How to make Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

It all started when she went to the US and ate at a Puerto Rican restaurant in a trendy Nashville (Tennessee) area (opposite the TBWA-Chiat Day offices). She was served Ropa Vieja and it was so good that she asked for the recipe.

Unfortunately, the restaurant owner spoke very little English and what she got was bits and pieces of a recipe. Undeterred, and with a 3-day advance notice, she repeated what she remembered to me and asked me to make it for her for a dinner with friends.

Ropa Vieja

Making Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja (Roe-Pah VeeYeh-Ha) means “Old Clothes” in Spanish. It is the national dish of Cuba and Venezuela. It is also found in many variations in Puerto Rico, Mexico and the Caribbean; pretty much anywhere the Spaniards have been.

The story goes about a man whose family needed dinner; being poor, the man could only go to his closet and rip up his old clothes and cook them. But because he imbued it with so much love for his family, the cooked dish became a delicious beef stew. Cooking with love does not get better than this.

Making Ropa Vieja is basically a 2-step process: boiling the beef and shredding it, and making a Sofrito sauce to add to the shredded beef. The secret is a long slow simmer to get the beef tender; you need to love it long time.

I use canned tomatoes for consistency of taste and dried herbs because it’s easier. Feel free to substitute with fresh. But I do not recommend using a jar of “Sofrito Sauce”.

Ingredients: (serves 6-8 as a main course with rice)

For the Boiled Beef:

  • 1.6kg Flank Steak (beef)
  • 3 Celery stalks, trimmed
  • 1 Onions, white, halved
  • 1 Carrot, roughly chopped
  • Peel of 1 Orange
  • 2 tsp of Dried Rosemary
  • 2 tsp of Dried Thyme
  • 2 tsp of Dried Parsley
  • 1 Bayleaf
  • 8 Pepper Corns
  • 4 Cloves
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

For the Sofrito Sauce:

  • Olive Oil
  • 4 Bell Peppers, diced (a mix of different colors would be nice)
  • 2 Onions, white, diced
  • 6 Garlic cloves, diced
  • 375ml Dry white wine
  • 1 tbsp of Cumin powder
  • 1 tbsl of Oregano, Mediterranean
  • 1 can of Tomato Paste
  • 1 can of Skinned Tomatoes
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Serving Suggestion: (per person)



Boiling the Beef:

  1. Using a heavy-based stock pot, place all the vegetables at the bottom of the pot.
  2. Put the dried herbs into an empty teabag and place it in the pot.
  3. Lay the beef on top of the vegetables.
  4. Fill the pot with water until the beef is submerged.
  5. Place the pot over medium heat until it starts to boil.
  6. Lower the heat immediately till the liquid is just barely simmering.
  7. Skim off the accumulated scum from the liquid.
  8. Simmer the stock over low heat for at least 4 hours or until you can slide a fork into the beef easily.
  9. Remove the beef from the stock pot and let cool to slightly on a baking tray.
  10. Reserve 500ml of the cooking liquid (beef stock) in a separate pot.
  11. Using a fork and spoon, shred the beef, grain-wise, into strings of medium thickness.

Making the Sofrito Sauce:

  1. Place a large pot over medium heat with a little olive oil to coat the base of the pot.
  2. Once the oil is heated, add the Garlic.
  3. Once the oil is flavored with the Garlic, add the diced Onions and saute slightly.
  4. Add the diced Bell Peppers and saute until the onions has turned translucent.
  5. Add the wine and allow the wine to reduce by half.
  6. Turn the heat to low.
  7. Add the Canned Tomatoes and mash the tomatoes.
  8. Add the Canned Tomato Paste and the Dried Cumin and Oregano.
  9. Add 2 ladles of the reserved beef stock to the mixture.
  10. Stir to incorporate the mixture completely.
  11. Allow the mixture to simmer for 3 minutes and reduce into a slightly thick sauce.


  1. While the Sofrito Sauce is simmering in the pot on low heat, add the beef shreds to the sauce.
  2. Stir to coat the beef shreds with the Sofrito Sauce.
  3. Add 1 ladle of the Beef Stock to the pot if there isn’t enough sauce (too dry).
  4. Continue stirring until the Beef Shreds are completely coated with the Sofrito Sauce.
  5. Remove from heat and serve with the Coriander & Lime Rice, and a Lime Wedge.



  • Although it is “Boiled Beef”, do not allow the beef to boil for more than 30 seconds or the beef will become dry.
  • If you want to wait for the beef to cool to room temperature to start shredding by hand, cover the beef with a cloth to avoid drying out.
  • How thick to shred the beef depends on your preference. Thicker shreds have more flavor but is chewier and vice versa.
  • You may strain and reserve the unused Beef Stock by freezing it for future use for up to 6 months.
  • You can dice the vegetables for the Sofrito while the beef is cooking.
  • Use a broad-based pan or pot when making the Sofrito.
  • It is alright to use Mexican Oregano instead of the Mediterranean one; you just get a stronger, more savory flavor.
  • When making the Sofrito, the order in which you add the vegetables is important as some vegetables take longer to cook.
  • Stir the Sofrito constantly, do not allow it to clump, spread it out to ensure even cooking.
  • When you pour the wine, pour in a circular manner from outside in (to the middle of the Sofrito).
  • When incorporating the beef with the Sofrito sauce, use the beef stock to control the thickness of the sauce. The Ropa Vieja should be wet with sauce but not to the extent of liquid gravy because the taste would be somewhat thin and watery.
  • Squeezing the wedge of lime over the Ropa Vieja just before eating will add a sweet fresh counterpoint to the earthy and savory Ropa Vieja.

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Ropa Vieja

Posted on 26th May 2013 in Cuban, Mexican, New Rican, Puerto Rican, Recipes, Spanish


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