Can beef stew get better? It can when you add a little Caribbean twist! Our Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja recipe captures the classic flavor of this Cuban favorite but eases up on your budget and schedule. Tender fall-apart beef mingles with peppers and onions in a fragrant slow-simmered crockpot sauce for an easy dinner that wakes up your senses while keeping it cozy.
I’m always a bit divided come February. While the chill has now fully settled into my home and my bones, I know this means we don’t have a lot of time left in stew season. So let’s make the most of it by adding something new to our stew stash!
Don’t let the foreign name fool you – if you’ve tackled beef stew, you can manage ropa vieja. If you haven’t ever tackled beef stew, slow cooker ropa vieja is a friendly, flavorful place to start.
What is Ropa Vieja?
Literal translation from Spanish? “Old Clothes.” I hesitated to type that here for fear that it would evoke something that is not, in fact, tasty as hell, but the internet seems to concur – the final dish resembles a heap of colorful, shredded rags and earned its name fair and square.
Like many classic Spanish favorites, ropa vieja actually originated from Sephardic Jews who settled on the Iberian Peninsula. It began as a slow cooked stew of chickpeas, but by the time it made it to Cuba in the 19th Century (via the Canary Islands), many had adopted it as a staple and started incorporating meat into the dish.
It’s hard to say where in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean the dish made its way to first, but there are versions all over the western hemisphere that incorporate local meats, beans, grains, and vegetables.
Cuban ropa vieja is a beloved national dish, and the version I’ve seen served – and eaten – most in the U.S. closely resembles the Cuban version, so let’s pay some homage!
Why the Crockpot?
*record scratch* Well, let’s make it a little more user friendly first. Because, there’s a lot of process involved in stew-type meals (there is no bigger misnomer than “simple” peasant food…).
Old school ropa vieja was prepared specifically as a sloooooow cooking stew so that adherents avoided actually cooking on the Sabbath (as per scripture). Ingenious!
So, we’re following in the footsteps of the vanguard over at Serious Eats by eliminating some of the multi-step process of the OG version – i.e. water-braising the beef, cooking a separate sofrito – and straight up adapting the “slow cook” in “slow cooker ropa vieja” to “crockpot ropa vieja,”. A few simple modifications make it beginner friendly and super flavorful, OSK-style.
How to Make Ropa Vieja in the Slow Cooker
Enjoy stew season while you can with an easy crockpot dinner version of this Cuban classic. Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja is loaded with tender, shredded beef in a savory simmer sauce that works on its own, over traditional rice, or even over a mash (just like other beefy stews). Use chuck roast for maximum flavor on a minimal budget.
- Arrange thinly sliced onions and peppers in your crockpot.
- Divide the chuck roast into large chunks and season the heck out of it with salt and pepper.
- Sear the chuck roast pieces in a skillet until well-browned on at least 2 sides. Remove the beef and place on top of the onions and peppers in the slow cooker.
- Saute the garlic for one minute, then deglaze with white wine or broth. Make sure to scrape up all those flavored bits from the bottom of the skillet! Pour the skillet liquids over the crockpot mixture.
- Whisk crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, vinegar, and spices in a large bowl. Pour the vegetable mixture over the beef and vegetables.
- Cook on low for 8 hours.
- Remove the beef pieces and shred gently.
- Return the beef to the pot and stir in olives. Keep warm another 10-15 minutes to warm through the olives, if desired.
- Serve over rice with lots of fresh cilantro.
- This crockpot recipe is best cooked on low, for a long time, rather than high for a shorter period of time.
- Use the right cut of meat and trim with care. A well-marbled chuck roast is both economical and full of flavor. Remove any large obvious fat deposits and gristle, but keep the rest – the fat supplies flavor and adds body to the gravy.
- Brown thoroughly. Sear the pieces of beef until a good crust forms on at least two sides for best flavor.
- If you use wine to deglaze, remember the golden rule of cooking with wine: cook with wine that you’d also drink – AKA, the good stuff (or at least the decent stuff).
What Cut of Meat Should I Use?
