropa Vieja is to braise or slow cook the meat over low heat in a pot or Dutch oven, or in a slow cooker or crock pot.
Simple ingredients like onions, garlic, tomato paste, red and green bell peppers and spices like cumin and paprika give the juicy, tender beef and mouthwatering sauce incredible depths of flavor and the most wonderful taste.
Serve beef Ropa Vieja with rice, black beans and ripe fried plantains and enjoy a hearty and mouthwatering tasty dinner meal any day of the week or on special occasions.
Why You Will Love This Ropa Vieja Recipe?
- Tender Beef: The meat is cooked low and slow in a flavorful sauce until juicy and melt-in-your-mouth tender.
- Budget Friendly: Flank steak and skirt steak are both more affordable than other cuts of meat.
- Simple ingredients: This recipe is made with simple pantry ingredients.
- Meal Prep: This Cuban dish tastes even better the day after is made making it perfect for meal planning and entertaining.
- Stove Top, Slow Cooker and Instant Pot: You can make this Cuban recipe on a pot or Dutch oven, crockpot or pressure cooker.
What’s Ropa Vieja?
Ropa Vieja, the national dish of Cuba, is a savory shredded beef dish well known in Latin America and Caribbean countries like Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Jamaica. This traditional stew recipe varies throughout different regions and countries, with some versions including potatoes and garbanzo beans.
Ropa Vieja means “old clothes” in Spanish. The origin of ropa vieja is uncertain but It’s believed the name refers to the thing long shreds of beef and bell peppers that resemble colorful raggedy old clothes. Whether that is true or not, one thing is certain, this braised beef is rich, full flavored and incredibly delicious!
Ropa Vieja Ingredients and Substitutions
Be sure to check the printable recipe card below for the complete ingredient’s list and their exact quantities.
- Beef: Traditionally this delicious dish is made with flank steak because when shredded, the long strands of meat resemble rugged old clothes. This simple Cuban stew can be made with other cuts of beef such as skirt steak, chuck roast, rump roast and even a flavorful cut of meat like brisket.
- Bell Peppers: Bell peppers in any color or a combination of colors. i usually use a green bell pepper and a red bell pepper. Some recipes called for pimento peppers which can be added in combination with bell peppers.
- Vegetables and Aromatics: I prefer brown onions or yellow onions but white onion can also be used. Carrots, celery and fresh garlic cloves.
- Canned Tomatoes: I use a combination of tomato paste and crushed tomatoes. You can substitute the crashed tomatoes with tomato sauce.
- Oil: I mostly use olive oil. Any other mild oil such as vegetable oil, canola oil and avocado oil can be used.
- White Wine: My grandmother always added a little bit of wine to make this shredded meat dish. Substitute the wine with beef broth or chicken broth. As last option, you can use water.
- Broth: Since this is a beef main dish, beef stock seems like the best choice however, if I’m using store-bought broth, I prefer the flavor of chicken broth over beef broth any day! This is a personal preference. Both varieties can be used.
- Seasonings: Dried oregano, ground cumin, paprika, all-spice, bay leaves, salt and ground black pepper.
- Pimento Stuffed Olives: Sometimes sold as green Spanish olives.
- Fresh Herbs: Chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.
How To Make This Cuban Ropa Vieja Recipe?
These are just highlights on how to make Ropa Vieja. For detailed instructions check the recipe card below.
- Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season the meat with salt and ground black pepper.
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Add the beef and sear on both sides until golden brown Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside.
- Add the onions and bell peppers and cook, scraping down the bottom of the pot to remove any browned bits, Cook the vegetables until they become tender.Lower the heat to medium and stir in the garlic. Cook for about a minute or until aromatic.
- Stir in the tomato paste and seasonings. Cook for about a minute then, and deglaze the pan by adding the wine. Bring to rapid boil and stir in the broth and crushed tomatoes. Return the beef to the pot and any accumulated juices. Add the carrots, celery and bay leaves tucking all the ingredients under the sauce. Add additional broth if needed to keep all ingredients under the sauce. Bring to a boil then cover the pot and transfer it to the preheated oven. Cook until the beef is tender and shreds easily.
- Remove the beef from the pot and shred it into thin, long shreds.
- Return the beef to the pot and stir in the olives, pimento and capers. Simmer, uncovered over medium heat until the sauce reduces and thickens. Season to taste, stir in cilantro and serve.
