Now that the weather has gotten a mite chillier (finally), our thoughts turn to warm, hardy comfort foods. Sancocho is such a variety. It is the archetypal Puerto Rican stew. It’s hearty and stick to the ribs fare.Think of the French cassoulet where pork, beans, lamb and sausages are all mixed together in a casserole. In that vein there is Nabiaki Udom which calls for chicken or beef or anything else on hand thrown into one dish. Also the Chinese Congee would come to mind. You get the idea, put everything together in one pot and let it simmer until it’s rich and thick. Sancocho follows along the same lines with an assortment to vegetables which are added to a broth. The vegetables include root plants such as yuca, also known as cassava; yautia (ya-oo-teah), also called tanier or dasheen; and name (nyah-meh), a starchy root.
In Puerto Rican slang, sancochar means to boil ot stew. Thus the sancocho moniker since it is a platter containing pork, chicken and what have you. Sancocho takes time and patience to cook. But it’s worth the effort. The result is an ultimately superior meal in itself.
The recipe below is from my first cookbook, Puerto Rican Cuisine in America (Avalon Books-Thunder’s Mouth Press). The root plants (or bianda) can be found in any Asian or Caribbean market. Cassava is a common product these days, no problem there. If you can’t find yautia, then substitute turnips, and for name, you can use yams.
1/2 cup olive oil
1 medium green bell pepper, cored, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crush
3 aji dulce (sweet chili pepper), seeded and chopped
6 fresh cilantro leaves, washed and chopped
1 pound boneless chuck beef, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 pound pork shoulder, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 medium stewing chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds) washed and cut into serving pieces
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 ears fresh corn, shucked and quartered
1/2 pound yuca, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound yautia, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound name, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 pound pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
3 green plantains, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1. Heat oil in a large kettle or Dutch oven and add bell pepper, onion, garlic, aji dulce and cilantro. Saute over moderate heat until tender (4-5 minutes).
2. Add beef, pork, chicken, pepper, and oregano. Cook until meat is browned (8-10 minutes).
3. With a slotted spoon, remove chicken parts from pot and set aside.
4. Add corn, yuca, yautia, name, pumpkin and plantains to meat.
5. Add water to cover contents in pot, also add tomato sauce and salt. Bring to a boil. Cover, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
6. Add chicken and continue to cook on low heat until meat is tender (about 2-2 1/2 hours).
7. Uncover pot and remove plantains. Place in a bowl and mash with a potato masher or big spoon. Let cool for a few minutes. Form into small balls with palms of hand. Return to kettle and boil for 1-2 minutes.
8. Serve with a loaf of crusty bread.
Yield: 12 servings.