Saturday, July 26, 2008

Domesticity Cooks: Sancocho de Soltera

Yesterday I was in the middle of an IM conversation with my brother, and the subject of conversation was cooking. After describing the preparation techniques I did for my own dinner that afternoon, my brother made a comment about how I never seem to follow a recipe exactly.

And he was right. I'm the kind of person who never leaves well enough alone - though I can't really say why I do that; maybe it's because I'm more conscious about going broke at the supermarket, or because I sit in on way too many conversations about TV food shows. (For the uninitiated: Emeril over-seasons his recipes, and Chris Kimball et al. barely do, if ever.) In any case, cooking for me is never an exact science; apart from a sense of proportion, I prefer to do away with measurements in favor of going by taste alone. Besides, if I wanted exact exact, I should just stick to the closest Betty Crocker mix and be done with it.

Case in point: Last night's dinner was from my own special batch of sancocho, the Colombian stew made with chicken, corn, potatoes, and all sorts of vegetables. Although many South Americans say that every family has its own recipe for sancocho (kind of how every Filipino family has their own recipe for adobo), I chose to start with this version of the dish from Sara Moulton's show on Food Network.

A good recipe, yes, except that I didn't have a big enough pan to fit every single ingredient mentioned in this recipe - and even if the FDA didn't instigate that jalapeno scare earlier in the week, I wasn't in the mood to stalk farmer's markets for yucca (cassava) and two kinds of plantains, let alone spending money to buy a bigger pot.

Adding even more fuel to the fire - pun intended - was the fact that the picture of Sara Moulton's sancocho bore no resemblance to the version that was served to Anthony Bourdain during his now-infamous visit to Medellin. Now, that was a freaking awesome dish: earthy, slow-cooked, infused with the spirits of animals who have willingly sacrificed their flesh in the name of a straight-up good time. Like Bourdain himself, there was nothing genteel about that stew; just watching it boil in those blackened pots gave me warm flashbacks to fiestas in my native Philippines and the beef/pork/goat stews that simmered over open fires on the front yard of my Dad's farm house in the countryside. (I also wouldn't be surprised if my Dad and his siblings used the leftovers from those stews as their very own Hangover Helper the next morning.)

I understand that sancocho supposedly has the power to "bring the dead back to life" - but, seriously, if that dish could turn a known a-hole hardened cynic like Bourdain into a sunshiny optimist, how good could it be?

So, with apologies to both Sara Moulton and Tony Bourdain, I tweaked the sancocho recipe I had to suit my circumstances... which explains why I call my version Sancocho de Soltera, or "Bachelorette Stew a la Colombiana."

  • Instead of using a whole chicken, I used 1 1/2 pounds (4 hefty pieces) of skin-on chicken thighs, which I browned in the stew pot before using. Yes, it does sound like I'm doing a braise (...Mr. Scribe), but I'm the kind of person who believes that browning makes everything better.
  • Since I do not have my own blender (and the Robot Coupe is out of the question), I used my new food mill to blend the following ingredients together: 1 cup of chopped cilantro, half a yellow onion, 1 cup of baby carrots, 7 ounces (half a bag) of frozen pepper strips... and a whole jalapeno, which I found at Mercado de la Raza - jalapeno scare be damned. (When I mentioned to the clerk at Mercado that I wanted to substitute a serrano for the jalapeno, he just told me to go for the jalapeno anyway.)
  • While some cooks swear by Maggi chicken bouillon for the sabor Latino, I ended up working with Telma soup cubes, which were more readily available from the supermarkets here in Honolulu. Two cubes of Telma yielded enough saltiness to the broth, which was made by simmering the above-mentioned cilantro-veggie puree with enough water to fill 3/4 of the way up my half-gallon pot, along with the bouillon cubes, 1 tsp. of ground cumin, and some black pepper.
  • After letting the broth simmer for about 30 minutes, I started adding the rest of the ingredients in intervals: first the chicken (which boiled for 20 minutes), then 1 peeled Hawaiian red-skinned sweet potato (20 more minutes), then 2 cubed potatoes and 3 shucked ears of Kahuku corn that have been sliced into 2-inch cobs.
  • And since I wanted slow-cooked, I let the sucker boil on low heat for as long as I can stand it, until the chicken started falling off from the bone and the potatoes broke down to thicken the stew. One way to test is to poke the chicken or potatoes with the serving spoon that you're stirring with; if it gives under the spoon right away, it's done.
  • Following these guidelines will yield a fiber-rich, carb-laden stew that yields up to 4 servings, with leftovers that can be stored right away in the fridge and thawed for the next 2-3 dinners.

Result: a chicken stew that was more than just a hug in a bowl - it kept me happy and full for hours on end, like a slow dance with a sweetheart. I wasn't sure if this was going to win me raves among my South American friends, but it's a great thing to make on my own.

Of course, those of you who would rather stick to the original recipe should go ahead and do so; it's your prerogative. Practice with it if you must, but don't be surprised if you start tweaking the recipe yourself.

1 comment:

The Scribe said...

hubby will try this recipe!!!