gobble gobble

This Thanksgiving we're going to a potluck hosted by one of our 7000 BC friends. Bram will be bringing his traditional day-after-Thanksgiving dish: Ropa Vieja. It's a Cuban dish — slow-cooked beef in a tomato sauce, served over black beans and rice.

So yesterday I'm running errands, grocery shopping for ingredients. Tuesday, the day before the day before Thanksgiving, and everything is mobbed. Lines six people long for every register at Trader Joe's. The Whole Foods parking lot has been converted to one-way traffic only, with rent-a-cops and traffic cones blocking my attempt enter from the back driveway. I end up parking next door at the McDonald's and walking. (Upon returning to my car, I see they've put up a sign at McD's: "Whole Foods Overflow Parking.")

After dodging locals, tourists, and WF employees, I make my way to the meat counter. One of the butcher guys points to me and says "You're next." Great! I figured I'd be behind at least five other people, all picking up their organic, free-range, hormone-free turkeys. I wait while he packages up nearly all of the ground beef in the case for the gray-haired woman to my right. Three football-sized packages, 10 pounds of meat, easy. Waiting for him to finish wrapping, I say to her, "Wow, that's a lot of ground beef."

"I make my own dog food."

Uh, okay. I have no response to that. But I'm thinking: if that's for dog food, why not go to Albertsons, where ground beef is $2.00 cheaper a pound? And: how many dogs does she have? And: does she do this all the time? or is this a special Thanksgiving treat?

But then it's my turn and I ask for two pounds of flank steak. Now, there's no flank steak in the case. Brisket and flap meat are the closest options. I figure butcher guy will offer up one or the other and I'll ask which would be better (the meat is slow-cooked, then shredded, then marinated overnight, then added to the tomato sauce and re-heated). Instead, he says, "Hang on, I'll go get some." Cool! He comes back with 1.86 pounds of meat, and I dither about whether that's enough. I decide no, it's not, and he comes back with another piece that ups the total to 2.34 pounds. Too much, but whatever — better to have leftovers than not enough, we can freeze some of it.

As he's wrapping up the flank steak, butcher guy asks what I'll be eating for Thanksgiving. I tell him he's looking at it and give him a brief description of Ropa Vieja. Surprised, he says, "Most people who come to Whole Foods get those organic, free-range, hormone-free turkeys. Me, I'm having wild turkey for Thanksgiving. Y'know where I get that?"

"From the bottle?"

He laughs, "You got it! 100 proof! Have a great day and a blessed Thanksgiving!"


Girl Please! said...

great story! and yea i can see both sides of the dog food story. we are sticklers for our dogs and i even bought the newman organic biscuits (about the same price as others). but enough to make her own food? yikes.

happy thanksgiving. the dinner sounds FABULOUS. it has all of my favorite ingredients. i'll be over at 6

Mouse Jockey said...

People starving all over the world and those dogs are living large. Ok, I will get off my soapbox but I just want to say as someone who worships the ground her little cats walk on, their food comes from the pet aisle at Giant. ; ]

Happy Thanksgiving guys!!!

Sherry said...

Happy Thanksgiving!
Love the WF story... but really you are such a tease talking about this yummy recipe (Ropa Vieja) and then failing to provide it.

dj lil'e said...

Maybe I can go over to that butcher's house for "dinner" once I'm done at my in-laws' house...

Bram said...

Ropa Vieja
Adapted from Good Old Food; my comments in italic

2 pounds flank steak
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon or lime juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons peanut oil or olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green pepper or more
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/4 cups tomato sauce
1 cup chopped tomatoes or more; I generally used canned

Put the beef in a large pot (I use a dutch oven for the whole process; wreaks havoc on the seasoning, but makes it all easier and more portable) and add enough cold water to cover. Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours, until meat is very tender. Lift meat from the pot, reserving liquid. When the beef is cool, shred with a fork.

Combine vinegar, lemon juice, and crushed garlic in a bowl. Add shredded beef and stir to coat; add salt and pepper and marinate at least 45 minutes. I generally increase the quantities of marinade ingredients by a fair amount, maintaining the proportions; that marinade barely coats the meat even then. Usually, I do this all the night before, and refrigerate the meat.

Heat oil in a deep skillet (or dutch oven); add onion and green pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, for about five minutes. Add chopped garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes more. Add tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, and 1 cup of reserved liquid (saving the rest for later and/or for cooking the black beans). Cook over moderate heat for about 20 minutes. Lift beef from the bowl with a slotted spoon (or regular spoon, since the marinade will not really drain off anyway) and add to the sauce. Stir gently and simmer for about 10 minutes (or longer, adding reserved liquid as needed) to heat the beef through.

Serve over rice with black beans.

Serves 6-8


I first had ropa vieja ("old clothes" or "old rags," because of how it looks) at the Little Havana Café in Clarendon. They had such great food there, but, unfortunately, didn't make it. I've never got this ropa to match theirs, and can't quite figure out what it's lacking.

This kind of became the day after Thanksgiving tradition when we used to head out to West Virginia with Mel and P+T. It's easy to adapt the recipe for varying quantities, it doesn't require a lot of ingredients, travels well, and it's easy for people to, based on how well they're recovering from Thanksgiving, to eat as much as they want. Plus, it's really pretty easy to make.

Happy Thanksgiving, all!

Sherry said...

Bram, you're the best! As the tryptophan haze is still quite heavy will have to wait at least a day before giving this a try. Thanks!