Old clothes – that’s what it means in Spanish for reasons I’m not sure about, although the explanation I’m most attracted to is that the stew looks like clothes in the wash tub. At the same time, when I enjoy the dish I always think of the plaza at the foot of the Santa Fe Bridge between El Paso and Ciudad Juárez surrounded by warehouses filled with old clothes and signs on the fronts that read “Ropa Usada” (used clothes) where old clothingis sold by the pound.

None of this has anything to do with this delicious Cuban classic for which I developed a hunger for. Unfortunately, our Cuban restaurant recently went out of business, so the only way to satisfy my craving was to make it myself, along with the usual accompaniment, yellow rice.

Ropa vieja must surely be counted as a genuine comfort food. It certainly has a great taste, and it is filling. It takes a little effort to put everything together, but the long, slow cooking assures you that it will be melt-in-mouth tender.

There are probably as many recipes for yellow rice as there are cooks who make it. The most important thing is that the rice is yellow, and there are several ways you can accomplish that. You can use achiote or oil made from heating the seeds, called annatto. You can use saffron if you have an unlimited pocketbook. You can use turmeric. You can use paprika, although that really makes the rice more red than yellow. Lots of cooks use a packet or two of Sazón made by Goya Foods and which contains cilantro, annatto, cumin, and a bunch of other ingredients. I guess you could even use yellow food coloring. Then, of course, you can use a combination of two or more of the above.

The other thing you can do with yellow rice is to add various vegetables. Green peas and chopped bell peppers are common, and pigeon peas or gandules  are also popular. It may be difficult to find gandules if you don’t have a well-stocked ethnic market.


Ropa Vieja


  • 6 ounces bacon, chopped
  • 2 pounds flank steak cut with grain into 2 inch strips
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups beef stock
  • 14.5 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
  • ½ cup pitted green olives, halved
  • 4 ounces (1 jar) diced pimentos
  • 3 tablespoons capers, drained
  • 1 tablespoons white vinegar
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro


  1. In a large Dutch oven, render the bacon over medium-high heat. Remove the bacon and transfer to a plate.
  2. Season the flank steak with salt and pepper. Then brown in in the bacon fat over medium-high heat. Transfer to a plate.
  3. Add the onion and peppers to the Dutch oven. Add vegetable oil if needed. Cook until soft.
  4. Add the tomato paste, cumin,thyme, oregano, garlic, and bay leaf. Stir until lightly caramelized.
  5. Deglaze the pot with wine. Then return the bacon and steak to the pot. Bring to the boil. Then cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 3 hours until the steak is tender.
  6. Remove the steak to a cutting board. With two forks, shred the meat and then return to the pot with olives, pimento, capers, and vinegar.
  7. Simmer for 30 minutes until the sauce is thickened. Garnish with cilantro and serve

Annato Oil


  • 1/8 cup annatto seeds
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil


  1. Combine the annatto seeds and oil in a very small saucepan and bring to the simmer over a medium-low flame
  2. Simmer for 20 minutes. Cool, and strain the oil into a small jar with a tight-fitting lid.
  3. Use immediately or store in the refrigerator indefinitely.

Yellow Rice


  • 2 tablespoons annato oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped finely
  • 1½ cups water
  • 1 cup long-grain rice
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon paprika


  1. In a small saucepan, sweat the onions in the annatto  oil over medium heat, being careful not to let them brown.
  2. Add the water and bring to the boil.
  3. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and reduce the flame to the lowest setting.
  4. Cook the mixture, covered, for 25 minutes. Test for doneness. If liquid remains, stir, return to the boil and cook uncovered until the moisture is absorbed. Otherwise, cover the pan again, turn off the heat, and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve.


Filed under Food, Photography, Recipes

9 responses to “ROPA VIEJA

  1. This looks delicious, Darryl. I am a big fan of “old clothes” in the form of a great, hispanic meat dish. The combination of white wine, tomato, cilantro and capers/olives sound tasty.

    Oil from achiote is also a great flavor booster, as you mention. I love yellow rice and sometimes add touches of turmeric and brewed saffron.


  2. PS Do you have a “follow blog via email” widget?

  3. Love a bit of fall-apart beef – can’t be beaten. Unlike Brazil.

  4. This is a delicious dish…I haven’t had it since I left Miami.

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