Puerto Rican-Style Ropa Vieja

This Puerto Rican-style ropa vieja is made by slowly braising beef chuck roast in a fragrant sauce of onions, peppers, tomatoes, olives, and raisins until meltingly tender.

A bowl of Puerto Rican-style ropa vieja with rice and cilantro on a green mesh serving tray with a linen napkin beside it.

In my early twenties, I ended up living in a studio apartment in the same building that I grew up in. It was a surreal experience, almost a time loop, and living there allowed me to reconnect to some of the places I went to as a little kid. One of those places was La Taza del Oro, down the block on Eighth Avenue, a very special lunch counter that opened in 1947 and sadly closed in 2015. Along with Casa Adela in the East Village, La Taza del Oro was one of New York’s iconic Puerto Rican restaurants and it served dishes from other cultures too, including traditional Cuban ropa vieja (which translates to “old clothes,” an evocative description of the texture of the shredded beef).

I make this version at home regularly, and while it doesn’t bring back a restaurant I wish was still thriving, it helps me keep my memories of it alive. It’s also just so satisfying and soul-warming (which is why I made it a few times for our local volunteer EMT squad when Covid-19 hit our area).

Enjoy it on its own with rice or sweet, starchy things like roasted squash, fried plantains, or grilled corn. You could also use this beef for tacos or inside of a pressed sandwich (try it on your next grilled cheese).–Julia Turshen

What is Ropa Vieja?

First, it’s the national dish of Cuba and loved throughout the Latin Caribbean, so you know it’s going to be captivatingly good. A long, slow braise tenderizes the relatively tough, inexpensive cut of meat and infuses it with a tangy, spicy sweetness. This version isn’t the classic Cuban version, which uses flank steak—the long, ropy fibers are how it earned its name—and slightly different ingredients, but this Puerto Rican inspiration is still stellar and relies on the even less expensive chuck roast.

Puerto Rican-Style Ropa Vieja

  • Quick Glance
  • (1)
  • 30 M
  • 3 H, 30 M
  • Serves 6 to 8
5/5 - 1 reviews
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Ingredients


Directions

Preheat the oven to 300ºF (150ºC).

In a large, heavy, ovenproof pot, such as a Dutch oven, stir together the onion, garlic, bell peppers, diced tomatoes with their juice, mustard, raisins, and olives (hang onto that liquid from the olies for later).

Sprinkle the chuck roast all over with the salt, pepper, and cumin. Nestle the pieces into the mixture in the pot. Cover the pot tightly with a lid or aluminum foil.

Roast the beef until it’s incredibly tender and shreds easily when you poke at it with tongs or a couple of forks, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. 

Add the olive liquid to the pot and use those tongs or forks to shred the beef directly in the pot (discard any large pieces of fat as you work).

Stir the beef and juices together to combine. Taste and, if desired, add more salt. Serve warm with cilantro, if desired. (It’s honestly better the longer it sits. You can refrigerate it for up to a week and warm it up in a saucepan over low heat, splashing in a little water or stock if it needs some moisture. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.)

A carton of frozen Puerto Rican-style ropa vieja.
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Recipe Testers' Reviews

Beef and peppers are great together, stir-fried or braised like this wonderful ropa vieja. Preparing a braise is typically easy but this one was particularly fast since the meat didn’t have to be browned. Skipping this step made me wonder if the sauce would be somewhat bland, but it turned out to be an unnecessary concern.

The mustard, tomatoes, and garlic were great additions to make the sauce flavorful, and I loved the sharpness of the olive brine. Another thing that makes this recipe simple is that the liquid doesn’t have to be reduced afterwards. The beef is shredded right in the Dutch oven and it is ready to be served. Jasmine rice made the dinner table—a great accompaniment for ropa vieja.

This is the dish that you start on a Sunday afternoon and put in the oven while you go out for a walk or go about your day. Enjoy it for dinner that night and then graze on it all week long. There is so much flavor from such little effort and truly humble ingredients.

I can't stop eating this in tacos, with beans and avocado, but there are so many possibilities. Would be lovely tucked into a breakfast scramble or even stuffed into a baked potato.

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