Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Gloria's Crock Pot Cuban Beef Stew (Ropa Vieja)

Crock Pot Ropa Vieja, made with venison
Ropa Vieja, which translates to "old clothes," is a classic Cuban beef stew that's slow-cooked on the stove until the meat is so tender that it shreds easily when pulled with two forks or with your fingers, much like pulled-pork barbecue.

The traditional version of this recipe involves cooking the beef -- usually brisket, flank steak or other stew meat cut into chunks -- in water with some of the other ingredients to make a broth, then removing the meat to cool while you make a sauce with some of the broth and other ingredients, and then pulling the beef in to shreds (hence the origin of the name) which are added to the sauce and cooked longer before serving over rice with a side of fried plantains and topped with your choice of garnishes. 

My version of Ropa Vieja deviates from the traditional recipe by slow-cooking in the crock pot, which saves a lot of work. And as an even more radical deviation, the photos in this post show my crock pot version made with venison instead of beef, which accounts for the chunkier, less "shredded" appearance of the meat instead of the longer strands you get with pulled beef (venison tends to break down more instead of pulling into shreds).

Here's my recipe for Crock Pot Ropa Vieja, which you can make with either beef or venison. It also happens to be the answer to our April 1st Crock Pot Game on the Carolina Sauce Company Facebook page.

Cooking Ropa Vieja in a crock pot
2 1/2 lbs beef or venison stew meat, cut into large chunks (e.g., 2" cubes)
2 large carrots, cut into 1" rounds
1 large onion (or 2 medium), cut into halves or quarters & then sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 large green bell pepper, sliced
2 Tbs olive oil
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained (I use organic fire-roasted tomatoes)
2 bay leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp Kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Spanish paprika (pimenton)*
3 cloves
1/2 cup white wine
1 Tbs white wine vinegar
Up to 1/2 cup water or broth (preferably beef) if needed
Optional toppings: Sliced pimientos (roasted red peppers), chopped parsley, drained canned early sweet peas

Although Spanish paprika (sweet or hot) is ideal for this recipe, you can substitute other paprika if necessary.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat. Add carrots, onion, garlic & bell pepper and saute until softened and onion is translucent (carrots will be just barely tender; that's fine). Place meat chunks in bottom of crock pot, add all the spices & dry seasonings except the salt, then add the sauteed vegetables, undrained canned tomatoes, salt, vinegar & wine. Cover, set crock pot on HIGH and cook for 4 hours or on LOW for 6 to 8 hours and let cook mostly undisturbed, stirring once after the half-way point if desired.

At the end of this initial cooking time, remove lid and stir, then use a slotted spoon to remove the meat chunks and set aside to cool enough to handle. If the sauce & vegetables in the crock pot look a bit dry, add just a little broth or water and stir. Cover and continue to allow the sauce & veggies to cook while you use your fingers or two forks to pull the meat into long shreds (wait until it is cool enough to handle). Stir the shredded meat back into the crock pot, adding a little more water or broth if necessary (total added should not exceed 1/2 cup). Taste for balance and adjust seasonings if desired. Cover, set crock pot on LOW and let cook 2 to 3 hours (or longer if you're eating later).

April 1st Crock Pot Game Clue & Prize Pack
Serve over cooked white rice (or simply in a bowl for a low-carb dish) with one or more of the optional toppings. Traditional side dishes to serve with ropa vieja include fried plantains and a simple tossed green salad. Makes 8 servings, and tastes great the next day (refrigerate overnight and reheat).

Zestfully yours,

PS:  We play a new Crock Pot Game on our Facebook page on the 1st day of each month, and we pick one lucky winner each month to receive a special Prize Pack of FREE sauces, seasonings, cookbooks or other zesty prizes.  To play our next Crock Pot Game, simply Like us on Facebook and make sure to check our FB page on May 1st!

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