Ages ago I attended a wine dinner cooked by noted Miami restaurateur Norman Van Aken. The main course was his version of the traditional Cuban/Spanish dish Ropa Vieja – and it was a memorable experience. His vision was to upscale the comfort and to make new beloved favorites.
Ropa Vieja literally means old clothes. The idea is that the shreds and tatters of beef resemble shredded clothing. I only attempt this dish in the summer when corn is fresh and sweet. It works well for a dinner party of four to eight. The toughest part is getting the hash perfectly cooked with browned edges. I parboiled cubed sweet potatoes and then air dried them. Then I roasted them in a hot oven for about twenty minutes adding the corn at the last of the cooking. I also added a tiny dice of red bell pepper to add color. You could alternately add a finely chopped piquillo pepper or some roasted red peppers.
The beef itself can be made a day ahead. You reheat the sauce and then add the cold beef to warm it through. It develops even deeper flavor as it sits longer. The poached eggs as well can be done ahead and dropped into an ice bath and then refrigerated.
Ever read a book and can’t remember whether you finished it? This is that book. I was drawn into the interesting gas-lit world. I didn’t quite buy into the twin cross-dressing idea – but heck, the world was interesting.
In the long haul, the writer lost me in the details. I was confused by the underlying plot and none of the other characters (save for maybe the agent) were memorable. I liked the idea of the living on the boat but it was hard to buy once the story set up and more of the world was revealed. Elizabeth Barnabas tries to be badass but the story falls short of making me feel like she really is.