Ropa Vieja, which means old clothes, is a reference to beef that is so shredded it resembles rags. The dish is said to have been introduced in Cuba by Spanish sailors. It makes use of a sofrito – a vegetable sauté of onion, garlic, and green pepper that is often made in advance and kept on hand for flavoring stews, soups, rice, and other dishes. Like so many dishes, Ropa Vieja is said to taste better the day after is it made, after the flavors have had more opportunity to develop and mingle.
To make Ropa Vieja, put a 2-1/2 pound flank steak, a carrot, an onion, and a celery stalk in a heavy pot and cover them with water. Bring it to a boil, reduce it to a simmer, and let it cook, covered, for an hour and a half or so. Remove it from the heat and let it cool. Take the meat from the pot and shred it with your hands or a couple of forks.
In a large frying pan, heat a couple tablespoons of olive oil and sauté a large diced onion, 2 minced garlic cloves, and a seeded, chopped green pepper until the onion is translucent. Add a couple of seeded and chopped green chiles (at the heat level of your preference), as well as 4 chopped, seeded tomatoes or 2 cups of canned tomatoes and perhaps a couple tablespoons of tomato paste. Add a cup or two of the stock in which you cooked the steak, and add the beef, as well. The consistency should be thicker than soup, but let the memory of your restaurant meal be your guide. Add a dash of cayenne pepper if you like. Let it simmer for five minutes. Ropa Vieja is generally served over rice and often garnished with baby peas and/or chopped pimientos.
To be authentic, you would really use a flavored oil instead of plain olive oil for sautéing. Cubans use oil that has been infused with achiote seeds.
If you have any Ropa Vieja leftovers, they will make a delicious sandwich on a crusty roll.