This Puerto Rican-style ropa vieja is made by slowly braising beef chuck roast in a fragrant sauce of onions, peppers, tomatoes, olives, and raisins until meltingly tender.

In my early twenties, I ended up living in a studio apartment in the same building that I grew up in. It was a surreal experience, almost a time loop, and living there allowed me to reconnect to some of the places I went to as a little kid. One of those places was La Taza del Oro, down the block on Eighth Avenue, a very special lunch counter that opened in 1947 and sadly closed in 2015. Along with Casa Adela in the East Village, La Taza del Oro was one of New York’s iconic Puerto Rican restaurants and it served dishes from other cultures too, including traditional Cuban ropa vieja (which translates to “old clothes,” an evocative description of the texture of the shredded beef).

I make this version at home regularly, and while it doesn’t bring back a restaurant I wish was still thriving, it helps me keep my memories of it alive. It’s also just so satisfying and soul-warming (which is why I made it a few times for our local volunteer EMT squad when Covid-19 hit our area).

Enjoy ot on its own with rice or sweet, starchy things like roasted squash, fried plantains, or grilled corn. You could also use this beef for tacos or inside of a pressed sandwich (try it on your next grilled cheese).–Julia Turshen

What is Ropa Vieja?

First, it’s the national dish of Cuba and loved throughout the Latin Caribbean, so you know it’s going to be captivatingly good. A long, slow braise tenderizes the relatively tough, inexpensive cut of meat and infuses it with a tangy, spicy sweetness. This version isn’t the classic Cuban version, which uses flank steak—the long, ropy fibers are how it earned its name—and slightly different ingredients, but this Puerto Rican inspiration is still stellar and relies on the even less expensive chuck roast.

Puerto Rican-Style Ropa Vieja

  • Quick Glance
  • Quick Glance
  • 30 M
  • 3 H, 30 M
  • Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients

Directions

Preheat the oven to 300ºF (150ºC).

In a large, heavy, ovenproof pot, such as a Dutch oven, stir together the onion, garlic, bell peppers, diced tomatoes with their juice, mustard, raisins, and olives (hang onto that liquid from the olies for later).

Sprinkle the chuck roast all over with the salt, pepper, and cumin. Nestle the pieces into the mixture in the pot. Cover the pot tightly with a lid or aluminum foil.

Roast the beef until it’s incredibly tender and shreds easily when you poke at it with tongs or a couple of forks, 3 to 3 1/2 hours. 

Add the olive liquid to the pot and use those tongs or forks to shred the beef directly in the pot (discard any large pieces of fat as you work).

Stir the beef and juices together to combine. Taste and, if desired, add more salt. Serve warm with cilantro, if desired. (It’s honestly better the longer it sits. You can refrigerate it for up to a week and arm it up in a saucepan over low heat, splashing in little water or stock if it needs some moisture. You can also freeze it for up to 3 months.)

A carton of frozen Puerto Rican-style ropa vieja.

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