Ropa vieja is spanish for used or old clothes. But for food, it refers to recycled fare, usually meat. Mrs. MM’s yaya or nanny as a child (and later turned major doma/cook extraordinaire) used to make a delicious and memorable ropa vieja from the leftovers of their classic Sunday lunch cocido. The leftover meats were shredded and onions and tomato sauce and other ingredients were added to make a kind of shredded-sloppy-joe type concoction. It was the only version I would know for many years, and I loved to eat it with steamed rice. But when I lived and worked in New York, I realized the dish was part of the Cuban culinary repertoire, and I had several renditions that included a few more ingredients like olives, capers, etc. At any rate, I am a huge fan of the dish. And with large family cocido lunches a rarity these days (the last time we had one all of the food was wiped out!) I hadn’t had a ropa vieja in years.
So when I was doing the prep work for our Holiday dinners, I was cooking up a huge pot of callos or tripe together with beef bones and lots of beef shank and when I was done with the softening process, I realized I had some 1-1.5 kilos of meltingly soft and practically self shredded beef shank as a byproduct. Some of it went into the final callos dish, but about a kilo of it was just screaming “ropa vieja” at me. So that’s what I made.
In an enameled pot I added some olive oil and sautéed some chopped onions and then red capsicum and garlic before adding the shredded beef, seasoned with salt and pepper and stirred for a minute or two. I added some tomato paste and cooked that for a minute or so, threw in some red wine because we had it (say 1/2 cup or a bit more) and after that partially evaporated, added a can of Italian cherry tomatoes. I added a bit of red chili pepper for heat, but you can leave it out if you prefer. I like my rope vieja very tomatoey and saucy rather than the drier versions you sometimes find in cuban restaurants. I added a bit of beef broth leftover from the callos work and let this cook for a few more minutes. You don’t really need much time, the meat is already incredibly soft to begin with…
I then added some chopped olives, capers just before taking the dish off the heat. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro just before serving. This was even BETTER than I remember. The addition of the capers and olives gave it more zing and overall it was a wonderful dish, not recycled fare at all. This could definitely stand by itself as something to be enjoyed the first time around. I had it with rice, but Mrs. MM had it on some toasted sourdough bread and it was terrific that way as well.
We cooked a lot of stuff in the Marketman household over the past two weeks, but I’d like to think very little of it went to waste, and as I post about meals we enjoyed I will also post about the leftovers and how we re-purposed them for another meal or two. Waste not, want not.