Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ropa Vieja, Plantains, Fried Cheese, and Rice of course.

My friend Eddie is a wonderful cook. From the first time I went to his house and he served me this meal, I have been obsessed with it. I have asked him to make it for me every time I've gone to visit him and his wonderful wife Sabina ever since, and am never let down. His recipe is a lot different from mine, probably more authentic, but mine is fairly simple and tastes really good, so I hope he doesn't mind my alterations too much. Eddie says to use pot roast, skirt steak, flank steak. I usually just pick out the thickest, prettiest steak I see that's reasonably priced. It works. You can save yourself a lot of time by doing the chopping while the steak sears in the first step.

The rice is way plainer than it should be, just do me a favor and pretend it's real Cuban-style rice. Plantains and fried cheese are absolutely the most perfect thing you could eat with ropa vieja. I can only assume that they are classically served together because the fried cheese has such a punch it can actually hold its own against the strong, smoky spicy flavor of the beef, and the subtle sweetness of the plantains is a welcome break from the intensity of the other dishes.

This all may sound very complicated, but there's nothing that difficult about it. I urge you all to try this, because it's DELICIOUS. Oh, and don't forget the sangria (or mojitos)!

Ropa Vieja

2-3 lbs steak at room temperature
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
a few tablespoons olive oil for the pan
1 cup white wine (I tend to use sherry, of course)
3 cups water or more as needed
1 large onion, chopped (preferably a Spanish onion)
6 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1/4 cup lemon juice
2-3 plum tomatoes, diced
1/4 to 1/2 cup chipotle hot sauce (This is my fave)

Rub the steak with salt and pepper. Heat a large pot over medium/high heat with a little olive oil and place the steak in the center. Don't move it for 5-10 minutes, until it has seared to a nice rich brown and left a mark on the pan, then flip and repeat.
Remove the steak from the pan and set aside for now, but do not turn off the heat. Pour the wine and 1 cup of water into the pot, scraping the bottom to get the browned juices. After 2-3 minutes return the steak to the pot.
In a separate pan, sautée the onion, green pepper, and garlic in olive oil until the onions are clear. Add the tomatoes and lemon juice, stir for another minute then add all to the steak pot. Add a cup or two of water and the hot sauce, stir well, then cover and simmer for an hour or two, stirring and adding liquid occasionally as needed. When the beef looks really tender, shred it with two forks. Adjust seasoning as desired.

Fried Cheese
1 12-oz block queso blanco or queso fresco
oil for frying

Cut the cheese into slices about 3/8" thick. Heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and add the oil. Place a few slices of cheese in the pan, far enough apart that they won't touch after melting a little. Fry until the cheese is golden and flip once. Drain on paper towels while you cook the rest. Serve immediately, returning the first batch to the pan to get hot again if needed.

Fried Plantains
3 very ripe plantains
oil for frying

Cut the plantains at an angle, 1/2" to 3/4" thick. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and add the plantains. Fry until golden brown on both sides, then remove from the pan and drain. Smash them a bit with a plantain press or the bottom of a glass, then return to the oil and fry both sides again. Drain on paper towels again and salt as desired.

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