This recipe is for a Spanish Ropa Vieja with garbanzos. It is an authentic dish that originates from the Canary Islands.
Unlike its close relative from Cuba, this dish contains chickpeas and pulled meat, which gives it its traditional Canary distinctiveness. This is not an easy-to-make recipe. Instead, Ropa Vieja Canarias is a slow cooking weekend meal that fills the kitchen with tasty aromas before serving.
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Traditional Spanish Food From The Canary Islands
When it comes to Spanish food, there are different cuisines depending on the region of Spain. Ropa Viega is a dish from the Canaries, a collective group of Islands located off the coast of Africa.
I learned that the cuisine of the Canary Islands is entirely different from that of mainland Spain, which surprised me, as until I lived in Spain, I always thought they had a similar cooking styles. After all, when it comes to what Spain is famous for when it comes to food, it’s tapas and paella. But there is so much more to Spanish food than that.
While I was living in Spain, I took the time to do plenty of research about cuisines from all over Spain. I was living in Northeastern Spain then, but quite often traveled to the Canary Islands on trips, most of which enjoyed sampling the fantastic food and learning about their cooking style.
What is Spanish Ropa Vieja?
During my first trip to the Canary Islands, I was taught how to make this Spanish Vieja Canaria recipe, which I brought home with me and incorporated into our meals at home.
If I was to compare this to anything I had eaten before, I guess it could be described as a Spanish stew, with shredded meat, potatoes, vegetables, and garbanzo beans. However, when I make this stew at home, I also add my secret ingredient, which makes it slightly different from the traditional style. My idea to add this extra ingredient came from a tip I got while visiting a bar in Gran Canaria. (I’ll let you in on my secret later).
A Bit of History on Ropa Vieja
The term Ropa Vieja means “old clothes.” According to an old urban legend, the reason why this dish was given the name stems back to an old man who couldn’t feed his family due to poverty. The story goes that he actually shredded up all of his clothes, and cooked them, while praying that they would turn into food, and magically, they did, and he was able to feed his family.
The dish itself dates back to the Middle Ages of the Canary Islands after Spanish colonists brought it over. It is also thought that the Spanish introduced it to the Philippines.
If you ask Cubans where this dish originated, they will tell you it’s traditionally a Cuban dish. However, this is more opinion than fact, and it initially came from Spain. Regardless of its origins when packing for Spain, and the Canary Islands, pack an appetite. This is a hearty dish.
Cooking an Authentic Spanish Ropa Vieja
There is no doubt about it, no Spanish Ropa Vieja recipe is a quick throw-together meal. It does take time, patience, and work if you want the dish to be authentic.
You will likely want to cook this dish for a special occasion or when entertaining guests. Make sure you give yourself plenty of preparation time ahead of dinner.
Cooking the dish involves many steps, some of which are pretty complex. You might find that some of the methods used are not like anything you have come across before.
Handy Cooking Tips for a Traditional Ropa Vieja
One of the lengthiest parts of the process is preparing the meat. For an authentic dish, the meat is poached before shredding and frying.
To prepare the meat, remove it from the fridge, and leave it to get to room temperature before generously salting. You can do this while preparing the vegetables. Next, to get the best results, you will want to slow-cook the meat in liquid (I like to use good quality chicken stock.)
When the meat is cooked, it’s time to start shredding, and this is best done while the meat is still warm; otherwise, it’s a labor-intensive job. Shred the meat using two forks or your hands, wearing a couple of pairs of gloves so you don’t burn your fingers. You can also buy a tool made for this purpose, called meat claws, which works well.
Frying the Meat
Once you’ve finished shredding your meat, it will need frying. I use olive oil, but other oils, such as grapeseed, will work fine.
To get the coloration, you will need to fry your meat on high heat. The process can take some time, but it’s worth the wait. Don’t worry if your meat starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, this is normal, and adds to the final flavor. Just be sure it doesn’t burn.
It will take around 15 minutes to fully crisp your meat, during which time you will need to constantly stir it, and make sure you scrape off any bits from the pan.
Ropa Vieja Garbanzos – Ingredients
It’s down to preference of what meat you use in your dish, but a traditional Spanish Vieja Roja recipe uses beef and chicken. You can have one type of meat if you prefer. I know that in Cuban recipes, they often use just beef.
You can use any cut of beef you like, but it needs to be a fatty cut so that it breaks during cooking. Shoulder or skirt are both cuts that braise down nicely.
Season and Spice
A lot of the base for the flavor of this dish comes from garlic, onion, and bell pepper. I use red because I like the sweetness and color it gives, but both green and yellow work fine.
You’ll find that a lot of Spanish food isn’t really spicy but instead relies on the depth of flavor by using earthy and nutty seasonings such as paprika and cumin. It’s down to you which kind of paprika you use; both sweet and smoked work well, but personally, I like sweet.
To add a savory, woody flavor, bay leaves are used; just remember to remove them before serving, as they’re not pleasant to eat.
Lastly, don’t be scared of the salt and pepper; it’s the final ingredient you need to carry this dish, and bring it together, so leave the salt police out of this one.
To make this Spanish Ropa Vieja recipe, you will also need some canned chickpeas and potatoes. One large potato will be enough for this recipe, and it needs to be peeled and diced into small, bite-size pieces. This will decrease the cooking time and make them more pleasurable to eat.
Quite often, Ropa Vieja Garbanzos is referred to as a Spanish stew. However, whether you want to be soupier or more of a dry dish is down to you. Personally, I like ours to have quite a lot of liquid so that I can mop the remainder of the sauce with a nice crusty piece of bread and butter.
The sauce base is made up of canned tomatoes, tomato sauce, and dry white wine. I also like to reserve about a cup of the meat broth as well for additional meaty flavor.
