This Ropa Vieja Recipe is extremely juicy, tender, bursting with rich, complex flavors and so easy made in the slow cooker!
This Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja recipe is about to become one of your favorite go-to dinners! It’s made with tender, juicy beef, bell peppers, onions and Spanish olives slow cooked in aromatic crushed tomatoes and seasonings for mouthwatering flavor fireworks. This intensely juicy, perfectly seasoned beef can be served with rice and beans to soak up the sensational sauce or I’ve included TONS of unconventional serving ideas. This Cuban Ropa Vieja makes the easiest dinner, holiday or party food/Game Day food, and also is make ahead and freezer friendly. You don’t want to miss this Ropa Vieja recipe!
How to Make Ropa Vieja Recipe Video
WHAT IS ROPA VIEJA?
If you’ve never had the pleasure of diving into hypnotic Ropa Vieja, you are in for a tasty treat! Ropa Vieja is a savory Latin dish consisting of braised shredded beef, peppers, and onions cooked low and slow in a rich, flavorful tomato-based sauce spiked with briny olives, oregano and cumin.
Ropa Vieja is popular in Spain, the Canary Islands, and Latin America, particularly in the Caribbean (Cuba, Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Puerto Rico, etc.). In fact, it is so popular in Cuba that it is designated as their national dish!
There are many variations of Ropa Vieja between countries and even from family to family. Depending on the region and the household, potatoes, garbanzo beans, bacon and even fried eggs can be added – there is not right or wrong when it comes to your Ropa Vieja!
Cuban Ropa Vieja is often served with yuca hervida con mojo (boiled cassava in a garlicky citrus oil sauce), arroz congri (white rice and black beans cooked together) and maduros (fried sweet plantains) but the beef is so flavorful you can go as simple as serving it with pain white rice.
What does Ropa Vieja mean in English?
Ropa Vieja translates to “old clothes” in English. Legend has it that an impoverished man tore up his clothes and cooked them in a pot in hungry desperation. After the man prayed over the brew, his eyes opened to miraculously behold the meaty stew where the clothes had been.
The more practical reason for naming the dish “Ropa Vieja” refers to the fact that the stew resembles a heap of colorful rags with its rainbow of bell peppers and shredded beef swimming in broth.
No matter the origin of the name, we are blessed with the enduring tradition of “Ropa Vieja” – which to me isn’t synonymous with old clothes – but synonymous with rich, deeply flavorful comfort food.
Where does Ropa Vieja come from?
The exact origin of Ropa Vieja is unknown as it has been passed down for generations. Many Spaniards and Latin Americans will share memories of eating their mothers or grandmothers Ropa Vieja around the dinner table. And their mothers and grandmothers will tell you the same.
Some claim the dish dates back to Spain in the Middle Ages when bean stews such as puchero or cocida were popular. These Spanish bean stews were made of garbanzo beans and other remnants as an economical way to stretch leftovers. Sometimes beef would be added to the stew laying the groundwork for the Ropa Vieja we know and love today. This dish was later taken to Cuba where it further evolved into the most famous version of Cuban Ropa vieja.
ROPA VIEJA RECIPE
You are going to fall in love with the EASE and FLAVOR of this Ropa Vieja recipe – just sear, dump and let the crockpot do the work!
Traditional Ropa Vieja is braised in water, shredded and then added to sauce. I’ve updated this classic cooking technique by using the slow cooker for improved efficiency, less hassle and increased flavor. Just like my Slow Cooker Carnitas, Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken, Slow Cooker Chipotle Sweet Pulled Pork, and Slow Cooker Honey Lime Salsa Verde Chicken, this Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja recipe is a dump-it-and-forget-it meal. Well almost forget it. The aroma will fill your home as it cooks, reminding you what deliciousness awaits.
In this Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja recipe, the beef is slowly braised for hours (without any babysitting!) with crushed tomatoes, sautéed onions, bell peppers, and a plethora of seasonings until melt-in-your-mouth tender as it drinks up the saucy, aromatic sauce. The beef is then shredded, Spanish olives are added and then it’s allowed to rest an additional 15-30 minutes so every nook and cranny of beef can drink up even more flavor.
The resulting flavor exploding shredded beef is the perfect balance of savory, spicy, briny with plenty of aromatic cumin and oregano. The rich depth of flavor is mesmerizing and destined to become a repeat family favorite!
