Ever wonder where ropa vieja, the classic Cuban shredded beef stew, got its name? Turns out there are many theories but, by far, my favorite is the legend of the very poor man whose family was coming to his home for dinner. Unable to afford food for the evening, the man instead reached into his closet, ripped up some “old clothes,” and put them into a pot with what few ingredients he had on hand. He imbued his simmering pot with so much love, the legend goes, that he magically turned the clothes into food. While I realize the story is more myth than anything, I love that it taps into the Latino sense of family and love, both so inextricably tied to our food. (The name ropa vieja more likely came from how the dish is made. The meat, used first to flavor a stock or soup then reused a second time in a stew with onions, peppers and tomatoes, is like a second-hand ingredient—as in second-hand, or old, clothes.)
For today’s healthy makeover, I took inspiration from the notion that we could all benefit from cutting down on the red meat we eat. Doing so has been linked to reducing the risk of cancer and heart disease. So I replaced the flank steak cut that’s typically used for ropa vieja with lean chicken breast meat. And rather than serve it with white rice, I opted for the healthier brown rice.
2 large chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
1 qt low sodium chicken stock
1 T olive oil
1 green bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
1 small yellow onion, sliced thinly
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 can low sodium tomato sauce
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup dry sherry
1 T white wine vinegar
1 bay leaf
1. Place the chicken breasts into a medium pot and pour chicken stock over them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until breasts are completely done. Remove the breasts from the stock and place on a cutting board. Allow to cool until you can comfortably handle the meat with your fingers. (Reserve the stock for another use.)
2. Once the chicken is cooled, remove the skin and bones. With your fingers shred the chicken along the grain so that you have long, fine slivers of meat. Set these aside.
3. In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat for a full minute. Add the peppers and onions and sauté until tender, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Add the shredded chicken and stir to combine.
4. Add the tomato sauce, sherry, vinegar and bay leaf and stir to combine. Cover and cook over low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes to allow flavors to combine. Remove the bay leaf, and serve over brown rice. Makes 4 servings.