Can I Make Ropa Vieja in the Crock Pot?
Yes! this easy Cuban recipe can be made in the slow cooker / crockpot. Detailed recipe can be found below in the recipe card.
When making slow cooker Ropa Vieja, browning the beef before adding it to the slow cooker is a must. You can easily do this while you are prepping your veggies.
- Cut the flank steak in 2 or 3 pieces so it can fit comfortably in the slow cooker then, season the beef with salt and ground black pepper.
- Heat oil in a skillet and brown the beef on both sides. Transfer the meat to a plate.
- Heat some additional oil and saute the onions and peppers. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute.
- Place the carrots and celery at the bottom of the slow cooker. Place half of the pepper and onions on top. Place the seared flank steak on top of the vegetables and pour the rest of the onion/pepper mixture on top.Stir in the wine, broth, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, oregano, cumin, all-spice, paprika, and bay leaves. Gently mix to combine.
- Cook covered on low for 8 hours hours or on high for about 4.5 to 5 hours until the beef is tender and shreds easily with 2 forks. Return the meat to the crockpot and stir in the olives, pimento and capers. Cook on high for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce reduces and thickens a bit. Season and serve.
Can I Make Ropa Vieja In The Instant Pot?
Yes, Cuban Ropa Vieja can be made in the Instant Pot / pressure cooker. Because the pot is pressurized, the flavors get sealed into the meat and sauce resulting in a dish that tastes as if you cooked it low and slow. Instant Pot Ropa Vieja cooks in a fraction of the time which is very convenient during busy weeknights. Detailed instructions can be found below in the printable recipe card.
What Is The Best Cut Of Beef For Ropa Vieja
Traditional Cuban Ropa Vieja is made with flank steak. A flavorful cut of beef with little fat, that is best when marinated and cooked quickly over high heat. To keep this recipe authentic, I use flank steak which may be shocking to some people however, the truth is, using flank steak produces results that are as good as making this recipe with a beef cut more suitable for long braising like chuck roast and brisket.
Let me explain, chuck roast and brisket are high in fat and collagen yet, when these cuts are cooked for long periods of time, they dry up as moisture is pushed out from the meat, just like when you cook flank steak or any other cut of beef to well-done. In the case of chuck beef and brisket, the melted fat and gelatinous collagen coat the meat, giving you the feeling that the beef is still moist. In this recipe, we shred the flank steak into long strands and coat the meat with the cooking sauce. This is why, a lean cut like flank steak works just as well as chuck roast. It’s the beef shredding and the sauce coating that gives you the juicy beef feel.
If you make this recipe with chuck roast, rump roast or brisket, you will have to adjust the cooking time. Also, keep in mind that only flank steak will give you the old clothes rags look this dish is known for.
Can A Different Cut Of Beef Be Substituted for Flank Steak?
Authentic Ropa Vieja is made with flank steak. The long strands of shredded beef is what gave the dish it’s name as they resemble old clothes. This dish can also be made with beef chuck which when tender shreds beautifully.
Are Bell Peppers And Pimento Peppers The Same?
No. Although very similar, pimento peppers come from a smaller, roundish, almost heart shaped sweet red pepper that is very mild and sweet in flavor. Each pepper is about 3 to 4 inches long and 2 to 3 inches wide. They are commonly harvested and canned or bottled.
How Would You Describe Cuban Ropa Vieja?
Ropa Vieja is a savory Cuban shredded beef stew made with bell peppers, onions, and olives in a rich and flavorful tomato-based sauce.
How Spicy Does Ropa Vieja Taste?
Ropa Vieja is not spicy at all. This Cuban recipe is made with sweet bell peppers which have no heat at all. The seasonings don’t include any spices like chili powder or cayenne pepper which could add heat to the dish..
What to Serve with Ropa Vieja?
Making Ahead, Storage and Reheating
Make Ahead: Cuban Ropa Vieja is the perfect dish to make ahead of time. I think it actually tastes better the day after is made!
Storing:This dish can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 3-4 days.
Reheating: Reheat covered in the microwave or in a sauté pan, covered over medium heat stirring as necessary. You may need to add a bit of broth if needed.
Ropa Vieja Recipe Tips
- For extra depth of flavor add a teaspoon of chicken bouillon or to taste during the last 20 minutes of cooking.