What is the best cut of meat for ropa vieja?
Cuban Ropa Vieja is traditionally made with flank steak which dates back hundreds of years. This cut of meat was less desirable than other cuts among the wealthier class and thus easily accessible and inexpensive for everyday folk.
Flank steak comes from the lean, muscular, lower chest of the cow. This means it is tough, low in fat and less flavorful with long, shreddy fibers. Due to this makeup, flank steak is best suited for grilling or marinating and not for braising and shredding. Even after braising for hours and hours, it still can remain a bit tough because it doesn’t have the fatty connective tissues that provide self-basting – the key to juicy beef.
Even with these drawbacks, flank steak is still primarily used in Ropa Vieja recipes – because it’s tradition – at the cost of flavor, juiciness and texture. You will never see any other modern-day recipes asking you to slow cook flank steak.
Tradition aside, I wanted to create the best Ropa Vieja recipe – one with the juiciest beef, one with the deepest flavor, one with pleasing sheds. I was not willing to sacrifice these crucial elements for tradition. To that end, I prefer and recommend chuck roast for this Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja recipe for its sublime superior tenderness and richness. Of course, at the end of the day, you may choose whichever cut of beef you wish.
Boneless chuck roast is the Mercedes of the roasts and the best cut of meat for slow cooking and will produce the BEST Ropa Vieja. I use chuck roast in ALL of my slow roasted beef dishes such as Beef Barbacoa, Mississippi Pot, Traditional Pot Roast and Italian Beef. It boasts melt-in-your mouth texture and succulent, beefy flavor due to its rich marbling. The marbling melts as it slow cooks, creating a self-basting effect that drips over the meat which keeps it delightfully moist and also adds tons of flavor.
A few notes about using chuck roast in this Ropa Vieja recipe:
- This recipe calls for a 3-pound chuck roast but the seasonings and liquid are very forgiving – so don’t worry too much about the exact weight.
- Use boneless beef chuck roast that is thick cut and not rolled and tied with a string.
- If you use a larger chuck roast, you may need to cut it into two portions to fit into your slow cooker. If so, take care you sear all sides of each portion.
- If you want the loner strands of beef traditionally created by flank steak, ask the butcher for a piece of chuck roast that is taller rather than wide, this way you’ll get longer strands.
- I purchase my chuck roast at Costco, use one roast for this Ropa Vieja recipe and freeze the other. That way you get to enjoy Ropa Vieja NOW and have it stocked and ready for the future.
INGREDIENTS FOR CUBAN ROPA VIEJA
This flavorful, juicy Cuban Ropa Vieja is made primarily with pantry staples. You will need:
- Chuck roast: use boneless chuck roast with rich marbling trimmed of excess fat. You may also use flank steak but it won’t be as tender or flavorful.
- Oil: high smoking point oil such as vegetable oil to sear the roast.
- Crushed tomatoes: use a 28 oz. can without any salt or seasonings added.
- Beef Broth: use low sodium beef broth so we can control the salt level and also add beef bouillon for more flavor.
- Beef bouillon: adds a depth of concentrated beefy flavor. You may also use an equal amount of better than bouillon.
- Soy sauce: is not traditional but I use soy sauce in all of my slow cooker beef recipes for an added depth of flavor. Use reduced sodium so we can control the salt.
- Vinegar: I prefer apple cider vinegar but you can use whatever you have on hand.
- Liquid smoke: adds a delightfully subtle smokey flavor. Liquid smoke comes in a bottle and is located next to the barbecue sauces at your grocery store.
- Garlic: use more or less garlic depending on your garlic love. You may substitute the fresh garlic with 1 ½ teaspoons garlic powder
- Seasonings: dried oregano, ground cumin, smoked paprika, ground coriander, ground all spice, ground chipotle chili pepper and salt infuse our Crockpot Ropa Vieja with TONS of flavor. You can start with less chipotle chile powder (1/2 teaspoon) and more to taste at the end. I find adding additional chipotle chile powder awakens the entire dish.
- Onion: red onion adds a depth of sweetness to balance the tanginess.
- Bell peppers: a red bell pepper and green bell pepper will do the trick. You may also replace the green bell pepper with orange or yellow.
- Spanish olives: are green olives from Spain stuffed with pimentos. The sweet pimentos beautifully contrast the salty briny olives.
