Puerto Rican Sancocho; A Centuries-Old Stew Still a Classic Today

For the Love of Puerto Rican Cuisine, Part 2, by Victor Ribaudo

As I was telling you last week, the love of my life is Puerto Rican. And although I am a true romantic at heart, I must say that my infatuation stems in some part to my adoration for Puerto Rican cuisine. We spoke about sofrito (the chef’s own coveted flavoring base), platanos (plantains) and rice and beans. Let’s delve a little deeper now, discovering some of the dishes that put Puerto Rico prominently on the gastronomic map.

Puerto Rican Specialties
I recently returned from a trip to Puerto Rico. Seven pounds later, I can report that we had a grand time exploring the various dishes this tropical jewel has to offer.

Deep fried finger foods abound on the island, and can often be enjoyed at roadside stands. I sampled mine near Luquillo Beach. As I had mentioned last week, fried tostones (plantains) serve as a delicious nibble. I particularly like them topped with a crabmeat salad. Alcapurriasyautia (taro), batata (sweet potato), yucca (a starch root) and platanos that are grated into a firm dough (masa), and then filled with highly seasoned ground beef and deep fried. How bad can that be? Other delights include bacalaitos, or salt cod fritters; surullitos, tasty cornmeal sticks; and empanadillas, crispy turnovers filled with a variety of succulent meat or seafood stuffings. are another favorite. Preparation consists of Mofongo, another personal favorite, is offered in almost every restaurant on the island. Green platanos are fried, and then mashed in a pilon (mortar and pestle) with lots of garlic, olive oil and pork cracklings. It’s served plain, or “stuffed” with chicken, beef or seafood. If I don’t choose this as a main course, I always order it on the side. It’s outstanding.

Guisados (stews) and asopaos (gumbos) are also favorite fare in Puerto Rico. From chicken to beef to seafood, they’re all creatively prepared with the chef’s own sofrito, of course, along with lots of vegetables, and served with a nice portion of rice and beans or a side of tostones. My absolute, all time, most preferred Puerto Rican stew is called sancocho. My sister-in-law spoils me with her version, when I plead hard enough. Starting with, you guessed it, her personal sofrito, she combines different portions of chicken, pork and smoked ham with every imaginable vegetable – my favorite in this dish are the green bananas, batatas and portions of corn on the cob. It simmers for hours and hours resulting in the most unimaginably delicious dish. Served with her white rice and bean stew, it just can’t be beat. She’s also been known to treat us to holiday specialties such as pastelon, a sweet plantain lasagna, as well as pasteles, a sort of tamale with a Puerto Rican twist. Amazing!

Puerto Ricans also have a special way of preparing simple meat offerings. Truly, you haven’t tasted pork until you’ve sampled lechon asado, or roasted pig. Marinated in sour orange juice, it’s usually spit-roasted for hours until the skin is just perfectly crisp and succulent. Or pernil, which is pork shoulder dry-rubbed with lots of adobe (a garlicky spice mixture) and slow roasted overnight. Oh, don’t forget to try bistec encebollada, a satisfying dish of perfectly marinated beefsteak sautéed with lots of onions and oregano. Simple, yes. Intoxicating, always.

Oh yes, I can’t speak enough about the glories of Puerto Rican cuisine. End the meal with a strong cup of Puerto Rican coffee and flan, a custard enrobed in a caramelize sugar sauce, or tres leches, a sponge cake soaked in sweetened, condensed milk and topped with whip cream – well, what can I say? You’re set. It’s a matter of love for me. And although your loved one may not be Puerto Rican as mine is, I can promise you that the tastes of Puerto Rico will strike a cord in your heart as well.

Puerto Rican Sancocho; A Centuries-Old Stew – Still a Classic Today

This satisfying meat stew is thought to have evolved from “Puchero Canario” and brought by Canary Islanders who immigrated to Latin America. It is a hearty stew of meat, sometimes fish, and vegetables, largely root vegetables, and plantains, to mention just a few of the main ingredients. Simmered a long time, the fragrant mouthwatering melange goes a long way to satisfy a lot of hungry people. Every family has its own version. While researching this treasure, I came across a recipe calling for 46 ingredients. The following recipe, far less demanding, has been tweaked a bit to suit contemporary cooking.

