Ropa Vieja is a traditional Cuban dish with the juiciest beef packed full of flavor from garlic, tomato sauce, cumin, bell pepper, and more!
Ropa Vieja is a staple in Cuban cuisine. If you like rich, traditional Latin flavors, then this Cuban food called Ropa Vieja is sure to hit the spot. The veggies, seasoning, and tender beef are the ultimate Latin American comfort food that you’re sure to love.
This recipe is the national dish of Cuba and the perfect weeknight Dinner Recipe. The juicy beef is full of flavor and the sofrito sauce is perfect to serve over Cooked Rice. For more classic Cuban dishes be sure to try Cuban Mojo Pork next.
The dish is traditionally made with flank steak, which can be tough and has lots of fibers, but cooking the meat low and slow gives you fork-tender meat with the deepest flavor. This Cuban Ropa Vieja is cooked with bell pepper, onion, cilantro, cumin, tomato, and other rich ingredients for the deepest flavor. After cooking the dish for over 2 hours, the resulting flavor is unbelievably juicy and savory. Cooking time for the meat is slow but just makes it more tender and delicious. You can find the slow cooker version later in this post.
Image: How to Make
Table of contents
- Image: How to Make
- Sabrina’s Ropa Vieja Recipe
- Kitchen Tools & Equipment
- How to Make
- Nutritional Facts
- Tips and Tricks
- How to Store
- How to Serve
- Alternative Cooking Methods
- Frequent Questions
- Recipe Card
- Variations on Ropa Vieja
- Related Recipes
Sabrina’s Ropa Vieja Recipe
Enjoy a taste of Cuba with Sabrina’s Ropa Vieja. This is a flavorful Cuban dish featuring tender shredded beef in a rich tomato-based sauce. This classic comfort food begins with searing flank steak, then simmering it with beef broth, tomato sauce, onions, bell peppers, and spices like cumin. Slow-cooked for 2.5 hours, the result is succulent, easy-to-shred beef. What sets this version apart is the addition of cilantro and white vinegar for a unique but yummy twist on traditional Ropa Vieja. You’re going to love it!
Can This Be Made Ahead?
Yes, Ropa Vieja can be made ahead of time. In fact, it often tastes even better the next day as the flavors have had time to meld. Prepare the dish as instructed, allow it to cool, and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Reheat gently on the stovetop or in the microwave when ready to serve.
What is Ropa Vieja?
Ropa Vieja is a delicious Cuban dish featuring tender, shredded beef cooked in a savory tomato-based sauce. Its unique name, “Ropa Vieja,” means “old clothes” in Spanish, describing the beef’s shredded appearance. To make it, beef is slow-cooked until it’s melt-in-your-mouth tender, then mixed with onions, bell peppers, garlic, tomatoes, and spices like cumin and paprika. This dish is often enjoyed with rice, black beans, and sweet plantains, making it a beloved Cuban comfort food.
- 1 tablespoon Vegetable Oil: The vegetable oil is used for searing the beef and preventing it from sticking to the pot. You can substitute it with other cooking oils like canola or olive oil.
- 2 pounds Beef Flank Steak: Flank steak is the center of the dish, providing a robust beefy flavor. You can also use skirt steak or brisket for a slightly different texture.
- 1 teaspoon Kosher Salt: Kosher salt enhances the overall seasoning of the dish, but you can use regular table salt as a substitute.
- ½ teaspoon Coarse Ground Black Pepper: Black pepper adds a mild spicy kick and complements the other flavors. Freshly ground black pepper is preferred, but pre-ground pepper works too.
- 2 cups Beef Broth: Beef broth forms the base of the sauce, infusing the dish with a rich beefy taste. You can use homemade or store-bought beef broth.
- 8 ounces Tomato Sauce: Tomato sauce contributes to the sauce’s thickness and adds a tomatoey tang. Use canned tomato sauce or make your own from fresh tomatoes.
- 1 Yellow Onion, thinly sliced: Sliced onions provide sweetness and texture to the dish. You can substitute with white onions if needed.
