A Ropa Vieja that makes itself (or how I learned to love the crockpot)

One of the things my husband and my friends BEG me to cook is Ropa Vieja.  Seriously, it goes something like this:

“Where are you from?”

“I was born in PR my parents are Cuban”

“Seriously? So you can make Ropa Vieja

*sigh* of all the GREAT Cuban dishes, Ropa Vieja is at the top of the list.  I often wonder why, as I much rather have Tasajo or Lechón, but I tend to please my comensales and make Ropa Vieja.

Ropa Vieja is a dish that takes quite some work (similar to Tasajo), and I have an entirely different recipe for it when cooked the traditional way.  But some time ago Mami bought me a crockpot in the hopes that I would cook more with my limited amount of time (or some time late arrivals).  So as I set out to try my crockpot a friend told me that it was great for cooking the meat for the Ropa Vieja, and then I fount Marta.  And Marta has a recipe for Crockpot Ropa Vieja.  A recipe that *gasp* I. Tinkered. With. …to better suit my taste (and of course Alan’s) while still keeping as true as I could to traditional Cuban Ropa Vieja (not my family’s version).

So here is your list of ingredients:

  • 1.5 to 2lb of Flank Steak (I clean a bit of the fat off, but not all of it)
  • 1/2 green bell pepper sliced into strips
  • 1/2 whole medium to large yellow onion sliced into strips (halfwise)
  • 4 to 5 fat cloves of garlic smashed in a mortar
  • 2 tsp of Sea Salt
  • 2 tsp freshly ground coarse black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin powder
  • 1/2 cup of Cabernet Sauvignon red wine (preferably the same one you will use for dinner)

Depending on the side of your crockpot, you might have to do what I do and that is cut the meat in half across the grain like so:

Flank Steak cut in half

Next, mix all the dry ingredients – sea salt, cumin – as this will be your meat rub (Tip: for cold winters add the ground peppercorn to the rub as it will make the meat spicy, and the Ropa Vieja quite interesting!).  Make sure you rub it on both sides and across the cut.  You’ll have about half of it left to pour into the crockpot.  Set aside the Flank steak and the rub, while we prep the rest.  Slice the green bell peppers lengthwise; cut the onion in half and then slice thinly (or slice thinly and then cut in half).  It should look like this:

Onions, Peppers and Garlic …Oh My!

Mash the garlic up nicely on a mortero or if you prefer you can mince it.  I just really like using the mortero…it is kind of therapeutic.  Ok so once you have the garlic, the onions and the peppers ready here is what you do.  Layer some of the trio on the crockpot, add one half of the meat.  Add some more of the trio, add the other half of the meat.  Finish adding what’s left of the trio.  This ensures the meat gathers all the garlic, onion and pepper taste.

Bottom of Crockpot

After you layer the meat and the rest of the garlic, onion and peppers it should look like this:

Crockpot with Flank Steak and garlic, onion and peppers

Once everything is in it is time to add the 1/2 cup of the wine, the rest of the rub and the water (to cover the meat BUT AFTER the wine).  I use Root Cabernet Sauvignon.  It’s not cheap but its not expensive (around $10) and its also the same one we drink with dinner so it matches perfectly!  Add the wine first, around the meat and softly on the meat so as not to wash the rub off.  Then add water – just enough to JUST cover the meat – and then add the rest of the rub to the liquid and blend softly.

Ready, Set and Forget it!

Set it in low for about 6 hours.  Check the meat with a fork @ 6 hours.  Usually it’s almost ready by then; if the meat separates easily then it’s time to take it out.  For the last half hour or so I just set the crockpot in warm so the meat is not over cooked.

Once done take the meat out with a slotted spoon and lay in the cutting board to cool off a bit.  While it cools, with the same slotted spoon, remove the onion, garlic and peppers, and place in a bowl.  You will need 1 – 2 cups of the beef broth so set that aside as well.  Separate the meat with a fork and your hands until is is in strands.  Be careful as it is very hot.

Shredded Meat, Beef Broth, and Trio

So what next?  Now comes the good part!  You will need the following:

  • the 2 cups of broth you removed from the crockpot
  • the onions, peppers and garlic you removed from the crockpot
  • 1 small can of unsalted tomato sauce
  • 1 small can of tomato paste
  • 1-2 tbsp of Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp of oregano
  • 1/4 of a green bell pepper cut into strips
  • 1/2 yellow onion cut in strips
  • 2 fat garlic cloves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

On a deep pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and prepare a small sofrito with the 1/2 onion, 1/4 pepper and 2 garlic cloves.  Sautee for about a minute and add the onion, garlic and peppers you removed from the crockpot and sofreir another minute.  Add the meat, and stir with a fork so the sofrito and the meat blend well together.  Add half of the tomato sauce and 1 cup of the beef broth, cover and wait until it comes to a boil.  Take the lid of, and stir.  Add half of the tomato paste can and stir well, making sure it blends.  Cover and simmer in low for about 10 minutes.  Save the other cup of broth, with the leftover tomato sauce and paste for your leftovers – you will need them to heat the meat back up so it is not dry.

Ropa Vieja almost done!

