Authentic Cuban Ropa Vieja Recipe

On my last trip to Havana, I stumbled upon a quaint family-run eatery nestled between the city’s vibrant colonial buildings. As the sultry Cuban beats played in the background, I was introduced to the wonders of traditional Cuban cuisine. One dish, in particular, caught my attention. It was rich, aromatic, and bursting with flavor, a beautiful testament to Cuba’s culinary prowess – the Ropa Vieja.

The name, directly translating to “old clothes”, intrigued me. As the kind owner explained, the dish’s shredded appearance resembled tattered rags. But the taste was anything but old; it was a symphony of succulent beef, tangy tomato sauce, and aromatic spices. I knew I had to recreate this at home and share it with the world.

How to Prepare Cuban Ropa Vieja

Ingredients for Cuban Ropa Vieja

  • 1 tablespoon of canola oil
  • 2 pounds of premium beef flank steak
  • 1 cup of aromatic beef broth
  • 1 (8 ounce) can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1 (6 ounce) can of tomato concentrate
  • 1 vibrant green bell pepper, seeded and julienned
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon of roasted ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar

Directions for Cuban Ropa Vieja

  1. Warm the canola oil in a broad skillet on a medium-high flame. Introduce the flank steak and sear until it takes on a golden hue, approximately 4 minutes on each facet.
  2. Gently relocate the seared steak to your slow cooker. Drizzle in the beef broth followed by the crushed tomatoes. Integrate the tomato concentrate, julienned bell pepper, thin onion slices, minced garlic, cumin, freshly chopped cilantro, olive oil, and vinegar; amalgamate until harmoniously blended.
  3. Seal with the cooker’s lid and let it simmer on a Low setting for a duration of 10 hours, or if pressed for time, on High for a swift 4 hours.
  4. Once the hours have elapsed, gently tear apart the steak within the slow cooker using a pair of forks, achieving that characteristic shredded appearance.

What does “Ropa Vieja” mean?

Ropa Vieja directly translates from Spanish to “old clothes”. The dish gets its name due to the shredded appearance of the beef, which resembles tattered and torn rags or old clothing.

Why is it called Cuban Ropa Vieja?

This dish is a classic staple in Cuban cuisine. Its origins trace back to the Spanish settlers who brought similar recipes to the island. Over time, it evolved with local ingredients and tastes, becoming the Cuban Ropa Vieja we know today.

Can I use a different type of meat?

Traditionally, beef flank steak is used because of its fibrous texture which shreds beautifully. However, if you don’t have flank steak, brisket or chuck roast can be good alternatives. Adjust cooking times accordingly.

What sides go well with Ropa Vieja?

White rice and black beans are traditional accompaniments, but fried plantains, Cuban bread, and a simple salad also pair wonderfully with the dish.

Can I make it spicy?

Absolutely! Feel free to add some diced jalapeƱos or a dash of cayenne pepper to the mix if you prefer a little heat.

How do I store leftovers?

Store any leftover Ropa Vieja in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It should keep well for up to 3-4 days and can be reheated on the stove or in the microwave.

Cuban Ropa Vieja

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 15 minutes
Course Main Course
Cuisine Cuban
Servings 4


  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 pounds beef flank steak
  • 1 cup beef broth
  • 1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 1 6 ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 green bell pepper seeded and sliced into strips
  • 1 small onion sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • Directions:


  • Heat vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add flank steak and cook until browned, about 4 minutes per side.
  • Transfer steak to a slow cooker; pour in beef broth and tomato sauce.
  • Add tomato paste, bell pepper, onion, garlic, cumin, cilantro, olive oil, and vinegar; stir until well blended.
  • Cover and cook on Low for up to 10 hours, or on High for 4 hours.
  • Shred steak in the slow cooker with two forks.
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