- 1 Green Bell Pepper, thinly sliced: The green bell pepper adds a mild, slightly tangy flavor. You can use red or yellow bell peppers for variety.
- 2 cloves Garlic, chopped: Chopped garlic lends a wonderful aroma and taste to the sauce. Fresh garlic is preferred, but garlic powder can be used sparingly with only a teaspoon. If you love garlic, go ahead and add a few more garlic cloves.
- 6 ounces Tomato Paste: Tomato paste boosts the tomato flavor and thickens the sauce. We are using canned tomato paste.
- 2 teaspoons Cumin: Cumin brings a warm, earthy spice to the dish, adding depth to the sauce.
- ¼ cup Cilantro, chopped: Chopped cilantro adds a fresh, herbal note to the dish. If you’re not a fan of cilantro, you can omit it or use parsley instead.
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil: Olive oil contributes to the sauce’s richness and enhances the overall flavor. We’re adding olive oil specifically for the flavor it gives, rather than another vegetable oil.
- 1 tablespoon White Vinegar: White vinegar provides a touch of acidity, balancing the flavors in the dish. You can substitute with apple cider vinegar if needed.
Kitchen Tools & Equipment
- Dutch Oven: A Dutch oven is ideal for searing the beef and slow-cooking the Ropa Vieja. Its thick walls distribute heat evenly, ensuring the beef cooks to perfection. Make sure it has a lid for the oven-baking step.
- Chef’s Knife: A sharp chef’s knife is essential for chopping ingredients like onions, bell peppers, and garlic. A sharp knife makes the prep work quicker and safer.
- Cutting Board: Use a sturdy cutting board to chop and prepare your vegetables and garlic.
- Measuring Spoons: Accurate measuring spoons are crucial for adding the right amount of spices.
- Wooden Spoon: A wooden spoon is perfect for stirring the Ropa Vieja while it simmers. It won’t scratch the surface of your Dutch oven.
How to Make
Time needed: 2 hours and 40 minutes.
- Step 1: Sear the Beef
Heat vegetable oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat (avoid medium heat). Add beef to pot, season the beef with salt, and then sear the beef flank steak on each side until browned, about 3-4 minutes per side.
- Step 2: Prepare the Sofrito Sauce
Add beef stock, tomato sauce, sliced onion, sliced green bell pepper, chopped garlic, tomato paste, cumin, and chopped cilantro to the Dutch oven. Stir to combine all ingredients.
- Step 3: Cook
Cover the Dutch oven and transfer it to a preheated oven at 325°F (163°C). Cook for 2 ½ hours, allowing the flavors to meld and the beef to become tender.
- Step 4: Shred the Beef
Remove the Dutch oven from the oven. Use forks to shred meat into smaller pieces within the sofrito sauce.
- Step 5: Finish and Serve
Drizzle olive oil and white vinegar over the shredded beef, and give it a final stir. Your Ropa Vieja is ready to be served. Garnish with fresh cilantro and enjoy your shredded meat with rice, black beans, and your favorite sides!
Tips and Tricks
Traditional Ropa Vieja is a free-form work of art, and these tips and tricks will help you master this delicious dish in an authentic way. Don’t forget to share your own insights in the comments below!
- Enhance with Olives: Spanish olives or regular green olives can be a fantastic addition for a burst of briny flavor. Add them during the last 15-20 minutes of cooking.
- Boost Flavor: Dissolve a beef bouillon cube in hot water and use it to braise the meat for extra savory goodness. You can also add an extra teaspoon ground cumin to give it a stronger flavor. For even more flavor, mix in some extra seasonings like dried oregano, bay leaf, chili pepper flakes, or additional chipotle chili powder. There are plenty of delicious cooking liquids you can mix in like ¼ cup dry cooking wine or white wine, soy sauce, or liquid smoke.
How to Store
To keep leftover Ropa Vieja fresh, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate within 2 hours of cooking. Properly stored, it can stay in the fridge for up to 3 days, preserving its taste and texture.
When reheating, use a microwave or stovetop. Add a splash of water or beef broth to maintain moisture. Reheat gently to avoid overcooking.
