Slow-Cooker Ropa Vieja

January 15, 2015

slow cooker ropa vieja

As a native Chicagoan, my Daddy-o is fan of all things sports. Hockey, baseball, football, basketball–you name it–Daddy loves it. When I was young, Daddy would tote me to any game he could score tickets to, so I grew up with sports in my blood. Some sports I liked more than others. Hockey was hoo-boy fun, as was football. Basketball games went by fairly fast, so that was acceptable, but baseball? Pure torture. Let’s face it, watching an entire baseball game is a serious commitment of both time and energy, and as a kid, those games seemed endless. I feel the same way to this day. If you ask me, baseball is SIX innings too long.

Football remains my favorite, probably because that’s Daddy-o’s favorite, too. We didn’t have many football opportunities when we lived in North Dakota, save for a few University of North Dakota games and they stunk, but when we moved to Colorado, things got a lot more interesting. We were in Broncos territory.

For a few years, Daddy and a huge group of co-workers chartered a Greyhound bus on home-game Sundays. Those games were quite the learning experience for a little kid. Attending Broncos games with Daddy taught me a lot–not only about sports but about human nature.

Broncos Sunday festivities always began with Mai-Tai soaked brunches at a dingy Polynesian-themed restaurant named Tommy Wong’s.

Tommy Wong’s served drinks with paper umbrellas and food they’d light on fire–not a bad deal for a kid. I always tried to finagle a seat next to a couple named Rita and Marvin. Rita and Marv were fascinating. Rita wore brazenly false eyelashes, smoked menthol cigarettes and had impossibly long, crimson-lacquered fingernails. She told dirty jokes that I didn’t understand and sneaked me wedges of rum-soaked pineapple from her Hurricane glass, winking slyly. As brunch progressed, Rita’s jokes got dirtier, her laugh grew raspy and Marv would tug on the collar of his shirt, pink-faced.

You’d think that after a warm-up like that, the game itself would be a letdown, but it rarely was. The football was rotten– it was a rough period for the Broncs–and on-field action was downright sloppy. Off-field antics, however, provided top-notch entertainment. Frustrated to the point of blind fury, fans began behaving badly by the second quarter. By game’s end, the spectacle was enough to keep a 3rd grade girl bug-eyed for a week.

There was the gray-bearded man, two aisles down, wallet chained to the back pocket of his jeans, who chewed Red Man tobacco with frightening vigor.  He’d fidget in his seat, spitting brown goo into a cup until, suddenly reaching his limit, he’d lunge to his feet, spittoon in hand, scream “Morton, you fucker!!” and flail his arms around his head, as if he’d wandered into a wasp’s nest.  If the quarterback was having a particularly dismal day, I’d be treated to at least 5 “Morton-you-fuckers” a game.  That was stupendous fun, but I pitied the fans seated in “the spray zone” nearby.

A few rows down, to the left, was the young couple with sunglasses and the colorful pipe, which emitted a sweet and foreign-smelling smoke. They lit the pipe under the cover of a shared blanket and drank hot tea from a thermos.  They were the only ones around us who, by 4th quarter, seemed unbothered by the rants of “Morton-you-fucker” dude.

There was the Barrel Man, a jolly, rotund guy who donned nothing but  cowboy boots and a blue and orange-hued barrel, no matter the weather. My dad looked at him in disbelief in November and December. “That guy has anti-freeze in his veins,” he’d say, shoving gloves onto his red fingers.

My favorite, for obvious reasons, was The Mooner. The Mooner wasn’t on our Greyhound, but he was on another chartered bus parked in the same lot.  If the Broncos’ loss had been particularly painful, Moon-Man would treat our entire bus to a view of his blanco, fuzzy rear end, flattened against the bus window as it passed.  On warm Autumn afternoons, he’d lower the window down, so we could appreciate his gesture in unadulterated form.  Daddy would pat my shoulder, chuckle softly and say, “Well, your mother doesn’t need to hear about that, wouldn’t you say?”

Those years are cherished little nuggets in my memory.

Now that I’m an old married lady, I prefer to watch football in the warmth and relative safety of my own home. The most exotic I’ll get nowadays is a trip to the sports bar to watch the game.

This past Sunday, hubby and I compromised: we got some excitement and local color at our  neighborhood sports bar, but we left after the first half, before things got really sloppy and beer-soaked. It was a win-win situation–my husband got the bar snacks and the camaraderie of watching the game with a crowd, and I got to retreat after a while to my own comfy nest.

Alas, our beloved Broncos played like…donkeys. It was a little disappointing, but we licked our wounds and moved on, and by Super Bowl Sunday, we might even be recovered enough to invite some friends over for the big game.

Most of the time, when I’m feeding people for the Super Bowl, I’ll make a few big pots of different kinds of chili: Texas red, White chicken, Black bean. Served with a pan of cornbread and some guacamole and chips, it’s a crowd pleaser. But this year, I think I’ll load up my slow cooker and make a big batch of Ropa Vieja. Ropa Vieja literally means “old/ragged clothes,” probably because the meat gets so melty and tender that it’s reduced to shreds. It’s absolutely delicious on its own, served alongside some beans and rice, but I love to tuck my ropa into warm corn tortillas, top it with salsa, avocado and some soft queso fresco and a squeeze of lime. In the past, I’ve braised the ropa vieja in the oven, but I was eager to try out the recipe I found in my new Christmas slow-cooker tome.

