In Puerto Rico, one is said to be “sancochao” when you’re all hot, burnt and sweaty after a day of stewing in the sun. That sentiment explains the concept of sancocho quite well, i.e. throw a bunch of delicious stuff into a pot and let it stew away. This one-pot wonder is a hearty stew with African and Native Taino influences, as both cultures are integral parts of the cultural makeup of Puerto Rico. Various meats can be used for this recipe, the most traditional features both beef and pork, along with a ham hock. I love a more delicate flavor, so I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which can cook for a long time without getting tough.
Like any good stew, what goes into varies and everyone has their own favorite recipes. However, what sets sancocho apart from any stew is that it includes Sofrito seasoning and is filled with a variety of tropical root varieties as a starch: green plantain, squash or pumpkin, and at least two of the following: potatoes, Caribbean sweet potatoes (batata and/or ñame), yautía (malanga) or yuca (cassava). Corn on the cob and carrots are a popular addition as well. For convenience, I buy frozen yautía, yuca and ñame already peeled and chopped at my local Latin market. Some supermarkets even sell bags of pre-chopped frozen sancocho veggies!
This recipe reminds me of my mom. She’s a fantastic cook, and a stickler for making Puerto Rican food just like her mother and grandmother taught her. I think it drives her nuts when I improvise on her recipes. Sorry mom! Anyhow, when she’s whipping up a Puerto Rican recipe that she hasn’t made in a while, she pulls out her tattered, kitchen-stained copy of Cocine Conmigo, an old school Puerto Rican cookbook that she got as a wedding gift 35 years ago. No pictures, no fluff, just straight up ingredients and instructions, it reads almost like a Bible. I’ve already told her to leave me that book in the will, I want nothing else.
I took some inspiration from the sancocho recipe in this book, and of course, I added my own spin (mom approved, though!) This sancocho is the perfect dish to warm your soul for colder days and is a popular meal to make for a large group. Make this next time you’re in the mood for a warm, belly hug of a meal.
Sancocho De Pollo (Puerto Rican Chicken Stew)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup diced ham or smoked sausage (optional)
- 1/2 cup sofrito
- 1 packet Sazon seasoning without achiote
- 1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into large chunks
- 1/2 cup no salt tomato sauce
- 7 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 3/4 lb yautia (malanga) and/or yuca (cassava) root peeled and cut into large chunks
- 3/4 lb ñame (Caribbean yam) peeled and cut into large chunks
- 2 large green plantains peeled and cut into 1 inch discs
- 1/2 lb calabasa kabocha squash, peeled and cut into large chunks
- 2-3 ears of corn cut into 2 inch discs
- 1/2 tablespoon powdered chicken bouillon
- 8 sprigs culantro or cilantro
- 3 dried bay leaves
- Ripe avocado for garnish
Place the diced chicken thighs into a bowl and pour the sofrito and Sazon seasoning over it. Mix to combine and set aside.
Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. then add olive oil and diced ham/sausage.
Cook for 2 minutes, then add chicken/sofrito mixture into the pot.
Saute for 4-5 minutes, then add the tomato sauce and chicken broth.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then add the yautia, ñame, yuca, green plantains, chicken bouillon, culantro/cilantro and bay leaves. Reserve the pumpkin/squash and corn.
Cover the sancocho and simmer for 30-40 minutes, until the root vegetables become tender.
Add the pumpkin and corn and cook for 20 minutes more.
Check for seasoning, the sancocho should be thick and creamy. If not, mash a few of the root veggies into the stew.
Serve with sliced avocado.
If desired, you can make plantain dumplings for your sancocho. Remove the cooked plantains from the sancocho. Mash the cooked plantains with a pilon or potato masher until smooth. Grab about 2 tablespoons of the mashed plantain (will be hot), and form it into a ball with your hands. Continue with the rest of the mashed plantain mixture. Drop the plantain balls back into the sancocho.