Now, remember earlier I said that I used a secret ingredient? Well, here’s what it is—red wine vinegar. If you look at most Ropa Vieja recipes, you’ll see that red wine vinegar isn’t a common ingredient. However, I find that it adds a really nice acidity to the dish. Someone told me this handy little tip at a bar I visited in Gran Canaria, so when I got home, I tried it out and realized it worked wonders, so I now never make this dish without it.
So, now that I’ve let you in on my secret, let’s find out how to make Ropa Vieja with Garbanzos.
Making This Spanish Ropa Vieja Recipe
To Prepare The Meat
In a large dutch oven (or stockpot), place the meat, and cover it with liquid or broth. Bring this to a boil before reducing it to a simmer and cooking for about 15 minutes. (Until meat is cooked through).
Once cooked, remove the meat from the liquid, reserving about a cup or two of broth for later.
Using meat claws or forks, shred the meat, beef can be a little tough sometimes, so if you’re struggling, you can slice it into thin strips using a sharp knife.
Next, pop your dutch oven back on the heat, and warm your oil. You will need quite a lot of oil for this. Otherwise, your meat won’t get the desired crisp that’s required.
You’ll want to cook your meat on quite a high heat, which means, at times, your meat will stick to the bottom of the pan. This is perfectly normal; just keep stirring and scraping off the bottom to prevent burning. Any browned bits stuck to the bottom of your pan add great flavor to the dish.
Once the meat is visibly crispy, remove it from the pan using a slotted spoon, and set it to one side.
Add The Potatoes and Spices
You can continue using the same pan and oil throughout this; it means less washing up and also means that the flavors from browning your meat will infuse the vegetables.
Once the pan is warm again, add about a tablespoon of the broth that you reserved earlier, and deglaze the pan, scraping any brown bits from the bottom.
Next, add more oil to the pan before tossing your onions and garlic, and dice the peppers. Saute this mixture for about 5-7 minutes.
Now it’s time to add potatoes, bay leaves, cloves, cumin, paprika, and black pepper. Combine everything nicely so the potatoes get coated in the spices and cook for 5-7 minutes.
Add in your white wine, and deglaze the pan again. Simmer the mixture for about 15 minutes, until you notice the smell of the alcohol has gone, (this means it has cooked out).
My Secret Ingredient and Garbanzo Beans
Add tomato sauce, chickpeas, and red wine vinegar to complete the stew, and put the shredded meat back into the pan. If you want a soupier stew, add about a cup of the reserved meat stock from earlier.
Stir your mixture to combine everything, and leave to cook for around 10 minutes until the chickpeas reach temperature. To serve, add a wedge of crusty bread on the side for dipping, and garnish with some fresh parsley if desired.
Traditional Spanish Ropa Vieja with Garbanzos
- 1 pound of beef (any fatty cut)
- 1 pound chicken breast
- 3-4 cups of low sodium chicken broth
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 2 tbsp salt
- 4 cloves crushed garlic
- 1 small/medium yellow onion, diced
- 1 large potato, peeled and cut into bite-size pieces
- 1 bell pepper (I like red, but any color works fine)
- 1 cup tomato sauce
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 3-4 cloves
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp paprika
- 3 bay leaves
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Salt the meat and let it sit at room temperature for around one hour.
- Put the meat in a large dutch oven, cover it with liquid, and bring it to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cook for around 15 minutes.
- Remove the meat from the pan, reserving a couple of cups of the liquid for later.
- Shred the meat using meat claws or forks.
- Warm oil in the same pan, add the meat, and cook on high heat, stirring regularly.
- Using a wooden spoon, scrape any brown bits off the bottom of the pan.
- Cook meat until visibly crispy and remove from the pan. Leave to one side.
- Add a tablespoon of reserve liquid to the pan to deglaze.
- Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, add the onions, peppers, and garlic and saute until soft.
- Next, add the potatoes, bay leaves, cloves, and black pepper, and mix well so that the potatoes are coated. Cook for around 5-7 minutes.
- Add the wine, deglaze the pan again, and cook off the wine for about 15 minutes until you can no longer smell the alcohol.
- Add another cup of broth to the pan.
- Add in your canned tomatoes, chickpeas, and red wine vinegar, and return your meat to the pan. Cook the stew together for around 10 minutes until the chickpeas are hot.
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 448Total Fat: 19gSaturated Fat: 5gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 11gCholesterol: 105mgSodium: 3545mgCarbohydrates: 25gFiber: 5gSugar: 6gProtein: 40g
This nutritional data is provided by a third-party source and should not be relied on if you are on a strict diet.
Other Canary Island Recipes
I loved learning about the regional cuisines during our travels around the Canary Islands. Some of the flavors were just so different than what I was used to in Catalan food where we were living in Northeastern Spain.
We learned to cook a couple of tasty Spanish recipes inspired by our trips to the Islands. This includes a recipe for Canarian wrinkled potatoes or papas arrugadas, to be served alongside a Canarian red mojo. Cooking all of these dishes together would be a pretty hefty meal for just a few people. But it could form a tasty Spanish tapas night. Follow it up with one of our dessert recipes, like mini burnt cheesecake or Spanish rice pudding.
FAQs – Spanish Ropa Vieja Canarias
A literal transition, ropa vieja means old clothes in Spanish. The name of this dish comes from an old legend of a poor man who turned his clothes into food for his family
Spanish ropa vieja normally includes a combination of chicken and steak, slow-poached, shredded, and then fried. This version includes chickpeas to cut down on the amount of meat used in the recipe.
To make this authentic Spanish recipe, no. But, to speed up the process, skip the beef. Instead, you can use leftover rotisserie chicken. Skip the frying portion and just add the shredded chicken directly into the stew sauces.