HOW TO MAKE SLOW COOKER ROPA VIEJA
Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja is very easy to make because the crockpot does most of the work! Simply sear the meat, add it to the slow cooker with the rest of the ingredients, cook, shred, then soak. Here is a step by step breakdown:
STEP 1: SEAR ROAST
First, sear the roast on all sides to develop flavor and to seal in the juices. I recommend a cast iron skillet because it gets piping hot and cooks more evenly than other pans. Make sure you use vegetable oil because we need an oil with a high smoking point – don’t substitute olive oil. Make sure you brown the chuck roast on all sides until deeply golden. You can use tongs or two forks to rotate your roast. Transfer the seared roast to a 6-quart crockpot.
STEP 2: SAUTE ONIONS
Next, add the sliced red onions to the same cast iron skillet you seared the roast in without wiping out. Sauté the onions over medium-high heat for 5 minutes so they can soften and drink up the juices from the roast.
STEP 3: ADD INGREDIENT TO SLOW COOKER
Add crushed tomatoes, beef broth, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, liquid smoke, beef bouillon and all seasonings to the crockpot and stir to combine, flipping the roast over to coat. Top beef with bell peppers and sautéed red onions.
STEP 4: COOK BEEF
Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-6 hours OR until roast is super tender and easily sheds with a fork. I suggest checking your beef on the earlier end of the cooking spectrum but don’t be alarmed if it takes another two hours. There are many factors when it comes to cooking times – the size and thickness of the beef, the shape/size of your crockpot and your actual slow cooker (they all cook differently!). If your beef is not tender, then cook on, it just needs more time. Even 30 minutes can make the difference between okay beef and melt-in-your-mouth beef
STEP 5: SHRED BEEF
You may shred the beef directly in the slow cooker or transfer it to a cutting board which can make it easier to remove excess fat.
STEP 6: SOAK BEEF
Finally, stir in the olives and let the beef rest for an additional 30 minutes. The now shredded beef is thin enough to soak up even more flavor in every nook and cranny. This is when the magic really happens and your beef emerges buttery tender and exploding with flavor. This shredding and soaking trick will change your culinary life. I do it with EVERY shredded meat or chicken I cook in the slow cooker.
ROPA VIEJA RECIPE VARIATIONS
- Garbanzo beans. Are often used in traditional Ropa Vieja recipes. Add them at the beginning of cooking. You an also add black beans or pinto beans.
- Capers. Add three tablespoons capers (more or less to taste) when you add the olives for a punch of tangy, salty, briny flavor.
- Roast bell peppers. You can take an extra few minute and roast your bell peppers on a grill or an open gas flame for extra smokiness. You can see how in this Roasted Red Pepper Pasta recipe.
- Roasted red bell peppers. Instead of adding red bell peppers at the beginning of the slow cooking process, you can add jarred sliced roasted red bell peppers at the end for added smokiness.
- Potatoes. You can add cubed Yukon gold potatoes directly to the crockpot at the beginning of cooking.
- Other veggies. You can swap the bell peppers for other non-traditional vegetables such as corn, zucchini, cauliflower, green beans, etc.
- Add rice or quinoa. Stir in cooked rice or cooked quinoa for added texture.
- Spice it up. Add additional chipotle chile powder or pickled jalapenos.
WHAT SIDES CAN I SERVE WITH CUBAN ROPA VIEJA?
Ropa Vieja is delicious with sides of rice, beans and salad. I also love adding a dollop of sour cream to cut through the earthy tanginess and an extra zip of cilantro. Here are some additional side serving ideas:
- Rice: Cuban Ropa Vieja is traditionally served with arroz congri which is white rice and black beans cooked together, but you can also cook them separately. Serve with white rice, brown rice, quinoa or low carb cauliflower rice. You can even serve with Cilantro Lime Rice.
- Potatoes: roasted or mashed potatoes are a delicious contrast with the robust beef – and because beef and potatoes are always a good idea.
- Pasta: not traditional, but Ropa Vieja is surprisingly delicious on a bed of pasta as well – think Cuban shredded beef ragu.
- Black beans: serve with Cuban style black beans which you can easily imitate by seasoning black beans with onions, garlic, green bell peppers, oregano, salt, pepper and cilantro.
- Maduros: are fried sweet plantains that offer a reprieve of sweetness. Try grilling plantains like in these Mojo Salmon Bowls.
