When you think flank steak, you probably think fajitas, but you should be making this slow cooker ropa vieja recipe too!
Ropa vieja is a dish of shredded beef in a rich tomato and vegetable base. It is filling and comforting on a cold winter day, but also has light, tropical flavors that make it suitable for any time of the year you’d like a hearty meal. Ropa vieja is often considered the national dish of Cuba, but it originated in Spain and is popular throughout Central America and the Carribean.
I love making this slow cooker ropa vieja recipe when we are tired of a “standard” beef stew with broth, potatoes, and carrots. The bold flavors and bright colors of this dish are a delicious change of pace to all of the brown colors and flavors in the meat / carrot / vegetable stew. Plus, we don’t always think to put these flavors together, and it’s fun to enjoy something a little different!
Here are the answers to a few common questions about this dish.
What does ropa vieja mean?
Ropa vieja translates from Spanish to English as “old clothes.” It’s a reference to the tattered appearance and color of the beef once it’s cooked and shredded. It’s a fun name and when you cook make this slow cooker ropa vieja, you’ll see why the name makes sense!
What are the main ingredients for this slow cooker ropa vieja?
Ropa vieja is a combination of meat with tomatoes and a sofrito base. Here’s what each element needs:
- The meat is traditionally beef flank steak, but as you’ll see below, there are a few substitutions you could make.
- For tomatoes, we use diced, fire roasted tomatoes. You can use plain diced tomatoes as well.
- The sofrito needs bell peppers, onions, and garlic.
They’re very simple ingredients, and we use a few more elements like ketchup, apple cider vinegar, salt, paprika, cumin, and pepper for flavor, but when these ingredients stew together, they become incredibly delicious!
If you like this type of sauce, check out these Rioja-style Pork Chops that use a sofrito-style sauce on top of sautéed pork chops. Yummy!
Are there other ingredients I can include in the ropa vieja?
At the end of this recipe, we add olives to the slow cooker ropa vieja. They’re a very common addition in the Cuban version, but if you don’t like olives, you can omit them, no problem. Other common additions at the end of cooking include golden raisins and capers. Add these ingredients if you like, or skip them if you don’t like them!
If I don’t like beef, can I use another meat to make ropa vieja?
Yes, you can substitute a few different proteins for the beef in this recipe. Here are some ideas:
- Pork shoulder will shred nicely and work well for this recipe.
- Lamb shoulder was often used in Cuba during times beef was scarce and will bring a bit bolder flavor to the meat portion of the dish.
- Chicken thighs or a whole chicken will also work for this recipe if you prefer poultry.
Cooking times will remain the same for all of these items.
Can I make this recipe without a slow cooker?
Of course you can! Ropa vieja was cooked well before there was electricity, so you can make this recipe in a Dutch oven if you would like to save time, or just don’t like slow cookers. Here’s how:
- Season and sear the flank steak in your Dutch oven.
- Remove the meat, add in all of the other ingredients plus 1 cup chicken broth, then put the meat back on top.
- Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for about 2.5 hours until the meat easily shreds.
I’m sure you could also cook this recipe in an instant pot, but I’m not an instant pot expert, so I can’t provide tips on how to cook in an instant pot, sorry!
What do I serve with this slow cooker ropa vieja?
It’s traditional to serve this recipe with rice and Cuban-style Black Beans. A squeeze of fresh lime juice and some chopped cilantro are also welcome additions to brighten up the flavors of this dish. If you have access to plantains, Fried Plantains would also be a delicious and typical side dish to enjoy with your slow cooker ropa vieja.
Is this recipe good left over?
Oh heck yeah this slow cooker ropa vieja is good left over! The flavors will continue to deepen and come together as you let it sit left over in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. You can also freeze and reheat this recipe up to 3 months after you make it.
I hope we answered all of your questions and you’re now excited to make our slow cooker ropa vieja recipe! It’s one of my favorite recipes to make as a change to my normal stews and the bright flavors are always a hit in our household. I hope you enjoy it too. If you have any feedback, leave us a comment below, we love hearing from you.
- 1 can Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes (~14 oz can – we like fire roasted for flavor, but normal is fine.)
- 3 Tbsp Ketchup
- 1 Tbsp Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 clove Garlic (minced)
- 3 Bell Pepper (sliced – you can use the same color or 3 different colors.)
- 1 Onion (sliced)
- 1/4 cup Sliced Pimiento Peppers
- 2 Tbsp Salt
- 1 Tbsp Paprika
- 1 Tbsp Cumin
- 2 tsp Black Pepper
- 1 tsp Cayenne Pepper (omit for less spicy flavor)
- 1 cup Chicken Broth
- 1 Leahy’s Angus Beef Flank Steak (2 – 2.5# size)
- 3 Tbsp Green Olives
Add all ingredients except flank steak and olives to a 5-6 quart slow cooker, and stir to combine. Place the flank steak on top of the mixture, put the cover on, and cook for 8 hours on low.
After 8 hours of cooking, remove the flank steak, and shred with 2 forks. Add the shredded meat and olives back to the slow cooker, and stir to combine. If the mixture seems dry, add a bit more chicken broth or water to moisten.
Serve over rice with black beans, and chopped cilantro and fresh squeezed lime juice on top. Enjoy!