To freeze Ropa Vieja, place it in a freezer-safe container or zip-top bag, removing excess air to prevent freezer burn. It can be frozen for up to 2-3 months while maintaining its taste.
How to Serve
To make this dish complete serve it up with your favorite sides. The hearty meal tastes delicious over rice and beans. Cook up some Brown Rice, Yellow Rice, or white rice and black beans. You could also prepare garbanzo beans or serve your steak over warm tortillas. For hearty greens cook up some spinach, Collard Greens, or kale. Top the entire dish off with fried sweet plantains, boiled cassava, and sour cream.
Alternative Cooking Methods
Slow Cooker (Crockpot) Ropa Vieja
- To make Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja, start by adding oil to a large skillet over high heat.
- Sear the flank steak for 3-4 minutes on each side.
- Place beef in the slow cooker and add in the beef broth, tomato sauce, onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomato paste, cumin, cilantro, olive oil, and vinegar.
- Mix the Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja ingredients together.
- Cover the Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja and cook on high for 6 hours.
- Shred the Ropa Vieja and serve. Enjoy your slow-cooked shredded beef!
Pressure Cooker Ropa Vieja
- Brown beef chunks in the oil in the electric pressure cooker on the sauté function. Remove and set aside when done.
- Sauté onions, green pepper, and garlic in the same cooker.
- Mix in tomatoes, spices, and optional wine.
- Return beef, add broth. Seal and cook on high pressure for 30 mins.
- Natural release open, shred beef, add cilantro and vinegar, and give it a good stir. Let it work into the Ropa Vieja for 1-2 minutes.
- Serve hot with rice and beans. Enjoy your Cuban Ropa Vieja!
Yes, you can substitute flank steak with other cuts of beef like chuck beef, skirt steak, or brisket. While flank steak is traditional, beef chuck roast or beef stew cuts work wonderfully, providing tender shreds of goodness.
If you don’t have a Dutch oven, you can use a heavy-bottomed pot with a lid for searing and slow-cooking.
Certainly, you can omit cilantro if you’re not a fan. You can use parsley as a substitute for a fresh herb flavor.
Yes, you can freeze Ropa Vieja with the sauce. It helps preserve the flavors. Just ensure you use a freezer-safe container.
To add more spice, you can include a teaspoon of cayenne pepper, red pepper flakes, or chopped chili peppers when preparing the sauce. Adjust the amount to your desired level of heat.
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 2 pounds beef flank steak
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
- 2 cups beef broth
- 8 ounces tomato sauce
- 1 yellow onion , thinly sliced
- 1 green bell pepper , thinly sliced
- 2 cloves garlic , chopped
- 6 ounces tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1/4 cup cilantro , chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
- Add vegetable oil to a large pot or dutch oven on high heat.
- Sear the flank steak on each side until browned, 3-4 minutes per side.
- Add in the beef broth, tomato sauce, onion, bell pepper, garlic, tomato paste, cumin, cilantro, olive oil, and vinegar and stir to combine.
- Cover, and cook for 2 ½ hours.
- Shred beef with forks before serving.
- Click on the “yield” amount to slide and change the number of servings and the recipe will automatically update!
- Click on times in the instructions to start a kitchen timer while cooking.
- To convert measurements to grams, click on the “Metric” option next to “Ingredients” in the recipe card.
Variations on Ropa Vieja
- Mexican Twist Ropa Vieja: Add a Tex-Mex flair by using taco seasoning instead of cumin, and throw in some sliced jalapeños for a spicier kick. Serve with tortillas or over nachos for a Mexican-inspired Ropa Vieja.
- Vegetarian Ropa Vieja: Skip the beef and use tofu or tempeh for a meatless version. Add extra bell peppers, zucchini, or mushrooms for a hearty, veggie-packed dish.
- Seafood Ropa Vieja: Swap out the beef for your choice of seafood, like shrimp or white fish. Adjust the cooking time to ensure the seafood is perfectly cooked.
- Chicken Ropa Vieja: You can use chicken breasts instead of beef and swap out the beef broth for chicken broth a different depth of flavor.