Now that you’ve labored soooooo hard over this, comes the simple part.  Serve with white rice, chatinos (a whole other post) and ENJOY!

Buen Provecho!

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Creating My First Crockpot Recipe!

A while back I had asked Marta if she had ever used the crockpot for ablandar frijoles.  You see, while I can make MEAN frijoles negros, I am ashamed to say they come out of the can – the Goya con agua y sal can that is.  But everytime I’ve tried to make it out of dry beans, while the taste comes out great, they come out too runny for my taste.  I like frijoles negros to be espesos.

In any case Marta had said she used la olla de presión, you know the pressure cooker.  Me?  I’m deathly afraid of those things, even if now they are plug-in.  Too many stories about explosions.  Also, between you and me, I’m very jealous of how Marta comes up with these wonderful crockpot recipes so I’ve been secretly conspiring some of my own (like Marta, I want to be like Marta!).  I have a list (I swear I do) and as I am able to get the ingredients I’ll be turning my kitchen into a crockpot test kitchen!

Back to the frijoles negros. A couple of days ago I got a really strong craving for sopa de frijoles negros, which I haven’t had in uffffff a VERY long time (and they are a wonderful Lenten meal).   So I decided that would be the first recipe to try on the crockpot.  I’ll give you the recipe and at the end I’ll give you some modifications.

What you will need:

  • a pound of dry frijoles negros (one bag)
  • 5-6 cups of water
  • medium onion, chopped
  • 4 fat cloves of garlic minced
  • half a green pepper chopped
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 3 bay leaves or 2 tsp of chopped bay leaves
  • one capful of white vinegar
  • one tablespoon of olive oil

Even though we do this on the crockpot, there is some pre-work to be done.  Soak the black beans in 5 cups of water  with the tsp of salt for 10 hours.  When ready, pour the beans with the water into the crockpot.  Add one to two more cups of water.  Chop your onion, green pepper and mince your garlic.

Sofrito

Sofrito

Heat the tablespoon of olive oil into a saucepan over medium heat.  Once the oil is hot enough, throw in the onions, peppers and garlic in that order.  Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring.  Add the capful of vinegar, the oregano, and the bay leaves.  Stir for about 2 minutes, and take off the heat.

Sauteeing the Sofrito

Sauteeing the Sofrito

Add the sofrito to the frijoles in the crockpot.  Stir mixing well.  Add the cumin, stir again and cover.  Set on low for 8 hours.  However, without taking the lid off, check them around the 7th hour only to make sure they’ve got enough water.  I didn’t have a water problem at all.

Ready to turn on the crockpot

Ready to turn on the crockpot

Now, I usually like my sopa de frijoles negros a bit toned down from regular frijoles negros (you know, the ones you throw over rice)…and there is a reason for that.  Papi would always add about a tablespoon of chopped onion and a couple squirts of white vinegar to his frijoles negros. I never really understood why – until the first time I ate frijoles negros at a Cuban restaurant.  They tasted sort of off; I mean come on, compared to Abuela’s black beans they were tasteless!  And then I remembered, onions and vinegar…and voilá! The beans miraculously recuperated and were now delicious!  I kid you not, that’s how I eat the black beans at Pollo Tropical and everywhere else I go (I rarely like them just they way they are served).  I even got my husband hooked.

Why do I tell you all this?  Because that is how I serve the sopa de frijoles negros.  Since we are two, I do two servings – 2 tbsp of chopped onion and a cap of white vinegar. I place them in the individual custard pyrex molds and cover them with plastic wrapping and shake shake shake señora!  As for the rice, I use no more than half a cup of cooked valencia white rice for each serving.  I like to differentiate it from regular frijoles!  Place the onion first right in the center and the rice right over it so it looks something like this:

Sopa de Frijoles Negros!

Sopa de Frijoles Negros!

The soup came out great! However I discovered that this was a most EXCELLENT way to do regular frijoles negros.  Why?  They come out nice and thick!  So if you have a bunch of people to feed, or don’t mind eating frijoles negros for three days straight, here is what we need to modify the recipe for it to be stand alone frijoles.  I’ve yet to try it but I think the following amounts should do the trick:

  • Chopped onions (about a cup and a half to two cups)
  • One whole small to medium green pepper (half of what you use of the onion.  If you have the time and a gas stove, you SHOULD roast the green peppers before throwing them into the sofrito.  Trust me on this one.)
  • 8 fat garlic cloves
  • 1 to 2 tbsp of olive oil (as needed for the sofrito)
  • 2 caps of white wine vinegar
  • 4-6 medium bay leaves
  • 1 tsp of: salt, cumin (or you can modify to taste.  Note: you can omit the cumin, typically I don’t use it in my traditional frijoles negros but I included it here because many people do)
  • 2 tsp of oregano
  • IF you typically use sugar on your frijoles negros, then you can add it here too – but I have no idea what the amount would be.

Everything else in the methodology (OMG sounding too much like the graduate student that I am!) stays the same.  If you like frijoles negros, and you have a crockpot I invite you to try this recipe and make it your own.  Then you can come back and let us know how it came out!

Happy Cooking!