Swap-Box Hero: Riches-to-Rags Edition

Ropa vieja.

Old clothes.

And sure, a stew of shredded flank steak jumbled with strips of poblano peppers does look a bit like tattered rags.

But my more romantic etymological theory is that this dish’s name derives from the ease and comfort of a favorite shirt. That’s right, the one Marie Kondo gave you permission to keep—even though it’s frayed at the collar, is missing its cuff buttons, and has a bloop of semi-gloss on the placket—just because it “sparks joy.”

Work Shirt
This BR work shirt has survived Atlantic, Pacific, and Mediterranean beaches; repeated Wrigley-bleacher beer soakings; and every closet purge since 1987.

Like Sunday gravy, chili, and Thanksgiving stuffing, this comforting Canary-Cuban stew varies family by family. My take here is an admittedly stripped-down version. Some folks include carrots, some include beans, many include stewed tomatoes. Consider this one a base, and add what you like.

Ropa Vieja
A big, easily transportable pot of ropa vieja will serve 8-10 and is great for tailgates, potlucks, or even camping.
Fácil Ropa Vieja
  • 1.5 pounds flank steak
  • 1 cup water
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly smashed
  • heaping tbsp tomato paste
  • 12 whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tsp kosher salt (or more, to taste)
  • 6-8 poblano peppers, rinsed and dried
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
Pocket of Rags
Spooned over rice or tucked into tortillas, Ropa is
simple, warm, comfort food. Just be sure to lean forward so you don’t drip onto your favorite shirt.
Stew the Steak

Trim the steak of excess fat, then cut it to fit flat (stacked is okay) in the bottom of a large Dutch oven. Pour in the water, add the garlic cloves, tomato paste, peppercorns, and salt. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Drop heat to low, cover, and cook (turning the meat occasionally) until it’s very tender (likely 90 minutes or so).

Remove from heat and let cool.*

Prep the Peppers
Early-Morning Grill
I love the smell of peppers in the morning. But apparently, poblanos don’t spark joy for all our CSA subscribers; I pulled these (and two other bags) out of the swap box.

While the meat simmers, grill or broil the peppers, turning frequently, until their skins are blistered and blackened on all sides. Transfer to a clean paper bag, and crimp it shut so the peppers will sweat a bit longer. This’ll make the skins easier to remove once they cool, and they won’t be as slippery to handle as if you put them on a plate and covered it with foil.

These guys are ready.

When the peppers are cool enough to handle, lop the tops off, remove and discard the seeds, and slice into quarter-inch strips. Set aside.

Shred the Steak

Slice the meat, across the grain, into inch-long hunks (or longer, if you like). With your fingers and/or a fork, work the meat into fine shreds and return it to its broth.

Saute the Peppers and Onions

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until soft and fragrant. Add the pepper strips, and cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring frequently.

Put it Together

Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the vegetables into the pot with the meat. Shake each spoonful carefully to drain off as much of the oil as you can. Over low heat, bring the mixture to a simmer for another 15 minutes.

Serve on warm flour tortillas or over rice.

Leftovers reheat beautifully. Try a scoop for breakfast, topped with a fried egg.



*Note that at this point, I actually tucked the dish into the fridge, since the lure of Philly’s Popeapalooza Weekend—much of which was right in my neighborhood—was too strong to stay in the house for more than a couple hours at a time. I finished everything up the next day, and the results were just as good as when I do everything all at once.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s