Back at the start of the summer, I started following some new foodie blogs, one of which was The Daring Gourmet. When I saw a blogpost go by entitled Ultimate Ropa Vieja (The National Dish of Cuba), I was intrigued - I've covered a lot of countries in my globe-cooking index, but I don't think I've got a single one from Cuba - so I just had to go and have a look.
It turns out that Ropa Vieja, which means "old clothes", because the long strands of slow cooked beef resemble old rags, is a lovely tomatoey, meaty stew. I didn't really have the right cut of beef - I had a pack of bourguignon stewing beef in the freezer, I'm not sure which cut it was - but you should really use chuck or flank to get the right look/texture. It was still a delicious rich stew though and I'll definitely be adding it to my list of favourite slow-cooker winter warmers.
I've taken a lot of liberties with the recipe and adapted it to suit what I had in the cupboards, so do click through to check out the original (which also tells you more about the cultural origins of the dish).
drizzle of olive oil
800g-1kg stewing beef
1 red pepper, 1 yellow pepper, 1 green pepper (I used a tin of peppers stewed in chilli that was in the cupboard)
2 cloves of garlic
3tsp dried oregano
3tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp allspice
6 whole cloves (or 1tsp ground cloves)
2 bay leaves
salt & pepper
a good glug of white wine
1 chicken stock cube
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tin cherry tomatoes
a squeeze of tomato concentrate
1 cup green olives
I wanted to sear the beef before putting it in the slow cooker so I started off by gently frying the onions and garlic in a drizzle of olive oil, to add extra flavour. Once they had gone soft and released some flavour to the oil, I transferred them to the slow cooker.
Then I browned the beef on all sides on a high heat before adding it to the slow cooker.
Keeping the pan that you seared the beef in on the hob, add a generous glug of white wine (enough to cover the bottom) and deglaze the pan - scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Pour the wine with all the lovely flavour from the meat, onions and garlic, into the slow cooker.
Have a good rummage through your spice rack and see what you've got - I used oregano, cloves, cumin, paprika, mixed spice, rock salt, black pepper, chilli flakes ...
Toss all the herbs and spices on top of the meat.
In order to get a really rich tomatoey sauce, I used a trio of tomato based products - chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and some baby plum tomatoes, which I discovered recently and which are wonderful for adding extra texture and sweetness to stews and pasta sauces.
After adding the tomatoes, crumble in the stock cube.
Add the tin of peppers (or red, yellow and green peppers, cut into thin strips).
Toss in the bay leaves and the olives.
Give it all a stir and leave to cook for about 8 hours.
If you can get your meat to fall apart into shreds, you'll have the perfect texture for ropa vieja. Mine stayed in chunks but it was nevertheless a deliciously rich, flavour-packed meal - I still love the way my slow cooker has dinner ready and waiting for me when I get home from work !
*** Click through for my country-by-country globecooking recipe index ! ***