One of my oldest friends is a guy I’ve known since elementary school. I first met Vern Roseman on the playground at Our Lady of Sorrows and later reconnected with him when he pledged my service fraternity, Alpha Phi Omega at Maryland. A big guy with an even bigger heart, Vern’s easy smile and nerdy sense of humor has made him several loyal friends over the years. However, his multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 1997 and the progression of the illness has limited his mobility, keeping him homebound on most days. The limitations of this degenerative disease would way heavy on nearly anyone, but for someone as social as Vern, it’s been exceptionally hard. He truly has been the life of every party he ever attended.
Well if Vern can’t come to the party, the party can come to Vern. For the last few years, Vern’s wife, Sara, has hosted three to four gatherings a year so friends and family can visit and party with Vern. Two weeks ago, I attended yet another celebration at the Roseman’s, this time in honor of Vern’s 47th birthday. As has become my habit, I made something for the party—a version of ropa vieja with chicken. I first prepared the traditional Cuban dish, typically made with skirt or flank steak, for the Rosemans over the summer as a thank you to Sara and their son Victor for helping me in my transition into my new life. It’s always fun to cook for the people I love, especially when I am sharing a piece of my heritage. Seeing the look on my oldest friend’s face as he enjoyed a dish prepared with such affection is a great mood lifter for us both, and a reminder as to why he is the life of the party. It’s an honor to provide the fuel to the traveling party at Vernie’s.
Like me, Vern also writes a blog, VernAbility, documenting some of the challenges he faces being limited in his mobility. If you get a chance, please check it out.
Ropa Vieja Blanca
As mentioned before, ropa vieja, which translates to old clothes because of the rag-like texture of the shredded meat, is a traditional Cuban dish made with beef. Over the years, I have found that preparing the dish using flank or skirt steak cooked with the rest of the ingredients in a slow cooker yields the best results. In swapping out the steak for chicken, I decided to use chicken thighs because the meat is more tender than chicken breasts. Also, when preparing the dish for a large party, the thighs make a good economical choice without sacrificing taste.
4 pounds chicken thighs, boneless and skinless
6 cloves garlic
4 red bell peppers, cut into large wedges
4 green bell peppers, cut into large wedges
2 yellow onion, cut into wedges
2 sweet onion, cut into wedges
1-6 ounce can tomato paste, or to taste
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt, or to taste
salt and ground black pepper to taste
¼ cup of corn starch (optional)
¼ cup of cold water (optional)
- Place the chicken thighs into a slow cooker with the garlic, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, yellow onions and sweet onions.
- Whisk the tomato paste and red wine vinegar until smooth and pour over the chicken and vegetables. Sprinkle with the garlic powder, seasoned salt, salt, and ground black pepper.
- Cover, and cook on low until the chicken is tender, 7 to 8 hours.
- Shred chicken into long strands using two forks. Stir the chicken with the vegetables in the slow cooker.
- Cook on low for an additional 15 to 30 minutes.
Makes 12 servings.
Optional: If you are serving the ropa vieja blanca on sandwich rolls, baguette or sliders, whisk the corn starch and cold water together and stir it into the slow cooker after shredding the chicken. Cook for the remaining 15 to 30 minutes.