Friday, 15 November 2013

Recipe - Ropa Vieja

Having recently returned from Lanzarote where myself and my gorgeous wife were able to enjoy plenty of the wonderful food that the island had to offer. From travelling around the island to visit some of our favourite restaurants, to sampling the best of the rest at the Festival De Tapa, our taste buds were buzzing for the whole two weeks.
One evening, whilst eating at La Cantina, Nicola ordered the Canarian Stew. On the menu the dish was called Ropa Vieja, but what I didn't realise until we got home was that the name translates as Old Clothes. The odd name of the hearty stew of pork, chorizo & chick peas had me puzzled but after a little Google-ing, I was able to get to the bottom of what turns out to be an interesting story, part history/part folklore.
Ropa vieja originated in the Canary Islands, which was the last place ships from Spain would stop on the way to the Americas. It wasn't unusual for the returning Spanish ships coming back from the Americas to stop on the way home. As a result, The Canarian culture is very similar to the Caribbean as well as Spain. The original version of ropa vieja contained leftovers, but later became a shredded meat dish with chickpeas and potatoes in the Canary Islands. It is believed that the Canarian immigrants introduced Ropa Vieja to the Spanish colonies and the dish spread across the Caribbean, as well as parts of South America.
There are many theories as to how the dish was named. One of the more popular ones is a story about a man whose family was coming to his home for dinner. Being very poor, the man could not buy them enough food when they came. To remedy his situation, he went to his closet, gathered some old clothes (ropa vieja) and permeated them with his love. When he cooked the clothes, his love for his family turned the clothes into a wonderful beef stew.
Some versions in the Canary Islands contain beef, chicken or pork, or a combination of any of the three, often bulked up with potatoes and/or chick peas. So with this information under my belt, plus with a little input from Zoe (part owner of La Cantina), I decided to make my very own attempt Ropa Vieja.
  • 200g pork shoulder, diced
  • 200g braising beef, diced (I used beef shin)
  • 100g chorizo, diced
  • 1 large leek, chopped
  • 2 stick celery, chopped
  • 1 red pepper, diced
  • 2 large potatoes, cubed
  • 100g butternut squash, cubed
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
  • 1tsp smoked paprika
  • 1tsp hot smoked paprika
  • 2 tbsp tomato purée
  • 1 tbsp umami paste
  • 200ml chicken stock
  • 200ml beef stock
  • 400g tin chick peas
  1. Heat a good glug of olive oil in a pan before adding the pork and beef. Brown the meat before adding the chorizo.
  2. After a few minutes the chorizo will start to release it's spicy oil. At this point, add the garlic, leek, squash, celery, red pepper, and chick peas. Cook on a medium heat until the vegetables begin to soften then stir in the umami paste, tomato purée and the paprika.
  3. Add the stock and bring everything to the boil before reducing to a simmer. Add the potatoes to the pan then cover with a lid or piece of tin foil. Cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally to ensure that the contents don't stick to the bottom of the pan. If the stew looks to be drying out, feel free to add a little more water.
To serve, spoon a generous amount of the stew into bowls with thick slices of chunky bread on the side. This is a proper hearty dish, full of big flavours & tender meat that would be perfect for a cold winter evening. My own version of Ropa Vieja tasted pretty close to the flavours that Nicola had experienced at La Cantina and defiantly something that I will be making again.
Remember that Ropa Vieja is traditionally a dish prepared from leftovers, so if you're struggling to thing what to do with the leftover meat from your Sunday roast this weekend, have a rummage around the vegetable drawer and spice rack to see if you've got the basis for your very own 'old clothes'.


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