(Inspired by El Boricua, online cultural magazine)

Ingredients (Serves 6)

2 T olive oil
1/3 cup chopped yellow onions
1 ½ lbs. beef chuck or flanken (cross-cut ribs), cubed into 1 1/2 –inch pieces
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup chopped sweet green pepper
1/3 cup chopped sweet red pepper
1/3 cup chopped celery
1 aji dulce,* seeded and minced
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1 t salt
¼ t freshly ground black pepper
4 medium tomatoes, cored and chopped
4 quarts beef stock,** divided
1 yellow plantain, peeled and sliced into ½-inch pieces
2 green bananas, peeled and sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 medium sweet potato, diced into 1-inch pieces
½ lb. butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 1-inch pieces
3 medium new potatoes, scrubbed clean and quartered
1 large chayote, peeled, cored and diced into 1-inch pieces
2 ears of corn, cleaned and sliced into 6 parts each


Heat oil in a large Dutch oven. Add onions and beef cubes and cook until onions are translucent and meat is browned on all sides. Add garlic, green and red peppers, celery, aji dulce, cilantro, salt, pepper and tomatoes.. Add I quart of beef stock, bring to a boil and cook at a bare simmer until reduced by half.

Give beef a stir and then add remainder of ingredients and beef stock. Continue cooking at a simmer until meat is tender and vegetables are soft.

Serving suggestions:

White rice
A crusty peasant bread good for soaking up the delicious broth.
Diced Hass avocado
*Aji dulce, a small sweet chili pepper

**A homemade beef stock is best, but if purchased, look for low sodium as broth will become saltier as it reduces. You can also use chicken broth or even water since the ingredients and long cooking will exude flavor.

Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Written by Victor Ribaudo theribaudogroup.com
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell
Recipe by Phyllis Kirigin,  https://sweetpaprika.wordpress.com


For the Love of Puerto Rican Cuisine – Part 1

Here again is ace food writer Victor Ribaudo,  delighting us  with another of his passions–Puerto Rican cuisine. Bill Brady’s exquisite photos are featured.  The irresistable empanadillas are my contribution.  Just check out the following post.

I’m in love with a Puerto Rican. And although I’m a true romantic, I must admit that part of my affection stems from the fact that I simply adore Puerto Rican cuisine. My first trip to the Caribbean as a child, in fact, was to Puerto Rico. That began a love affair that till this day persists, both romantically and gastronomically.

Puerto Rico part 1 on SHI SYmbol Blog site - peppers_002144

True Puerto Rican cuisine is an art. There’s no doubt about that.And much of it begins with the sofrito. This is a mixture of lard or olive oil, achiote seeds (strained after they impart their red-yellow coloring to the fat), bell pepper, onion, garlic, cilantro, oregano and sometimes ham. The recipe actually varies from family to family – a coveted secret – and almost always serves as a base to many a boriqua (another way to say “Puerto Rican”) dish.

From Field to Table

While traveling the island – or any food market in NYC’s East Harlem district – one is immediately struck by the wide variety of fresh produce used in la cocina criolla, as the locals call it. For example, the platano, or plantain. In the banana family, it’s sold both green, or ripened to a pretty, black-spectacled yellow (these are referred to as amarillos). In its green state, it is quite starchy and used very much like a potato. The most popular examples of this are tostones. Green plantains are cubed, fried, flattened, and then refried to a crisp, golden color. They are served as appetizers or a side dish, and very often accompanied by a chopped garlic sauce called mojo. When used ripened, platanos impart a mild banana-like flavor and are often fried in cubes, and served with dishes such as arroz con pollo (chicken with rice).

puerto rico pt 1 on SHI Symbol Blog - rice

Other farmer specials include yucca, a starchy root; batata, a sweet potato of sorts; yautia (or taro root, as it is known in the Pacific Islands); green bananas, which are firmer and more veggie-like than the ripened treats we enjoy with our morning cereals; okra; calabaza, or pumpkin; sugar cane; mango; papaya…the list goes on an on. And you’ll find them everywhere…steamed, fried and in stews. Always a treat!

