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Ropa vieva. Cuban cumin scented beef stew. Perfect summer eating!
Savory cumin beef stew
Ropa vieja, translated as old rags, is a Cuban stewed beef dish that tastes a whole lot better than its name would suggest. Tender pulled beef in a rich gravy scented with a touch of cumin…really good. This is a great stew kind of dish, for people oddly craving stew during the heat of summer. This is not heavy, and since it comes from the tropics, it's not winter food, although it is great year round.
The steps as follows take a couple of days to complete, but there's not all that much work involved, and this will make enough for a number of meals, perfect for easy frozen weeknight suppers.
4 pounds of beef chuck or beef brisket, cut into 2 inch cubes, seasoned with salt and freshly cracked black pepper
About 10 ripe plum tomatoes, or a few less beefsteak or other field varieties, roughly chopped
1 big onion, sliced
3-4 mixed sweet peppers (use all green if that's what you have, but a mixture of colors and sweetnesses is better)
4 cloves of garlic
Salt to taste, and cumin to taste, about a ½ tsp to start
Ropa Vieja doesn't require a lengthy list of ingredients, and is quite economical to make.
The first, and arguably most important step, is to brown the meat very well. Meat will never brown after it is added to the liquid for cooking, so any flavor intensifying browning has to happen during this step. Heat your heaviest frying pan over medium heat, and add a good spoonful of vegetable oil. When hot, add as much beef as will fit into the pan, with absolutely no crowding, and brown slowly. Take your time during this step and you will reap the dividends later. Keep frying and turning the beef cubes until they are richly dark brown on all sides. Don't be tempted to crank the heat up to speed the process along, just take it easy, and repeat until all the beef is finished. If you have a couple of good frying pans, you can do two batches at once, to speed the process up a bit.
Take the beef off the heat, and reserve in a bowl, collecting all juices.
In a deep and heavy Dutch oven, or other stewing pot, add a couple of Tbls of olive oil, or vegetable oil, and when hot, add the onion and sauté until softened. When soft, add the minced garlic, and cook for about a minute, before adding all the tomatoes, and their juices. Add the beef to the Dutch oven, and add just enough water to barely cover all of the beef.
Turn the heat down as low as you can, and cover the Dutch oven. Let this cook unattended for 3 or 4 hours, or until the beef is very tender. Only the barest of simmering can be allowed. NEVER LET THIS BOIL!!!
When tender, let cool a bit, and then transfer the lot to a container for a night cooling in its own juices in the fridge, and this will also allow you to skim off any fat that collects from the top.
The next day, sauté your sliced peppers until softened (not tender crisp, but soft) and reserve
Take the stew out of the fridge, and remove any hard fat that has risen to the surface of the liquid. Take the beef cubes out of the stew, and using a fork (or your fingers) shred completely. Add the beef back to the gravy, and also add your sautéed peppers. Back into the Dutch oven it all goes, and warm it gently, to a very gentle simmer, for about half an hour, or until the desired consistency is reached. It should be thick enough that when you plate it, it all stays together well, and no puddle of juice collects underneath.
Season with salt and cumin. You want the stew fragrant with a hint of warm cumin, but not taco meat aggressively cuminy. Add enough so that it is detectable, but is an undertone in the medley of flavors. The real taste sensation should be the deep and beefy flavor of the meat.
Serve with a good crusty bread, or with boiled potatoes, or with Caribbean rice and peas. A side salad, and you're done.
This will make a big batch of ropa vieva, and is probably more than your family can handle in a serving. It's great for leftovers, but also freezes very well, and is a perfect easy answer to a rushed weeknight meal.
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