Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Ropa Vieja Tacos

Perhaps the coolest food-based tale ever comes from the amazing, over 500 year old history of Ropa Vieja. The story goes that a poor man had nothing left but his old beaten-up clothes, so he threw them in a pot and cooked them to feed his family. Miraculous, his love turned the unorthodox dish into a delicious stew.

Sadly despite my Cuban ancestry, I have not experienced much of this dish (aside from at El Rey Taqueria in Houston), so I had been wanting to to make some ever since I got my Cuban cookbook.  Following some pretty grueling work weeks for me and Robin, and the brilliant decision to work from home for the day (coding truly is a wonderful profession), I knew it was time to fill our stomachs with this dish based on love.

Ropa Vieja Tacos
Adapted from The Cuban Table by Ana Sofia Pelaez and Ellen Silverman
Time: 2.5 hours
Servings: ~8-12 tacos
Perfect blend of my cultures and spices

Braised Beef
Vegetable or canola oil
1.5 lbs flank steak, quartered
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1" chunks
1/2 red cabbage, quartered
2 sprigs fresh mint
5 large garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp cloves
1/2-1 tsp cayenne pepper
6 cups water
2 bay leaves
Braised but not yet done

Ropa Vieja
1/4 cup olive oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled
1 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
Pinch of cloves
1 1/4 cups tomato puree
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1/2-1 cup roasted red peppers, sliced
Cilantro to garnish
Queso fresco to garnish
Jalapeños, chopped to garnish

  1. Brown all sides of the flank steak in a large pot over medium-high heat with a small amount of vegetable oil.
  2. Add the onion, carrot, red cabbage, mint, garlic, salt, black pepper, allspice, cloves, cayenne, water and bay leaves. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Then cook covered for 1.5-2 hours under tender enough to shred. Reserve 1/2 cup of the broth for the ropa vieja.
  3. Let the steak cool in the broth until it can be shredded. Start preparing the ropa vieja (below) while you wait to shred the beef. If you have a long wait before the ropa vieja is ready for the shredded beef then store it in some broth to maintain juiciness. 
  4. Prepare the ropa vieja by first sautéing the onion and bell pepper in olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat until tender and translucent (6-8 minutes). 
  5. Crush the garlic together with the salt, pepper, allspice, cloves, and cayenne until a paste forms.
  6. Add the paste to the skillet and coat the veggies. Cook for another 2 minutes until fragrant.
  7. Mix in the tomato puree, reserved broth, white wine, and bay leaf. Bring to a light simmer.
  8. Stir in the shredded beef and cook covered on low for 15-20 minutes. 
  9. Evenly mix in the roasted red peppers then prepare for greatness.
  10. Make tacos by topping the ropa vieja with cilantro, queso fresco, jalapeños, and lime juice. Both corn and flour tortillas taste great with this, but flour or two stacked corn tortillas may be the best option since they will help absorb all that flavorful juice.
Also feel free to serve on top of rice because this tasty dish works with anything.
With apologies to the former champ, Dr. Pepper Braised Brisket Tacos, these Ropa Vieja Tacos quickly usurped the top spot in my taco power rankings. This was the perfect union of everything I love about Cuban, Cajun, and Mexican cooking as the Cuban flavors were empowered by the added spice to yield some of the most insanely juicy and delicious filling a tortilla was ever lucky enough to receive. The tomato, peppers, and spices led to some of the most unique and succulent beef I have ever made, while the decision to convert it to a taco added another layer of comfort to this ultimate comfort food. I really should work from home more often.

I want to go to there.