Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ropa Vieja with Capers



This classic Cuban beef stew is called ropa vieja—"old clothes"—because the juicy beef is shredded like rags. The version here is the ideal recipe for a lazy Sunday afternoon: It is long-simmered and makes enough for two meals. On Sunday night, serve the meat with rice and beans. Later in the week, reheat it gently in a large pot, covered, for 15 minutes, then wrap it in warm tortillas with avocado slices, chopped red onion, hot sauce and cilantro and add a squeeze of fresh lime juice.

To drink, try a Barbera from the Piedmont region of Italy. Its wonderful acidity will blend with the stew's acidic tomatoes, so the wine will end up tasting smoother, rounder and richer. A graceful, high-acid version, such as the 2001 Prunotto Fiulot Barbera d'Asti, is a good bet here.

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 pounds flank steak, cut with the grain into 6 pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
8 cups water
2 bay leaves
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
2 medium red bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 medium green bell peppers, thinly sliced
14 medium garlic cloves, minced (about 1/3 cup)
8 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
One 28-ounce can peeled tomatoes in puree, drained and coarsely chopped (4 cups)
1/4 cup capers, drained and rinsed

1. In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil until shimmering. Blot the flank steak dry with paper towels and season it generously with salt and pepper. Working in 2 batches, brown the meat over high heat, about 10 minutes. Transfer the browned steak to a plate and repeat with the remaining meat. Return all of the meat to the casserole. Add the water and 1 bay leaf; bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until the meat is very tender, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

2. Transfer the stewed meat to a large bowl and cover with aluminum foil; reserve 3 cups of the cooking liquid. Discard the bay leaf.

3. In the same casserole, heat the remaining 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add the onions and red and green bell peppers to the casserole and cook over high heat, stirring frequently, until the onions are softened and golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

4. Lay the cloves, cinnamon and the remaining bay leaf on a square of cheesecloth. Gather the edges and tie them with kitchen string; add the spice bag to the casserole. Stir in the tomatoes, capers and the reserved 3 cups of cooking liquid; bring to a boil, then simmer over moderately low heat until the sauce thickens, 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Discard the spice bag.

5. Meanwhile, using 2 forks, pull the meat into long shreds. Add the meat to the sauce and simmer over low heat until warmed through, then serve.

MAKE AHEAD The beef stew can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

SERVE WITH Steamed white rice and black or pinto beans.

--David Rosengarten

This recipe originally appeared in October 2003.

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