Aug 06

Ropa Vieja Cubana Recipe

Mexican Food History – A Look At A Traditional Mexican Dish

Ropa Vieja Sandwich

Ropa Vieja Sandwich

Who ever thought you could put ragged clothes on the table and people would go crazy over them?

That is what Ropa Vieja means: old clothes, or ragged clothes. It is a toothsome combination of meat (usually beef, but it works equally well with venison or pork) vinegar, spices and tomatoes, sort of an Hispanic version of pulled barbecue.

The Cuban version, as sold in Florida, is spiced primarily with a bay leaf and salt and pepper. No hot peppers, no cilantro. “Cubans do not eat like Mexicans” seems to be their mantra. But this dish has begun making its way onto some Mexican restaurant menus, with some alterations to make it more in keeping with the local tastes and expectations.

To make Ropa Vieja, first you have to find the proper cut of meat. A pork shoulder works, as does a beef brisket. You want a good solid cut of meat that can stand up to long cooking times. All together you should have

Ropa Vieja Cubana

What You Need:

  • 3 pound bone in pork shoulder or 2 pound brisket
  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 tbsp pickling spice, tied in a piece of cloth (so you don’t have to pick them out later)
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • If you like a Mexican touch, add two dried red chilies to the spice bag

How to Make It:

Put everything into a large bowl or plastic bag and put in the refrigerator overnight. So far, this could be the beginnings of Ropa Vieja, or Sauerfleisch, the German Sour Beef.

To continue with Ropa Vieja, the next day: put the meat and marinade in a large pot, and simmer, DO NOT BOIL for at least four hours. You can put a cover on the pot, but do not fit it tightly. Let the lid be slightly offset, to prevent boiling. “Meat that’s boiled is meat that’s spoiled’ is a good maxim here. If you allow it to bubble, it will become tough and stringy.

Once the meat is falling apart, remove it from the cooking liquid. Using two forks, shred the meat into strings. This is the ragged clothes.

Serve by putting a pile of “clothes” on the plate, then spooning a little of the liquid on top, with crusty bread, black beans and rice.

To convert this same dish to Sauerfleisch, use the same basic technique, but leave out the extra bay leaf and the chilies. Once the meat is cooked, cut it into chunks rather than shreds.

Break up a POUND OF GINGER SNAPS. This is what makes the gravy for Sauerfleisch. Mix them with water, to make a “mud.” Remove the spice bag from the broth, and increase the heat to medium. Working slowly, add the ginger mud a little at the time until you have a good, thick gravy. Return the cut up meat to the sauce and reduce the heat to low.

Next comes the dumplings. No great secret. Cold instant mashed potatoes prepared according to the package directions, then mixed with an egg and a little flour. Shape it into a ball (if you wet your hands this goes faster) and press a crouton into the center of each one. Once you have about 8 dumplings made, place them carefully on top of the now slowly simmering sauce. Put the lid on and walk away for 18 minutes. No peeking.

Serve by spooning two dumplings onto the plate, next to some meat and gravy.


Christine Szalay-Kudra is an author, food expert and mom of four boys. She is the owner of the Recipe Publishing Network, a group of sites dedicated to fine food and information for cooks. When not busy with her business you can find her sharing on one of these social networks at her own URL:

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