- Eggs: fried eggs are delish on top of Ropa Vieja or on the side.
- Cornbread or corn casserole: corn casserole is a tasty, easy, creamy win or add some green chiles and or/ jalapenos to my sweet cornbread recipe and watch it disappear.
- Salad: this robust, earthy, Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja pairs beautifully with contrasting bright, fresh salad. You can go as simple as a green salad or go big with southwest salad, corn salad or Southwest orzo salad.
- Vegetables: you can jam all your veggies into the salad or serve salad along with or in addition to elote (Mexican Grilled Street Corn – AH-mazing) grilled corn on the cob, baked asparagus, roasted broccoli, roasted cauliflower, roasted Brussels sprouts or roasted butternut squash.
- Fruit: keep it simple and serve this Ropa Vieja recipe with your favorite fruit such as pineapple, cantaloupe, or grapes or amp it up with any of these fabulous options: pina colada fruit salad, fruit salad with honey lime vinaigrette, grape salad, winter fruit salad, or caramelized grilled pineapple.
- Dessert!: finish off your fiesta with churros or Tres Leches Cake for the win!
HOW TO SERVE LEFTOVER CUBAN ROPA VIEJA
Ropa Vieja is a simple dish with countless serving possibilities. Go as simple as serving alongside rice and beans or let your imagination run wild! Here are a few serving ideas so you never have to serve it the same way twice:
- Tostadas: Layer a tostada with refried beans or avocado mash, top with Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja, lettuce or slaw, cilantro, avocados, sour cream, cotija cheese or queso fresco etc.
- Tacos: Wrap Ropa Vieja up in a warm tortilla along with black or pinto beans, and desired toppings such as lettuce, cilantro, guacamole, cotija cheese, and sour cream.
- Tortas: Slice French-style bread in half horizontally, spread refried beans on each side, top with Cuban Ropa Vieja, cheese, avocado slices or guacamole, tomatoes slices, pickled red onions, pickled jalapenos, etc.
- Sopes: Layer sopes with refried beans or avocado mash, top with Ropa Vieja, lettuce, cotija cheese or queso fresco, Mexican crema and other desired toppings such as chopped tomatoes, thinly sliced radishes, sliced avocados, pickled jalapenos and/or carrots etc. You can make your own sopes or you can find them in some grocery stores and most Mexican markets.
- Burrito Bowls: Layer cilantro lime rice with cheese, black beans or pinto beans, Ropa Vieja, chopped lettuce, and your favorite toppings including crushed tortilla chips and either sour cream/Greek yogurt or I highly recommend either Tomatillo Avocado Ranch or Cilantro Lime Dressing.
- Burritos: Layer a burrito size tortilla with cilantro lime rice, black or pinto beans, cheese, Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja, guacamole, sour cream and lettuce. Serve with additional sour cream and either pico de gallo or homemade salsa.
- Quesadillas: Layer a burrito size tortilla with Mexican cheese and Ropa Vieja and grill until golden, cheesy perfection. Serve with your favs of sour cream, salsa, chopped lettuce, guacamole, etc.
- Nachos: Pile thick restaurant style tortilla chips with cheese and beans and bake. Top with Cuban Ropa Vieja and toppings such as jalapenos, salsa, sour cream, guacamole, etc.
- Stuffed Peppers: Slice the tops off of 6-8 bell peppers and remove the core/seeds inside. Rub the outsides with olive oil and line in a 9×13 baking dish. Combine Ropa Vieja with some cooked rice and spoon into each pepper. Top with Monterey Jack cheese then tent with foil. Bake until peppers are tender, about 35 minutes. Uncover and bake until cheese is bubbly, 10 minutes more. Serve with sour cream or Mexican crema, cilantro, cotija, etc.
- Baked Potatoes. Poke holes in washed, dried potatoes. Place on a foil lined baking sheet and lightly brush with oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Bake for 1 hour or until potatoes are tender and the skin is crispy. Slice open the potatoes, top with Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja and cheese then place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese melts. Top with sour cream, green onions, etc.
- Mac and cheese: stir beef into your favorite mac and cheese recipe – and drool.
- Pasta: just like the aforementioned mac and cheese, you can stir it into any of your favorite pastas like my Creamy Mushroom Orzo – yum!
- Ramen: this might sound unconventional, but my husband’s favorite use of leftover shredded beef is to stir it into ramen. The textures are a match made in heaven.