- Instructions for making this recipe on the stove top/oven, in the slow cooker/crock pot and the Instant pot/pressure cooker can be found on the printable recipe card below.
- When making this recipe in the oven, use s pot that can be transferred to the oven like a Dutch oven.
Take a Look at These Amazing and Easy Recipes:
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Cuban Ropa Vieja Recipe
- 2 pounds flank steak
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, avocado or vegetable oil, (divided) or more if needed
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 3 bell peppers, seeded and thinly sliced
(I used red, green and yellow) 6
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 cup chicken broth or more if needed
- 1 14-ounces can crushed tomatoes
- 1 carrot, peeled and cut into thirds
- 1 celery rib, cut into thirds
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 cup pimento-stuffed Manzanilla olives, drained and sliced
- 1 4-ounces jar sliced pimentos
- 2 tablespoons capers, drained (optional but recommended)
- 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon optional
- Chopped cilantro or parsley
Stove Top/Oven instructions
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
- If your flank steak is too big to fit comfortably in your pot or large Dutch oven, cut it into smaller pieces. Pat the beef dry with paper towels and season the meat with salt and ground black pepper.
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat about 2 tablespoons of oil over medium high heat. Once hot, add the beef and sear on both sides until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes per side. Do this in batches if needed not to overcrowd the pot. Transfer the meat to a plate and set aside.
- In the same pot, heat the remaining oil. Add the onions and bell peppers and cook, scraping down the bottom of the pot to remove any browned bits, Cook the vegetables, stirring frequently until they become tender, about 5-7 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low and stir in the garlic. Cook for an additional minute or until the garlic becomes aromatic.
- Stir in the tomato paste, dried oregano, ground cumin, sweet paprika, all-spice and ground cloves, (Add bouillon if using). Cook for about a minute then, add the white wine and bring to rapid boil, deglazing the pan by scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook for 1-2 minutes to cook off the alcohol in the wine then stir in the broth and crushed tomatoes and return the beef to the pot and any accumulated juices.
- Add the carrots, celery and bay leaves tucking all the ingredients under the sauce. Add additional broth if needed to keep all ingredients under the sauce. Bring to a boil then cover the pot and transfer it to the preheated oven. Cook until the beef is tender and shreds easily, about 1 1/2 hours.
- Remove the carrots, celery and bay leaves. Transfer the meat to a plate and with two forks shred the meat into thin, long shreds. Return the beef to the pot and stir in the olives, pimento and capers (add the bouillon if using). Simmer, uncovered over medium heat until the sauce reduces and thickens
- Season to taste and stir in the cilantro. Serve with rice or rice and black beans and fried ripe plantains.
Crock Pot / Slow Cooker Instructions
- Follow the stove top instructions from step 2 to 5 then, place the carrots and celery at the bottom of the slow cooker. Place half of the pepper and onions on top. Place the seared flank steak on top of the vegetables and pour the rest of the onion/pepper mixture on top.Stir in the wine, broth, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, dried oregano, ground cumin, sweet paprika, all-spice and ground cloves and bay leaves. Gently mix to combine.
- Cook covered on low for 8 hours hours or on high for about 4.5 to 5 hours until the beef is tender and shreds easily with 2 forks. Return the meat to the crockpot and stir in the olives, pimento and capers (add bouillon if using). Cook on high for 15-20 minutes or until the sauce reduces and thickens a bit. Finish the recipe as instructed above.
Instant Pot / Pressure Cooker Instructions
- Follow the stove top instructions from step 2 to 5 using your Instant pot sauté function to sear the beef and sauté the vegetables. Add the carrots, celery and bay leaves tucking all the ingredients under the sauce.
- Close the lid and seal the pot. Cook on high pressure for 45 minutes then allow the pressure to release naturally for 15 minutes. Release the remaining pressure.
- Open the lid, transfer the meat to a plate and shred the beef. Return the beef to the pot and stir in the olives, pimento and capers (add bouillon if needed). Turn on the Instant Pot sauté function. Cook uncovered for 5-8 minutes or until the sauce reduces and starts to thicken. Make sure the beef is submerged in the sauce so stays moist.
- For extra depth of flavor add a teaspoon of chicken bouillon or to taste.
- Chuck roast or beef brisket can be used. Increase the baking time to 3-4 hours.
This post was first published in 2018 and has been updated to provide the reader with additional information. The recipe remains the same.