I made the recipe exactly according to directions, and the meat was tender and yummy, but the dish just didn’t have enough heat/spice for me as written. I like some zing to my ropa, so I tinkered with the recipe until I got the flavors I was looking for. If you like things mild, feel free to leave out the jalapenos and the Ancho chile powder. You can also add those elements but downsize the measurements.slow cooker ropa vieja 2


Don’t skip the cider vinegar! I know it sounds weird, but somehow it balances things out nicely. It doesn’t make things puckery but it does add a brightness to the sauce that I wouldn’t leave out.

However you decide to serve it, I encourage you to give this one a try. I made my ropa the day before I planned to serve it and in general, I do that with most of my slow-cooker meals. I think an overnight nap in the refrigerator improves the flavor markedly.

Wherever your football loyalties may lie, you’ll look like a superstar if you serve this up on the big day.






Slow Cooker Ropa Vieja

serves 6

slightly adapted from William’s-Sonoma Quick Slow Cooker by Kim Laidlaw


1 cup low sodium chicken broth

1 (15-oz) can crushed tomatoes with juice, preferably fire-roasted

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 yellow onion, minced

1 small green pepper, diced

1 small red pepper, diced

1-2 jalapeno peppers, diced (seed them if you want less heat)

3 minced cloves garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons Ancho chile powder

1 tablespoon sugar

kosher salt and ground pepper

3 pounds flank steak, cut into 6 equal pieces

2 jalapeno peppers, finely diced

1/2 cup pitted, sliced green olives

1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro

3 tablespoons cider vinegar


In the slow cooker, combine broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, green and red bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, garlic, cumin, oregano and sugar and stir to mix. Season the steak with salt and pepper and add to the pot, nestling them down in the liquid. Cover and cook on low heat for 8 hours or until the meat is very tender.


Transfer the meat to a cutting board and let rest for ten minutes; shred the meat. Skim any fat off of the surface of the sauce with a large spoon. Return the meat to the slow cooker and add the olives, cilantro and vinegar. Mix together and adjust seasonings for salt/pepper. Add hot sauce, if desired. Warm through on the low setting for about 20 minutes.

Serve with rice and black beans or tucked into warm tortillas.



{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Annie January 15, 2015 at 7:48 am

Your daddy-o is the best. =) love that he took you to the games and made you a part of all the fun and action. This recipe sounds amazing. Perfect for a football game day.


Biz January 15, 2015 at 8:35 am

Loved the trip down memory lane! And please remind your Dad that it’s been one hundred and six years since the Cubs won a World Series. This remains the longest championship drought in North American professional sports. The longest. :D



Lisa @ The Meaning of Me January 15, 2015 at 12:40 pm

What a fabulous look into fan-culture you got! These are such great stories. My Mom tells stories like these of when my Grandparents used to have people over to their house to sing and drink and talk. Great stuff.
This looks awesome and I’m saving it because I am re-discovering my love of the slow cooker. We have Daisy Girl Scouts on Wednesday nights – right at dinner hour. What’s up with that? So the only way we eat is courtesy of the slow cooker. I like meat best when it falls apart to a fork touch and flank kind of needs that treatment, so this is perfect.


Justine January 15, 2015 at 4:58 pm

I’m going to call you the Slow Cooker Queen! I love using the cooker but I’m not a fan of using canned this and canned that, which many recipes call for. And Ropa Vieja? Hells yeah! Putting this on my must-try list.

p.s. I totally agree about baseball. Pure torture. And with the Cubs in Chicago? What a joke.


Pamela January 15, 2015 at 9:00 pm

This made me laugh so hard!! Thank you for transporting me back to the late 70s. My dad has season tickets for the Jets who played as bad as if not worse than the Broncos and I spent many winter weekends freezing my ass off and watch drunk people either scream and hit each other or take off their shirts and reveal painted green chests. I know nothing about sports now but can tell you everything you need to know about the 1979 NY Jets.

You are convincing me to get the slow cooker …


Shannon January 16, 2015 at 6:26 am

Daddy-O stories are my favorite. I loved the visuals in this one.
And I think this is a recipe that even I can pull off!


Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes January 16, 2015 at 6:53 am

My dad was a die-hard golf fan.
Needless to say the games nor the spectators where not nearly as colorful as yours.


Barbara January 19, 2015 at 4:32 am

Wow. That was some kind of sports education! My dad loved college football and basketball but I sure never had the experiences you did!
I do still like football, but for some reason, basketball bores me. Always liked hockey as we lived in Red Wings territory. As yes, baseball as my boys played Little League.
Think your slow cooker Ropa Vieja looks fabulous and is the perfect answer for a football watching party.


Mary Lee January 19, 2015 at 2:01 pm

I’m excited about this one. My Dearly Beloved and I just started a low carb diet. This would be legal, right? I grew up on eastern North Carolina barbecue, which is pretty much just cider vinegar and crushed red peppers. Oh–and pork, too, of course. I would never dream or leaving vinegar out of a recipe.


Dana Talusani January 19, 2015 at 5:04 pm

Mary Lee,

North Carolina barbecue is my favorite! I love the vinegar and the spice! Beats the sweet Kansas City sauce for sure!


Erica January 20, 2015 at 2:59 pm

I’m so making this! Thanks!


Velva January 27, 2015 at 7:12 pm

I grew up eating Ropd de veja-It was a Cuban classic amde in a pressure cooker.

Love what you did here. This is perfect for a good football game and a crowd. I am feeling inspired.



Tiffany February 25, 2015 at 6:20 am

That sounds amazing. I’m so glad you have those memories with your dad. My dad used to,take me to a baseball game every summer and I love it. Probably because I was alone with him. But now? Baseball is pure torture!


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