Rice and Beans a Must

As my in-laws have taught me, rice and beans must always accompany a meal. To me, they are often the highlight of the meal. Dried habichuelas rosadas or rojas (pink or red kidney beans, respectively) are stewed – beginning with the cook’s signature sofrito, of course – with bits of ham, and often diced pumpkin. They are then served with perfectly cooked white rice, usually on the side, so you’re free to ladle your bean stew on the rice as you see fit.

Speaking of rice, Puerto Ricans are simply fanatical about its preparation. Again, the cooking method varies from household to household. Cover off, until the water is evaporated, then stirred quickly, and covered for 5-10 minutes until the grains separate seems to be the most popular method. And there must always be the pegau, or crisp rice that sticks to the bottom of the pan. Any good Puerto Rican cook knows that. And family members often fight for the crunchy stuff. I have to admit, I like it too.

Next week I’ll talk more about some particularly delicious Puerto Rican specialties. For now, there’s a bowl of rice and beans with my name on it. I need to get to it before it gets cold. Someone I love made it especially for me.

Victor Ribaudo


Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

Puerto Rican “Hot Pockets”–Empanadillas

Empanadillas with Guacamole

Empanadillas are the Puerto Rican version of empanadas, a stuffed pastry popular in Spain, Portugal, the Caribbean, Latin America and the Philippines.  They are made by folding a thin circular-shaped dough patty over filling creating the typical semicircular shape. Fillings might include beef, ham, chicken, fish, cheese or fruit.  They can be baked or fried.

The name empanada, comes from the Spanish verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread. They are served as an appetizer/tapas, side dish or dessert.  In any form, they’re crisp and delicious.

(Liberally adapted from recipes by Carmen Aboy Valldejuli and Yasmin Hernandez)


Dough:  (Makes 12 empanadillas)

3 cups all purpose flour

½ t baking soda

½ t baking powder

1 t salt

¼ cup peanut or vegetable oil

1 cup warm water

½ t achiotina* (optional for color)


2 T olive oil

1 lb ground beef

½ medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ small jalapeno, minced

½ sweet pepper, diced

1/8 cup pimiento stuffed green olives, sliced

2 T sofrito**

1/8 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 T tomato paste

1 pkg. Goya Sazon with annatto

½ t salt

¼ t freshly ground black pepper

Cooking: 4 cups vegetable or peanut oil for deep frying

Procedure (for dough)

Combine the dry ingredients in the bowl of a food processor with a metal blade. Pulse briefly.  Add vegetable oil and up to 1 cup water until the dough comes together. Remove dough and knead for 2-3 minutes. Let rest in a bowl covered with plastic wrap for 15 minutes.  Divide into 12 pieces and then roll into 4-inch round disks.

Filling: Brown ground beef in olive oil.  Drain off excess fat. Add remainder of ingredients and cook for10 minutes over medium heat stirring from time to time.  Let cool. Place 2 tablespoons of filling in each round of dough, fold over and crimp with the tines of a fork to seal tightly.

Deep frying:  Heat vegetable oil in a deep skillet to 350 degrees.  Deep fry a few at a time until golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on brown paper or paper towels.  Drain on both sides.  Be sure to bring temperature of oil back up to 350 degrees before adding another batch of empanadillas. Enjoy your special treat!

*achiotina is lard in which a few annatto seeds have been fried and then strained ou

**Basic Sofrito

1 t olive oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

¼ cup chopped tomato

¼ cup chopped onion

3-4 stem and leaves cilantro

1/8 cup chopped green bell pepper

1/8 cup chopped red bell pepper

Grind and pound ingredients in a pilon (mortar and pestle)

(Leftover sofrito can be stored in a glass jar in the refrigerator).

Photographer Bill Brady http://bit.ly/9wFYxm
Food Stylist Brian Preston Campbell

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