Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Sunday, July 21

Gapers Block

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Around this time of year my desire for food fluctuates between standard comfort foods and foods that let me close my eyes and imagine I'm eating it on a beach. I'm blessed to live in a city with almost every cuisine imaginable available in a restaurant. I'm also blessed to have friends whose culinary background comes from countries far from this city I love, and the cold weather that invades it every year. One of these wonderful friends, a co-worker, had a Puerto-Rican mother and a Cuban father. They both taught her how to cook and cook she does. Her leftovers always smell wonderful at lunch time, and eventually I asked her to start sharing these recipes with me.

She hemmed and hawed -- talking about inexact measurements and how her recipes come from her soul, not a cookbook. But my constant sniffing around and barrage of ("What's that? How did you make it? What is in it? What should I do first?") questions finally wore her down and she agreed to share a recipe that drove my nose wild every time she made it. Ropa Vieja, which literally translates to "old clothes" and comes from the appearance of the shredded beef in the recipe. I can't promise that making this will cause the weather to improve, but it will definitely increase your internal temperature.

Ropa Vieja

spice rub made up of 1 teaspoon of each:
mild chili powder

2 1/2 pounds flank steak
1 carrot, diced in half-inch pieces
1 onion, diced in half-inch pieces
1 celery stalk, diced in half-inch pieces
1 poblano pepper, diced in half-inch pieces
1 red pepper, diced in half-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
4 tomatoes, chopped roughly (You can remove the seeds and skin to make it authentic. I'm a lazy gringo and leave them in.)
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
about 2 cups of beef stock
2 teaspoon olive oil
salt and pepper

Take the spice rub and season the meat on both sides, pressing the spices into the meat. Cut the meat into 3 or 4 pieces. Preheat a large pot over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Once it's hot, add the olive oil and brown the meat on each side. Turn the heat down to medium. Remove the meat to a bowl or plate with a lip (it will leak juices.) Add the onions (and a little more oil if needed) to the pan and sauté it for a few minutes before adding the carrots, celery, peppers and garlic -- in that order and about a minute apart. Then add the tomatoes, tomato paste and vinegar. Stir all the ingredients and scrape up any bits in the bottom of the pot. Pour enough beef stock into the pot to come up about halfway up the meat, but don't cover it.

Turn the heat up to high and when the liquid starts to simmer, turn the heat to medium-low, cover the pot, and cook the meat at a bare simmer (just a few bubbles coming to the surface of the liquid) for about 1-1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is tender. Poking the beef with a fork should cause it to flake apart.

Once the meat is tender, remove it from the pot. Wait for the liquid to settle and for the fat to rise to the top. Use a spoon and skim the fat off the surface. Once you've degreased the liquid, turn the heat up to high and let the sauce boil until it is reduced to about a third of its original volume. While the sauce is reducing, shred the meat. Once the sauce is reduced, turn the heat down to low, add the meat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve over rice with a side of black beans.

A fresh, minty mojito is another optional side dish. I find that it helps me forget that I still need my hat and gloves to go outside.

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lena / March 17, 2004 8:04 PM

because i speak just enough spanish to know what ropa vieja means, i could never eat it. now this makes it sound tasty. leave it to a guera to turn me on to it. ha!


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