- Cuban “Sloppy Joes:” Top warm buns with Cuban Ropa Vieja and serve as a sandwiches.
- Lettuce wraps. Go low carb and load bib lettuce leaves with Ropa Vieja. Top with sour cream or Greek yogurt.
CAN I MAKE ROPA VIEJA RECIPE AHEAD OF TIME?
YES! I think this Cuban Ropa Vieja recipe tastes very best if made ahead – or partially made ahead. Once the beef is shredded, I like to refrigerate it; the next day I skim off the fat and reheat.
- Cook beef until tender and shred.
- Remove ceramic insert from slow cooker and let cool to room temperature (for food safety and because it can crack if placed directly in the refrigerator).
- Refrigerate the beef in the juices up to 24 hours.
- When ready to heat, skim off all the hardened fat.
- Cook on LOW in the slow cooker for 2 hours or until warmed through.
HOW LONG DOES SLOW COOKER ROPA VIEJA LAST?
You should store your cooked Ropa Vieja in an airtight container in the refrigerator. When stored correctly, cooked beef will keep fresh for up to 5 days in the refrigerator. You can even eat it straight from the fridge!
HOW DO I REHEAT MY CROCKPOT ROPA VIEJA?
Crockpot Ropa Vieja reheats beautifully in the crockpot, microwave or stove:
- Crockpot: heat on low for 2 hours or until warmed through.
- Stove: transfer to a Dutch oven and heat over medium heat, stirring occasionally until heated through.
- Microwave: transfer smaller servings of beef to a microwave-safe dish, cover with a microwave-safe lid or paper towel. Microwave for 60 seconds, stir, then continue to microwave for 30-second intervals, if needed.
CAN I FREEZE SLOW COOKER ROPA VIEJA?
Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja freezes well aside from the bell peppers. The bell peppers will turn a little mushy but I don’t think they’re too noticeable when combined with the beef. If you’re worried about the texture, however, you can pick them out before freezing.
To freeze Cuban Ropa Vieja recipe:
- Let beef cool completely.
- Transfer beef to an air-tight container or a heavy-duty freezer bag.
- Squeeze out any excess air to prevent freezer burn.
- Label and freeze for up to 3 months.
- When ready to eat, defrost beef in the refrigerator overnight.
- Reheat in the slow cooker, microwave or stove per instructions
Helpful Tools to Make CUBAN ROPA VIEJA
- Cast iron skillet: A quality cast iron skillet is a must in your cooking arsenal! It is perfect for searing this Ropa Vieja and creating a deeply golden exterior on everything from roast, to pork to chicken and seamlessly transitions from the stove to the oven. I love my super high quality Staub and Le Creuset. Their enamel interior don’t require additional seasoning and resists staining, dulling, wear and tear. They are a one-time pricey purchase that will last a lifetime. You can also go with a more economical, trusty skillet like this one which also works very but it will need to be seasoned and always rubbed with vegetable oil after using.
- Slow Cooker: is one of my most used kitchen gadgets all year round and is just SO convenient and easy for one-pot meals and makes them taste even more delicious! This is the exact slow cooker I have had for years and love it. It is large, cooks well and is very well made. That being said, this model has more fancy features such as a thermometer port and smart technology which either cooks to specific temperature or cooking time before automatically switching to warm when it’s done.
- Quality Knives: a chef’s knife will be your most used kitchen tool by far! Quality knives make prep time much quicker and are important for safety as well. If you’re concerned about moola, please remember that your best chef knives, depending on how hard you use them and how well you take care of them, can easily last 25 years or more. I love my Wusthof but there are hundreds of less expensive knives with great reviews such as this one.
- Cutting Board: I use my big solid cutting board daily so it’s worth the investment. This extra-large cutting board allows you to prep all your veggies on one surface and the bamboo is easier on knives than plastic.
- Garlic press: I use this every single day! It is the ultimate garlic press- it is easy-to-use, easy-to-clean and minces garlic with one squeeze. Unlike other presses, this garlic press has beveled holes that finely cut the clove rather than bruising it, bringing out the best flavor.
- Rice Cooker: I LOVE my rice cooker and use it all the time – it is pretty much the only way I make rice. With a rice cooker, you can be cooking your rice and Ropa Vieja hands free which makes dinnertime a breeze!
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