I grew up eating Ropa Vieja all of the time. It was a weekly occurrence at my house. Even though it’s a Cuban dish, it’s also made in Nicaragua, although it’s called something else there. In Nicaragua it’s called shredded beef but in Spanish. All it is, is basically shredded flank steak in a tomato sauce with lots of tomatoes, onions and peppers and it’s super delicious. Ropa Vieja means old clothes in Spanish, and this dish is named that because the shredded beef and veggies are supposed to resemble old clothes/rags. And now you know, it’s your lesson of the day. Don’t say I never taught you anything.
I decided to take this childhood dish of mine and give it a fun and new twist by combining it with one of my all-time favorite dishes, sliders. So I mashed the two together and we now have these Ropa Vieja Sliders to devour this weekend. Just in case I haven’t mentioned it enough, I’m the self-appointed Slider King of the World, having written the book on it, and so I figured why not continue adding to my passion of sliders by throwing in a new one into the ring. These are relatively easy to make, so there are no excuses as to why you shouldn’t make them this weekend!
The ropa vieja itself takes a little while to cook, so it’s best to start it as soon as you can. This is one of those kinds of dishes that just gets better the longer it sits. Begin by searing the flank steak for about 2 to 4 minutes per side.
Once the beef has seared, transfer it to a plate or platter and set aside. Then throw in the onions, bell peppers, garlic, and tomatoes. Cook for about 6 minutes, or until just beginning to soften.
**Tip: It’s important to slice all of the veggies in relatively the same size, because you want them to cook at the same time. If some pieces are bigger than others, the smaller pieces will cook faster and the big pieces will stay whole.**
Stir in the tomato paste, tomato sauce, seasonings, and chicken stock. Return the seared beef back into the pot with the veggies and sauce. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
Uncover the pot, stir in the capers and cover once again and cook until the beef shreds easily, about 1 hour to 1 hour and a half. Once cooked, carefully remove the beef from the sauce and transfer to a cutting board. Shred with two forks into long strands. Return the beef to the pot and give it a big stir once again.
Once you’re ready to assemble the sliders, cut the rolls or slider buns in half and toast on a buttered griddle (if desired). Spread the bottom half of the buns with refried black beans (that have been warmed on the stove top) and then spread the top half of the buns with mashed up avocado. Sprinkle the avocado with queso fresco.
**Note: Queso fresco is a creamy soft Mexican cheese, that you can find in almost any grocery store these days. If for whatever reason you can’t find it, try using feta instead or just omitting the cheese altogether.**
Place a mound of the ropa vieja on top of the black beans. You’ll want to drain the beef from the sauce as best you can before you place it on the bun because if you don’t, then you’ll end up with soggy sliders and that’s not good at all!
Sandwich the sliders together and then skewer with a long toothpick to hold it all in place Then take a step back and admire the masterpiece you’ve just created. Sliders are masterpieces, mini masterpieces, but great works of art nonetheless.
The best thing about these ropa vieja sliders is that you can eat them either hot or at room temperature so that makes them perfect for parties or gatherings. The even better news is that you can make the ropa vieja filling ahead of time and really make it easier on yourself when you go to entertain.
**Tip: You can make the ropa vieja up to 3 days in advance. Keep it in the fridge and then just reheat over low, stirring often, until heated through, about 20 minutes.**
If you don’t want to make sliders out of the shredded beef, you can serve it the traditional way. It’s usually served with white rice and black beans, and of course fried plantains, usually sweet but sometimes as chips.
I like to serve these sliders with lime wedges on the side and fried plantain chips. If you’d like to make your own, you can peel two large green plantains and then slice them into thin strips, lengthwise, using a mandolin. Then fry in hot oil, a couple of minutes on each side, until golden brown and crispy. Drain and season with salt right when they come out of the oil.
If you’re a big slider fan like I am, be sure to check out the slider tag on the site, and of course if you’re so inclined, feel free to pick up a copy of my cookbook The Slider Effect, and look through the 75 recipes of meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetarian sliders, including homemade sauces and buns. It’s slider mania, and we should all just ride with it.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 pounds flank steak
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced
- 1 red bell pepper, seeded and sliced
- 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 2 dried bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 2 tablespoons capers
- 12 dinner rolls or slider buns
- 1 (14.5-ounce) can refried black beans, heated through
- 2 avocados, mashed
- 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco
- Set a large heavy duty dutch oven over medium-high heat with the oil. Once hot, sear the steak on both sides until browned, about 2 to 4 minutes on each side. Transfer the steak to a plate or platter and set aside. Stir in onion, bell peppers, garlic and tomatoes and cook until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Return the steak to the pot with the veggies and add in the bay leaves, tomato paste, tomato sauce, chicken stock, salt, pepper, cumin, paprika, oregano, and crushed red pepper flakes. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer stirring occasionally, about 45 minutes. Stir in the capers, cover the pot once more and cook until the beef shreds easily with a fork, about 1 hour to 1 hour and half. If the liquid dries out, try adding in a bit of water if needed.
- Carefully transfer the meat to a cutting board and shred with two forks. Return to the sauce and veggies.
- To assemble the sliders, split the rolls in half and spread the bottom halves with refried beans and the top half with mashed guacamole. Top the bottom half with the shredded beef and veggies, draining the liquid as best you can. Then sprinkle the guacamole half with queso fresco. Sandwich together and skewer with a long toothpick to hold in place. Enjoy!
- Yield: 12 sliders (with beef leftover for the next day)