Ropa Vieja Cubana with Saffron Rice // Using All Five Senses in the Kitchen

140502ropavieja004To me, one of the most remarkable things about cooking is its ability to engage so many of our senses simultaneously.  Sight, smell, taste…all entwined in just a single experience. It’s also touch…really feeling the ingredients that you’re working with: the sleek slice of a knife through an onion; the soft smoothness of pasta dough pressing against your palms; the smush of tomatoes, oozing through your fingers.


Something I’ve wanted to write about for a while now, however, is the sense of hearing.  Music is so important to my cooking experience and I don’t think I’m alone here. When I find the right soundtrack to get my cook on in the kitchen, it can change the entire experience from a unidimensional one to a multidimensional one. In my kitchen, I use music to connect my emotions with the food that I’m cooking. If I’m photographing it for work or for the blog, I play music that encapsulates the feel I’m going for in the photographs, which also often mirrors my own emotions.140501ropavieja009

If I’m feeling dainty, I let the improvised tunes of early Jazz fill my kitchen. If I’m feeling moody, the strained cracked vocals of Kurt Cobain (and those he influenced) are the perfect accompaniment. Other times, when I’m feeling more playful, I’ll shake it to pop tunes all around my kitchen. In my head I dance just like J-Lo…and have an ass just like hers too LOL 😉

Yesterday, however, I was feeling just downright joyful. It was a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon and I was sipping on a crisp glass of rosé, the perfect end to a wonderful week. I wanted to create a meal that reflected that joy and allowed me to shimmy around my kitchen to something equally cheerful. What I landed on was one of my go-to Pandora stations, Cuban Radio, which I paired with a particularly fitting and colorful dish: Ropa Vieja Cubana with Saffron Rice. 140502ropavieja005

The absolute best part of my musical experience as of late has been the addition of the Sonos wireless sound system in my house. I’ve only had them up for about a week, but I’m not kidding when I say that they’ve changed everything about the way I experience music in the kitchen.  I can also control the volume in the rooms they’re playing in straight from my iPhone. Crank it in the kitchen for me to bump to and keep it lower in the dining room for guests to easily converse? No hey problema. The speakers deliver a crisp, clear sound even at their highest volume; and if you had peeked into my kitchen yesterday afternoon, you would have most certainly found me happily shaking it at full blast to the bubbly yet sultry sounds of the Buena Vista Social Club. “Chan Chan” gets me every time. 140502ropavieja006

Because this intersection of music, emotion, and cooking is so important to me, I’m going to post some music suggestions to accompany my recipes for the next couple of months while I review this Sonos system.

For today: I share with you my customized Cuban Radio station. (Just click the link and, assuming you have a Pandora account, you can listen to it while you cook your own dishes!)

In the meantime, tell me: What are your favorite tunes to rock out to in the kitchen? Inspire me :)140502ropavieja002

Ropa Vieja Cubana with Saffron Rice

Beef Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided into 2 parts
  • 3 pounds of flank steak, trimmed (if not already)
  • 1 tablespoon of flour
  • 3 carrots, chopped coarse
  • 1 large onion, chopped coarse
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped coarse
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons of butter
  • 1 cup of water + 1 tablespoon of beef bouillon (or 1 cup of beef stock)
  • ½ cup of red wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon of dried thyme
  • 1.5 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • ½ teaspoon of black pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper, 1 red bell pepper, and 1 yellow bell pepper; all chopped into ½ inch pieces
  • 1 14-ounce can of whole tomatoes with juice, crushed by hands (juice retained)
  • 3 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 cup of peas (fresh is obviously ideal, but frozen work too)
  • ½ cup of pimento-stuff olives, drained and cut in half

Beef Method:

Heat a large skillet (preferably, cast iron) over medium-high heat.
Pat meat dry with a paper towel and coat with salt and pepper. Add olive oil and meat to skillet. Brown meat on both sides; about 2-3 minutes per side.

Once meat is finished browning, transfer it to a dutch oven, sprinkle with flour, and set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Add the celery, carrots, onions, and garlic to the same skillet that the meat browned in, along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender, about 10-15 minutes.

Add the vegetable mixture to the dutch oven with the meat. Add the water, beef bouillon, red wine, bay leaves, spices, bell peppers, tomatoes and tomato paste to the dutch oven, cover the dutch oven with its lid, and cook for 2 hours, or until meat is tender enough to pull apart with a fork. (Check after 1 hour. It should look fairly liquid-y. If it looks like it’s drying out, add in more beef stock.)

Once meat is shredded, the dish should be juicy, but not like a soup. If it’s got too much liquid, strain the liquid through a colander and simmer it until it reduces and then add the reduction back to the meat.

Add peas and olives and cook for another 20 minutes.

Yellow saffron rice

  • 2 tablepoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons of ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon of saffron threads, crushed
  • 2 cups of rice
  • 1.5 cups of water
  • ½ teaspoon of salt 

Rice Method:

Add olive oil to a saucepan and heat over medium heat. Add cumin and cook for 1-2 minutes. Be careful not to let it burn.

Meanwhile, rinse the rice thoroughly. Add the rice, saffron, salt and water to the saucepan. Stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to a simmer, cover with a tight fitting lid, and let simmer for 15-20 minutes. (Note: This can vary somewhat depending on what kind of rice you are working with. Be sure to check your package directions and adjust the cooking times/ingredient ratio if necessary.) Fluff with a fork and serve.


Recipe adapted from Epicurious.

This post is part of a product review for the Sonos sound system. All opinions stated here are my own.


  1. Cindy says

    sounds like such fun!!! and the sonos system sounds amazing…may have to give it a try – along with this delicious-looking recipe and the Cuban music – love Buena Vista Social Club!!!

  2. Megan wick says

    I made this for dinner last night and it was delicious! Thanks for another fabulous recipe!!

  3. Lisa says

    so my husband bought me the Sonos system for Mother’s Day, and I’m loving it! am happily cooking in my kitchen, with some wonderful jazz from Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall, etc (thanks to your suggestion of good music! and love of jazz)…rain coming down and the sights, sounds, tastes, smells are so uplifting – WOW….Thanks for the inspiration AND the recommendation!!

  4. says

    What do you do with the tomatoes? There’s a photo and they’re listed in the ingredients, but nary a mention in the method section. If you use them at all, are they in the braising liquid or are they added to the already-shredded meat?

    • says

      Thanks for picking up on this typo, Larry! (Looks like I was too excited about photographing the tomatoes and forgot to write down that step while I was cooking!) I’ve updated the recipe above to reflect when to add the tomatoes. Hope you enjoy :)

  5. Michélle says

    Hi Brooke
    This recipe looks amazing. Could you please let me know how many this serves?
    Can’t wait to give it a try.

    • says

      Hi Michélle,

      Great question! This recipe feeds about 6-8 people, depending on hunger levels. It’s easily doubled or halved as well. (I sometimes make it for just my husband and myself, in which case I cut the whole thing in half, making minor tweaks here and there.) Hope you enjoy it!



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