Ropa Vieja with Fried Plantains
Loosely translated as “old clothes,” ropa vieja is among Cuba’s most-loved dishes, not only because it is a simple and tasty way to feed a crowd. The cooked meat can be sliced, but it is most often shredded, giving the dish its name, before being added to a colorful sofrito made with tomato and red annatto oil, which is available at some Latin markets. If you use the annatto oil, omit the achiote paste.
- 3 lb. flank steak or lean chuck
- 2 tsp. kosher salt
- 1/2 white onion, peeled but with root end intact, stuck with 1 whole clove
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
For the tomato sauce:
- 2 Tbs. annatto oil or vegetable oil (see note above)
- 1/2 white onion, diced
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
- 1 small carrot, peeled and diced
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 Tbs. seeded and minced serrano chili
- 2 tsp. achiote paste (optional; see note above)
- 2 cups seeded and diced fresh tomatoes, or canned tomatoes, drained
- Pinch of ground cinnamon
- 1/3 cup jarred sliced red pimientos, drained
- 2 Tbs. capers, drained
- Fried Green Plantains for serving
- Cooked white rice for serving
Put the meat in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy pot with a tight-fitting lid. Add just enough cold water to barely cover the meat. Stir in the salt and tuck the onion, peppercorns and bay leaf around the meat. Set over medium heat and slowly bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until the meat is very tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Using tongs or 2 large forks, transfer the meat to a carving board and let cool. Strain the cooking liquid through a fine-mesh sieve set over a bowl and reserve. Discard the solids.
Meanwhile, make the sauce: In another Dutch oven or a large, heavy sauté pan over medium-high heat, warm the oil. Add the onion, bell pepper, carrot, garlic, and chili and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to soften, about 2 minutes.
If you used the vegetable oil (not the annatto oil), crumble the achiote paste into the pot and cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cinnamon. Cook, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Remove the pan from the heat.
Add 1 1/2 cups of the reserved beef cooking liquid to the vegetables, set the pan over medium heat and simmer for 10 minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Using a sharp knife, trim the excess fat off the meat. Carve the meat across the grain into slices about 1/4 inch thick, or shred into bite-size pieces using your fingers or 2 forks. Add the meat to the simmering sauce and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.
Spoon the stew onto individual plates and top each serving with a few pimiento slices and a sprinkling of capers. Serve immediately with the fried plantains and rice. Serves 6 to 8.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Latin Cooking, by Patricia McCausland-Gallo, Deborah Schneider & Beverly Cox (Oxmoor House, 2010).