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Ropa Vieja, Cuba’s National Dish

Ropa Vieja, Cuba’s National Dish
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A great stew is served up with a wonderful story about its origins.

The ingredients that make Rioja Vieja. Note, my version lacks the pimento-stuffed olives. Instead, I used Apple Cider vinegar for the acidity that characterizes the dish.

This is one of my favorite kinds of recipes.  There’s a story attached to it that’s as interesting as the stew itself.  Cuba’s national dish translates to “Old Clothes”– about as unappetizing a translation as one can find in cooking.  But the nomenclature comes from the legend surrounding the dish.  A penniless man was so hungry that he tore up and cooked his own clothes and put them in the stew pot.  The man prayed over the cooking pot and miraculously the clothing turned into this wonderful dish.  A rich, beefy concoction, it’s loaded with vegetables—tomatoes, bell peppers, two kinds of onions, garlic—all seasoned aggressively with an array of spices before the addition of “Sazon” a seasoning blend of 7 spices.

It’s Cuba’s National Dish but it’s cooked around the world.

Cuba claims the dish, as well it should since it is so universally cooked there. But there are versions of it all across the Caribbean from Puerto Rico to Panama. It doesn’t stop there. Both the Spanish and Filipinos cook versions of it.  And the Canary Islanders make theirs not to top rice but with a potato added to the beef and vegetables.  While the story of the penniless man has its charms, food historians trace the recipe to Sephardic Jews some 500 years ago. Because of the prohibition on cooking on the Sabbath, the Sephardi slow-cooked this hearty stew the night before.

A recipe that arouses deep and passionate feelings.

The basics of the Ropa Vieja are said to be the same wherever it’s cooked.  But don’t try to tell that to the commenters on the Internet.  I haven’t seen these many people worked up about a recipe in a very long time. A version that appeared on the Food Network aroused the ire of just about everybody including this woman. “Ohhhh, my goodness, no. No, no, no, no, NO. Jalapeños in Cuban food are anathema to my soul (also Cuban). Bell peppers, definitely. Cubanelle peppers if you’ve got ’em. But NO jalapeños! NO! In case you can’t tell, I feel really, really strongly about this.” “Think it’s time Food Network head out to Miami Florida to the locals for the actual authentic Ropa Vieja.”  Finally, I put together this version. And I used my Instant Pot as a slow cooker for the first time.  I even made my own “Sazon”.  Recipe below. I used every bit of it both as a rub, as an additive in the stew and finally I added it to the water in which I cooked the rice.

The Instant Pot used as a Slow Cooker

I’ve never been a big fan of slow cookers. I seldom see a recipe that doesn’t involve searing whatever meat is going into them.  Doesn’t searing meat 8 hours before dinner time have you cooking at dawn?  On the other hand, once the searing is out of the way, you really can’t beat the hours of controlled heat.  In the case of the Instant Pot, the Sauté function sears the meat, leaving behind the caramelized natural sugars in the meat which amplifies the savory flavor of the finished dish. For this recipe, you can give it the full 8-hour cooking time on low. Or you can amp up the temperature and get the dish done in 4 hours, 15 minutes. To turn the Instant Pot into a slow cooker, simply press the “Slow Cook” button. The Instant Pot timer goes automatically to 4 hours. Leave it there or increase it to 8. Then choose the appropriate temperature: The “Less” is equal to low for 8 hours of cooking time and the “More” is equal to high for 4 hours of cooking time. Here is the recipe.  And after it, a couple of other stews you’ll find on Chewing The Fat.


Cuba's National Dish, Ropa Vieja

November 19, 2019
: 6-8
: 15 min
: Easy

A rich, robust stew filled with beef flavor and slow-cooked vegetables.


  • ¼ cup vegetable oil or more
  • 1-1/2 pounds beef flank or skirt steak cut into two pieces to brown.
  • Salt, pepper, cumin and Sazon (adjust to taste)
  • 1 large bay leaf
  • 1 Large Yellow Onion , sliced
  • 1 Large Sweet Onion, quartered
  • 10-12 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 3 bell peppers (red, green and orange), seeded cut into big square pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 can (16 ounce) can tomato sauce
  • 2 teaspoons of Thyme
  • 2 teaspoons Smoked Paprika
  • 2 teaspoons Ground Cumin
  • 2 cup beef broth
  • 4 tablespoons Sazon
  • 2 Beef Bouillon cubes
  • 1 Cup of Pimento-Stuffed Olives (optional)
  • OR 4 tbsp. Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 1 6 oz. Can of Tomato Paste (optional)
  • 2-3 Tablespoon parsley/cilantro chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Step 1 Trim beef of any excess fat, then rub generously with salt, pepper, cumin and Sazon.
  • Step 2 Heat about 2 tablespoon oil in the bowl of the Instant Pot. Set it on the Sauté function. Place beef in a single layer and sear meat on both sides until brown. About 3-4 minutes each side. Throw in bay leaves after browning on one side. Turn off Sauté function.
  • Step 3 Add 2 more tablespoons of oil to the bowl of the Instant Pot. Then add half the onions, half the garlic, half the bell peppers, half the tomatoes and half the tomato sauce. Sprinkle 1 tsp of thyme, 1 tsp. of paprika, 1 tsp. of cumin, and 2 tablespoons of Sazon. Lay one of the pieces of meat atop the vegetables. Put the remaining vegetables and tomato sauce in the bowl and season as above. Lay the second piece of beef atop the vegetables Pour the beef broth over the ingredients in the bowl. Tuck the bouillon cubes into the pot. Set the Instant Pot on Slow Cook. Choose your cooking time and temperature. Slow cook, until beef is tender, about 3 1/2–4 hours on High or 7 -8 hours on low, and can be easily shredded using two forks. Remove beef and set aside.
  • Step 4 Add more Sazon if needed. Add in parsley. Add Pimento Stuffed Olives OR Apple Cider Vinegar. Adjust seasoning. Finally add the shredded beef and stir. If the sauce is not thick enough, add the can of tomato paste, turn the Sauté function back on and cook until the sauce has thickened.
  • Step 5 Serve with rice and black beans.

Homemade Sazon

November 19, 2019
: 1 1/2 teaspoons of this mix equals one packet of commercial sazon.
: 5 min
: 5 min
: Easy

This is readily available in most supermarkets but assuming you have a fairly complete spice collection, it's a breeze to make.


  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground anatto seeds (achiote) or turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • Step 1 Combine all ingredients and mix well.
  • Step 2 Store in an airtight container.






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1 thought on “Ropa Vieja, Cuba’s National Dish”

  • What a great story for the Cuban Ropa Vieja! I was in Cuba a few years ago, unfortunately resorts don’t don’t do traditional dishes they cater to tourists who want other stuff I am.deligjted with this recipe and will. Let you know how it turns out

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