Cooking Class: The Dominican pot

A hearty meal in a bowl is very comforting on a cold night. Try the traditional Latin American version.

sancocho_311 (photo credit: Yakir Levy)
(photo credit: Yakir Levy)
Sancocho is a meat-and-potato-lovers’ classic. I first sampled this soup at a Colombian restaurant. A hearty meal-in-a-bowl, it was full of chunks of oxtail, potatoes, and two Latin-American favorites – yucca, a potato-like vegetable, and plantains, cooking bananas used when they are green and not sweet. Chicken sancocho was made the same way, with a whole drumstick in each bowl. The components were served in a rich, savory broth finished with plenty of chopped fresh parsley and accompanied by a plate of rice. Lime wedges and a mild chili sauce served alongside made the soup even better.
The next time I came across a delicious sancocho was at a Dominican restaurant. Described modestly on their menu as “Dominican stew,” it was a substantial bowl of pale green broth with two kinds of meat and chunks of pumpkin, potatoes, yucca and plantains. This substantial soup is the perfect meal to prepare on a cold winter day. It is very flexible, and is made with any meat available, including goat, lamb or veal. Elaborate versions might include chicken, beef and chorizo sausages, chickpeas and a variety of root vegetables including sweet potatoes, leeks and carrots. A sumptuous Dominican version boasts seven kinds of meats. Fish sancocho is sometimes enriched with coconut milk or flavored with tomatoes, sweet peppers, garlic and thyme. Rojas-Lombardi’s beef sancocho is made with brisket, which he cooks in a single piece along with whole vegetables, so that they can be easily removed and served separately, as in French pot au feu. His vegetables include ears of corn cooked with common European soup vegetables – carrots, potatoes, onions, leeks and cabbage. Rosemary, thyme, mint and chilies flavor his broth.
According to Rojas-Lombardi, to make a magnificent sancochado, as he called the Peruvian version of the soup, the meat is marinated first and browned to give the broth a rich flavor and an amber color. His marinade contains garlic and fresh ginger perhaps due to the Japanese influence on Peruvian food. After browning the marinated beef in olive oil, Rojas-Lombardi cooks it with yucca, carrots, turnips, summer squash, celery, onions and leeks.
Sancocho is equally popular in the Caribbean Islands but is flavored differently from the South American soups. Virginie F. and George A. Elbert, authors of Down-Island Caribbean Cooking, present Trinidad beef sancocho with split yellow peas or lentils flavored with tamarind concentrate, ground anise, ground coriander, mace and turmeric.
Their lamb sancocho is seasoned with cumin and fenugreek. They cook winter squash in their goat sancocho, along with allspice, bay leaves, garlic, chiles and fresh coriander.
Whichever sancocho you make, Kijac recommends serving it with a side dish of hot pepper salsa made with green onions and cilantro. Peruvians offer up to three different sauces, wrote Rojas-Lombardi: hot pepper sauce; aioli, or garlic mayonnaise; and fresh herb sauce. His herb sauces are pesto-like, made from basil, parsley or fresh coriander blended with olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, hot peppers and fresh ginger.
For this soup the chicken is cooked on the bone so the broth gains more flavor. You can vary the vegetables according to what you have. When fresh turnips are available, I substitute them for some of the potatoes. If you like, serve the soup with a bowl of rice. Accompany the soup with fresh coriander sauce (see next recipe), or, if you prefer, with s’hug (Yemenite hot sauce) mixed with a little olive oil and lemon juice.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
✔ 1.5 kg chicken pieces ✔ 1 large onion, diced ✔ 4 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped ✔ 2 bay leaves ✔ 1 fresh thyme sprig (optional) ✔ 1 or 2 fresh hot peppers, seeds removed, halved (optional) ✔ salt and freshly ground pepper ✔ about 8 cups water ✔ a 450-gr. piece pumpkin, butternut squash (dalorit) or other winter squash ✔ 4 to 6 medium boiling potatoes, halved or quartered ✔ 2 carrots, cut in 2.5-cm chunks ✔ 2 celery ribs, including leafy tops, cut in 3 ears of corn (fresh or frozen) ✔ 1 or 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned thoroughly, halved lengthwise and cut in 2.5-cm pieces ✔ 1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano, or to taste ✔ 1⁄4 tsp. ground allspice, or to taste ✔ 3 to 4 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander (cilantro) or parsley ✔ Lemon or lime wedges (for serving)
Put chicken in a large stew pan or pot, allowing room for vegetables. Add onion, garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprig, hot peppers and a pinch of salt. Add enough water to cover ingredients. Bring to a boil. Skim foam from surface. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour. Skim excess fat from broth.
Cut peel from pumpkin and cut meat in 2.5- or 5-cm. cubes. Add to pot.
Add potatoes, carrots, celery and more water if needed, to just cover ingredients. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. If using fresh corn, cut it in 5-cm. chunks. Add corn, leeks, oregano, allspice and black pepper and cook for 15 minutes or until chicken and vegetables are tender. Remove bay leaves, thyme sprig and hot pepper pieces. Taste broth and adjust seasoning. Skim more fat from broth. (This is easier to do when soup is cold.)
Remove chicken pieces and discard their skin. If you used frozen corn, remove pieces and cut them in 5-cm. chunks. Return chicken and corn to soup.
Reheat soup before serving. Off heat, add chopped coriander. Serve chicken, vegetables and broth in deep bowls. Serve with lemon wedges.
This recipe is from Felipe Rojas-Lombardi. If you don’t have fresh ginger, omit it.
Makes about 1 cup ✔ 2 cups tightly packed fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves ✔ 1⁄2 cup olive oil ✔ 2 cloves garlic, peeled ✔ a 2.5-cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped ✔ 1 or 2 jalapeno peppers or other hot peppers, seeded and chopped ✔ 2 tsp. coarse salt ✔ 1 Tbsp. fresh lime juice or lemon juice
Wash cilantro leaves and drain well. Dry with paper towels or in a salad spinner.
In a blender or food processor, combine the oil, garlic, ginger, peppers and salt. Blend at high speed for a few seconds, then add the cilantro leaves, little by little. Continue blending until the ingredients are smooth. Add the lime juice, correct the seasoning with salt to taste, and serve.
Storage note: To store, cover the surface of the sauce with 1⁄4 cup olive or vegetable oil, pouring the oil over an inverted tablespoon so as not to disturb the surface. Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks.
Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Chicken Cookbook.