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Ropa Viejo: Old Clothes on the Cooktop

Ropa Viejo is one of the most popular dishes in Cuban and Puerto Rican cuisine.

The name translates from Spanish into "old clothes." That refers to the look of the beef after it's shredded. As with many Caribbean meals, rice is a staple that is served alongside. What makes it even tastier is the use of achiote oil, which is a combination of olive oil and annatto seeds. You can find the seeds, paste, or in ground form at Internet retailers or Spanish markets. I'll give you some substitute ideas in the recipe itself.

Make it ahead of time and it will taste even better as the flavors incorporate. You can also toss almost everything in the crockpot and all that's left is the shredding and serving.

In fact, sofrito is comparable to a mirepoix, but with its own specific ingredients. Many cooks keep sofrito on hand as the base for daily meal preparation. A sofrito typically contains: green bell pepper, onions and seasonings. In Puerto Rico, cilantro may also be added.

Ropa Viejo (Old Clothes)

To start:
-2.5 pounds flank steak or chuck roast
-1 tomato
-1 onion, medium
-1 celery stalk
-1 bay leaf

Cut the tomato, onion, and celery into quarters. In a large pot, combine the beef, tomato, onion, celery and bay leaf. Cover with water and bring to a brief boil. Reduce to a medium simmer and cook until tender, about 2-3 hours. Remove from heat and transfer the beef to a large plate or cutting board. Let it cool. Reserve the broth and let it cool also. When the meat is cool enough to handle, shred it to create a stringy pile.

Sofrito (this makes enough for the above ingredients)
-¾ cups olive oil or achiote oil (see below)
-1 medium onion
-1 green bell pepper
-1 hot pepper of choice if desired
-2-3 cloves garlic
-1.5 teaspoons oregano
-1 bay leaf

Dice the onion and bell pepper. Crush the garlic cloves. In a large pot heat the oil. Add the onion, green bell pepper, and garlic. Saute. When tender, add the oregano and bay leaf. Stir and let cook about 2 minutes longer.

Add the shredded beef to this pot.

Sauce (this is added to the sofrito and beef mixture)
-3/4 cup tomato sauce
-3/4 cup red wine vinegar
-1 ¼ cup broth from the beef
-3/4 cup red wine (or beer)
-1.5 Tbs paprika
-2 tsp black pepper
-salt to taste

Combine the above ingredients and add to the beef and sofrito blend. Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours. If it is too sharp, add a little sugar substitute and stir, then taste again.

Achiote Oil
This is an easy recipe and you'll love the color.
-3/4 cup olive oil
-2 Tbs annatto seeds

Combine the oil and seeds in a small pan. Allow the mixture to come up to a rolling boil, then remove and let it stand. Use a strainer to remove the seeds. For a hotter oil, you can also include a small, minced hot pepper of choice. This oil, if refrigerated in a tightly closed container will last several months.

A note on annatto seeds. These impart a lot of color, but don't have much flavor. However, it's a common ingredient in the oils for Cuban cooking. Interestingly, annatto seeds are used to color a range of ingredients included butter, cheeses, and rice.

To substitute: Use equal amounts of paprika and turmeric.

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