Sancocho, Traditional Colombian Stew

Ask anyone from South America what their favorite soup from childhood is, and you will get sancocho as the answer. It varies widely from country to country and region to region, but everyone agrees it’s a soup to warm your soul.

Colombian sancocho is a variation of soup made with meat, hearty vegetables, a traditional broth, corn, and herbs. The Colombians serve it with a side of rice, avocado, and a special hot sauce called ají picante. You can find seafood sancocho on the coast or a poultry sancocho in the mountains.

Along with the famous ajiaco, sancocho is a traditional soup found in every Colombian family cookbook and another one of the country’s favorite dishes.

It would be hard to give you recipes for all the variations, but here is the history, a few variations, and sancocho made the Colombian way.

History of Sancocho

Colombian Sancocho de Gallina in black bowl
Sancocho de Gallina

The sancocho is a Latin American twist on a traditional cocido (Spanish soup) and thought to have originated in the Canary Islands. The Canary Islands have influences from several European countries and is now a territory of Spain off the coast of Morocco.

The cocido has similar ingredients, like meat, carrots, cabbage, and garbanzo beans. In the Canary Islands, sancocho is a fish and plantain stew. These two recipes put together create the variations of the Latin American sancocho.

Sancocho is most popular in Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Costa Rica, Panama, and El Salvador. Each country has a slightly different recipe, but the main ingredients are the same. There needs to be meat, vegetables or starch, corn, and herb (cilantro or parsley).

Sancocho is loved very much in Panama, so much so it’s their national dish. Sancocho de Gallina Panameño is a chicken version of the much beloved soup. In Panama, the people believe it’s the ultimate hangover cure and the elixir of life.

How Is Colombian Sancocho Different?

Colombian Sancocho served with rice and avocado
Colombian Sancocho served with rice and avocado

The Colombian sancocho is like the original from the Canary Islands but uses more local ingredients. Colombia’s traditional soup still uses one ingredient from the African continent, and that is plantains. The City Paper Bogota reports that the plantain is a main ingredient found in Colombian sancocho to this day.

As in other countries, Colombian sancocho varies in different regions. The most common ingredients across the country include plantain, potato, yuca (cassava), corn (on the cob), and cilantro.

Sometimes you will find a beef recipe, and sometimes you will find 3 different types of meat in the soup. On the coast, there’s more Caribbean influences and their recipes are fish heavy. If you aren’t sure which one is the best, try to cook different variations to see which one your family likes more.

Anywhere in Colombia, you will find sancocho served with a garnish of onions, lime, and cilantro. On the side are a steaming bowl of white rice and sliced avocado. With each dip into the bowl, the rice will soak up the delicious broth.

Some less common ingredients in Colombian sancocho include peas, beans, ñame, pork, oxtail, and arracacha.

For a stomach pleasing sancocho, you will need time. To develop the flavors of the broth properly, you will need a good part of the day. Because of this, sancocho is often made on Sundays and for special occasions. The City Paper of Bogota says, “a steaming pot in the kitchen means there is a party in the air – Carnaval is approaching.

As long as you add the traditional ingredients, any variation will still be a sancocho. It will taste like Colombia and get you dinner guests returning.

Inland Recipes

Sancocho includes chicken and beef as the proteins; and a mix of starches like plantains, potatoes, yuca, and pumpkin. In addition to cilantro, rosemary, cumin, and green onions add nice aromatics.

Coastal Recipes

Colombian Stew Sancocho de Pescado
Colombian Stew Sancocho de Pescado

On the coast of Colombia, you will find a fish-based sancocho like Sancocho de Pescado. Using local fish, plantains, corn, yuca, achiote, and cilantro. You might even find guandul (an African grain) in a coastal sancocho, the Caribbean influences that live on the Colombian coast.

Making a Colombian Sancocho

Look up any recipe for sancocho and the ingredient list won’t be short. There’s a fair amount of prep work involved in cooking a sancocho due to the long list of ingredients. The prep work is the majority of the work, and if you are cooking a large batch for a party, you might want to start it the night before.

Prep Work

The prep work will include peeling your potatoes or yams, and a lot of chopping. Basics for the stock will include onions and garlic, which need to be finely chopped. The starches will need to be cut into bite-size pieces, and the meat will need to be cleaned and prepared.

Cooking

When the cooking is ready to be started, you will need to make the base for the broth, which will help develop the flavors. Recipes call for combining the aromatic ingredients in a blender to form a puree. This will include onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, cilantro, and cumin.

When your puree is ready, the meat will go into a large pot with water, the puree, corn, and green plantains. It will cook like a regular soup: bring it to a boil and then simmer. The length of the simmer will depend on your ingredients, but around 30-45 minutes will do.

Add any extra ingredients that may take less time to cook, like potatoes, and continue to simmer until all the vegetables and meat are fully cooked. 

Finish off the soup with your desired seasoning. Extra cilantro is a good idea, and your soup is ready to feed your party guests.

Don’t forget to cook up the white rice, and have plenty of avocado for the group.

Sancocho Trifásico Recipe

A three-meat sancocho, this recipe is from My Colombian Recipes blog. You can also find her recipe for Sancocho de Pescado here. This recipe will serve 4-6 people.

Ingredients Needed

  • 1 cup onions, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground achiote
  • 3 ears of corn, cut into 3 pieces
  • 12 cups of water
  • 1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • 1 lb. pork
  • 1lb. beef, cut into pieces
  • 2 green plantains, peeled and cut into 2 in. pieces
  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 lb. yuca, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt

Cooking Instructions

  1. Place the garlic, onions, red pepper, and cumin in a blender with 1/4 cup of water. Blend until smooth.
  2. In your stock pot, add the beef, pork, and chicken, along with the corn, onion puree, green plantains, and salt. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and let simmer for 45 minutes.
  3. Add the yuca and potatoes to the pot, and continue to simmer for 30 more minutes. You want the vegetables to pierce easily with a fork.
  4. Add in the cilantro, and any other seasonings you wish.

Serve to your guests with a side of rice, avocado, cilantro, and hot sauce.

Conclusion

Colombian Stew Sancocho de Costilla
Colombian Stew Sancocho de Costilla

If you don’t already have a traditional soup in your family, consider adopting the sancocho. It’s easily customized to your family’s tastes and is hearty enough to be served all year round. The sancocho in Colombia can be cooked with any meat, but don’t forget the plantains, potatoes (any kind), corn, and cilantro. Cook it for yourself or for a large group to celebrate Carnaval. 

Now that you’ve learned about one of Colombia’s savory dishes, here’s one sweet, Colombia’s Cocadas. You’ll definitely want to give these coconut treats and other unique Colombian desserts a try.

Be sure to visit our online store to shop for authentic Colombian foods and drinks.

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