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The rules are few: Use 99% fresh ingredients (or thereabouts); make the dish simple but flavorful; make the dish flavorful but simple; be creative, not silly.

With this blog, I want to share new recipes, along with tips on ingredients and preparation, and, hopefully, show new cooks (and non-cooks) the pleasure in setting the table with a delicious homemade meal. The Briny Lemon is about fresh, simple, flavorful ingredients and easy cooking methods that help you bring the best to your family table. Your comments are welcome!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Cuban-Style Ropa Vieja

Ropa vieja ("old clothes") is said to have derived its name from the shreds of meat and vegetables in the dish that resemble colorful strips of cloth. It’s classic comfort food in Spain—think grandma’s beef stew—but ropa vieja is also a popular dish in the Caribbean, especially Cuba.

Both Spanish and Cuban ropa vieja begin with tender, shredded, braised beef, but that’s where much of the similarity ends. In Spain, particularly Catalan, the traditional dish is as much about garbanzo beans as the meat. The beans are sautéed in olive oil and paprika and served with braised beef, often along with fried potatoes or mild green chiles.

In Cuba and other parts of Latin America, the beef is commonly stewed with onions, tomatoes, garlic, and bell pepper and served over a bed of rice. Additional ingredients often include green olives and raisins along with fragrant cumin and dried oregano.

Obviously, both versions make delicious, homey, inviting dinners—without a lot of fuss or pomp. Here, I went with Cuban-style because we can’t get enough Latin in my house. The combination of tender strips of beef and savory vegetables, spices, and herbs makes for unbeatable flavor. Mmmm.

Note: Ropa vieja is traditionally made with flank steak. If you can’t find flank, opt for skirt (shorter cooking time) or chuck (longer cooking time). Whatever you use, be sure to work in batches when searing the meat on the stovetop. A crowded pan means steamy gray meat instead of nicely browned.

Flank Steak
Serves 6

  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1-1/2-lb flank steak, cut against the grain into 4 pieces
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry, divided
  • 1 14.5-oz can low-sodium beef broth
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp dried oregano, divided
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 cup thin, vertically sliced onion
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green bell pepper
  • 1 cup thinly sliced red bell pepper
  • 1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes with juice
  • 1/2 cup thickly sliced green olives
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 cups cooked rice, for serving
  • chopped cilantro, for garnish
Prepared Steak 
Prepared Vegetables, Garlic, and Olives
  1. Preheat the oven to 275° F.
  2. Heat a Dutch oven or heavy, ovenproof pan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of oil. Season the steak with salt and pepper and add half to the pan. Sear 3 minutes without disturbing, then turn and sear the other side 2 minutes. Transfer the pieces to a plate and repeat with 1 more tablespoon of oil and the remaining pieces of meat. Transfer to the plate.
  3. Add 1/4 cup sherry to the pan and cook, scraping up browned bits, 1 minute. Add the broth, tomato paste, and oregano, stirring to blend the paste.
  4. Return the meat to the pan, nestling down into the broth mixture (it may not be completely submerged). Cover the pan and braise in the oven until the beef is fork tender, 2 hours, turning halfway through. 
  5. Transfer the beef to a plate. When cool enough to handle, coarsely shred the meat.
Beginning to Sear 
After Turning 
Scrape up Brown Bits in Sherry 
Broth Mixture Added

Beef Ready to Braise

Halfway Through
Braised Beef 
Shredded Beef
  1. While the meat cools, drain all liquid and wipe any solids from the pan (no need to wipe clean if re-using right away) and re-heat over medium heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, swirling to coat.
  2. Add the garlic, onion, and green and red bell pepper and sauté until the vegetables soften, 5 minutes.
  3. Add the tomatoes, remaining 1/4 cup sherry, olives, cumin, and remaining 1 teaspoon dried oregano. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the stew is slightly thickened, 6-7 minutes.
  4. Stir in the shredded beef and cook until hot throughout, 3-4 minutes.
Wipe Liquid and Solids from the Pan
Vegetables Beginning to Cook
Softened Vegetables
Tomato Mixture Added
Cooked Tomato Mixture
Shredded Beef Added
To serve, divide the rice among 6 shallow bowls and divide the ropa vieja on top. Garnish with cilantro and serve right away.

Cuban-Style Ropa Vieja

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