Sancocho is Panama’s national dish.
There are versions of sancocho throughout Latin America, but it is particularly beloved in Panama.
At heart, Sancocho is a delicious stew that you could have at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Many claim the soup is even the perfect tonic for a hangover.
A local Panama chef believes that culantro is the secret weapon for a good sancocho.
“Culantro is the flavor you’re going to find in sancocho, even more than the chicken.” It’s our traditional dish. It’s the flavor of Panama.”
– local chef Francisco Castro.
Cook time: ~1.5 hours
- 1 chicken, cut into pieces
- 1 Tbsp. oil (your choice)
- 3 garlic cloves, pressed
- 2 Tbsp oregano
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tablespoon oregano
- 4 Tbsp culantro*, chopped (plus some leaves for the rub)
- 1 large onion, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 3 pounds of starchy vegetables. I’d recommend using both ñame and yuca. Other options are otoe and green plantains.**
- Small calabasa (squash) – chopped***
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 2 ears corn, broken into 1″ pieces (note, the corn is Panama is not sweet and much tougher than found in North America)
- 3 tsp salt (to taste)
- Start by killing the chicken. Okay, you don’t have to do that. But many locals go out in the yard grab a gallina de patio (chicken of the yard), kill and pluck it. You can buy a chicken from the store. But in Panama you can also purchase one from any house with a “vende gallina de patio” (or just, gallina de patio) sign out front. They will kill and pluck it for you. Keep in mind that these free range birds are tougher than you may be used to eating. They need to cook longer.
- Cut up the chicken – keep the bone in during the cooking process. Often the soup is served with the bones. It is common for people to eat the bone marrow once they are done with their soup.
- Rub the chicken with culantro leaves
- In a big pot, add water and chicken pieces. Make sure the water covers the chicken – and a bit more. Bring to a boil.
- Peel the root vegetables and cut into bite-size pieces.
- Add all the veggies and spices. Bring to boil again.
- Once it boils, remove the foam that is floating over the top. Lower the temperature to a medium simmer. Cover it loosely with the lid. Let it to simmer for about 45 minutes. At this point the ñame will be done and breaking apart, this will help thicken the broth.
- Cook until everything softens. Keep adding water so the veggies stay about an inch under water.
- Stir in salt to taste.
To eat it the Panamanian way, serve it along with white rice on the side. You can either mix the rice into the soup or take a bite with each spoonful. It doesn’t matter, they do both.
Sometimes the soup is accompanied by patacones (fried plantains) as well.
- * If you can’t find culantro, chopped cilantro leaves and stems can be used.
- **Any root vegetables can be used in a pinch, including potatoes, parsnips, turnips and carrots. The root ñame (yam) is similar to yuca (cassava). It will make the soup thicker since it dissolves. Beware when peeling ñame as it exudes a milky sap that is slightly slimy.
- ***Calabasa (squash) is more commonly used in the Chiriqui province
- Tip: Add more vegetables to serve more people.
- Some people believe the best way to cook Sancocho is over an open fire (fogón). That way it picks up a hint of smokiness. It is the traditional way to cook.
- Sancocho only gets more flavorful with time. It also freezes well.
Regional & Color Differences
The soup’s ingredients may vary , but almost all of Panama’s Sancocho varieties share one characteristic: they are rarely spicy. Typically, Panamanians aren’t fond of spicy foods.
- Sancocho in Panama City are often usually light brown in color because of the variety of root vegetables used.
- Sancocho chorrerano (made in the town of La Chorrera, outside Panama City) is a spicy exception, made of only chicken, onions, garlic, chili peppers, oregano and ñame.
- Sancocho chiricano (made in the Chiriqui Province) contains a laundry list of ingredients, including squash.
- Sancochos that are heavy in culantro have a bright, fresh flavor and a green hue.
- A sancocho that is yellow or orange means it has alot of squash/pumpkin (calabasa) in it.
More Sancocho Tidbits
- It is said that you should eat sancocho for lunch on a hot day to help cool off.
- Panamanian sancocho originated in the Azuero region
- Sancocho is a popular national dish found throughout Latin America – each country puts its own spin on it.