This is where this recipe goes off the beaten path. Flank steak is traditional in ropa vieja for its shape – the long grain in the meat yields long strands of shredded beef. But it’s also pricey, and its lower fat content isn’t an ideal choice for slow cooker meals with little added cooking fats.
We like chuck roast for this easier slower cooker version. It’s a more economical choice, with lots of fat/marbling for flavor. And it can stand the time it takes to cook low and slow in a crockpot.
If you want those long shreds found in classic ropa vieja, brisket or skirt steak also work great!
Serve Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja With
- Rice is the traditional accompaniment for Cuban roja vieja (usually alongside black or pinto beans), so go for long grain white rice and prepare as directed, or make a fragrant yellow Cuban rice.
- Cauliflower rice is great for keeping the texture true to form whether you’re carb-conscious or just aiming for more veggies. Serve ropa vieja over our Cilantro Lime Cauliflower Rice for bonus flavor.
- Though it’s not traditional, we love a stew over a mash. Try it with mashed potatoes, mashed cauliflower, or even mashed yucca.
Storing and Reheating Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja
To Refrigerate: Store leftovers in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for up to 4 days. Reheat in the microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring in-between, or in a pot over medium heat until warmed through.
To Freeze: Fully prepared, ropa vieja will freeze just “fine*.” Cool the stew, then portion into airtight containers and store in the freezer for up to 3 months. Defrost in the fridge overnight then reheat in a pot over medium heat until warmed through.
(*When I say “fine,” I mean that some purists don’t love cooked-then-frozen-then-defrosted-then-reheated vegetables, but the taste and texture aren’t compromised in any significant way. That’s a personal choice you can make.)
More Flavorful Low-and-Slow Favorites
- Slow Cooker Beef and Butternut Squash Stew *Whole30*
- Slow Cooker Korean Beef
- Crockpot Apple Cider Pulled Pork
- Easy Crockpot Salsa Chicken *Latest*
- Slow Cooker Cilantro Lime Chicken *Most Popular*
Did you try Ropa Vieja in the slow cooker? I’d love to know how it turned out! Leave a comment and a rating below.
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- 3 large bell peppers, sliced into ½” strips
- 1 large yellow onion, sliced into ½” strips
- 2-2.5 lb chuck roast, large fat deposits removed
- 2 tsp kosher salt
- 1 tsp ground pepper
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, chopped
- ½ cup dry white wine, or ½ cup beef broth
- 28-oz can can crushed tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 2 tsp cumin
- 2 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp oregano
- ½ tsp allspice
- ½ c pimento stuffed olives, optional
- steamed white rice, for serving
- chopped cilantro, for serving
- Arrange the onions and peppers in an even layer in the bottom of the crockpot.
- Divide the chuck roast into 3” chunks. Season all over with salt and pepper.
- Heat oil in a 10” skillet over medium high heat. Add the chuck roast pieces in a single layer. Sear until a good crust forms, about 4 minutes. Flip the pieces and sear on at least one other side. Remove the chuck roast pieces and arrange on top of the onions and peppers.
- Add the garlic to the remaining oil in the skillet. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, 1-2 minutes.
- Deglaze the skillet with ½ cup dry white wine or beef broth. Gently scrape up any browned bits sticking to the bottom of the pan (they’re full of flavor!). Pour the contents of the skillet over the beef, onions, and peppers.
- Combine the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, red wine vinegar, cumin, paprika, oregano, and allspice in a large bowl. Whisk until well combined. Pour the tomato mixture over the beef, onions, and peppers and gently stir into the beef.
- Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.
- Shred the beef right in the crockpot, or remove and shred in a shallow bowl. Return the beef to the crockpot, then add the olives, if using. Keep warm for 10-15 minutes to warm the olives through.
- Serve over steamed rice with lots of cilantro.
This. Looks. Fantastic. Dunno if the 12yo will eat it, but the rest of us will for sure. 😊
Big hit for dinner tonight! With enough for more this week. We did it over cauliflower rice and it was delicious! Can’t wait to try it over mash, yum!