Introduction: American Sancocho (tweaked Colombian Chicken Stew)

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As a farm-raised Midwesterner I had always sworn that there was no better medicine for both the Flu and the soul than my grandmother's homemade chicken soup. It was not until I traveled to Southwest Florida and married a Colombian (as well as 10 of his closest kin that shared our 3br/2ba home) that my completely American version of chicken noodle soup had met its match and walked away limping afterward. Although the marriage may not have lasted long, my love for this recipe, handed down from Colombian grandmother, to daughter, to finally American daughter-in-law (and each of us have added our own signature spin in turn) will fill my home with its aroma forever...try it out and you'll see why. Feel free to tweak it yourself after you've tried my version ;)

Step 1: The Ingredients

I have found that there are so many exotic dishes you will encounter over the years you're just itching to make, but once you've traveled to the third grocery store and still cant seem to find one or more of the main ingredients its simply given up for lost. Although it is preferable that you live in an area that has Latino grocery stores or a large enough Latino population for the local grocer to carry the ingredients for this recipe, I have had to make a few changes out of necessity for this very reason. I will list both the original ingredients and their American substitutes below. Btw...this recipe was meant to feed 10 people. I hope you have lots of friends to share this with ;)

You will need:

1. 5 Bone-in, Skin-on Chicken Breasts (the bone marrow will add flavor and the skin adds lipids...both you can remove later after the chicken is can use any part of the chicken btw)

2. 1 Lg. Red Onion....peeled and quartered

3. 1 Lg. Yucca Root...peeled and sliced (if you cant find Yucca, just add more potatoes)

4. 5 Tomatillos...quartered (if you cant find tomatillos, use green tomatoes instead and add extra lime juice)

5. Baby carrots (a small bag full)

6. 3 Ears of Corn....shucked and quartered

7. 4 Red Potatoes....unpeeled and quartered

8. 3 Unripe Plantains...peeled and sliced (if you cant find plantains, use 4 green bananas instead)

9. 2 Bunches of Fresh Cilantro

10. 7 limes or 1 bag of Key Limes (you can use lime juice in a pinch but the signature flavor comes from the lime skin itself as it stews)

11. 1-2 cans of coconut milk (depending on how thick you prefer your stock)

12. 4 packets of powdered chicken bouillon (preferably Goya...or you can use concentrated chicken stock)

13. 4 cloves of garlic ...smashed

14. 1 dead forgotten beer (or any beer...but better if its flat...2 shots of brandy work even better)

15. 3 Packets of Sazon Goya con Azafran (find it in the ethnic food section...if you cant, no worries...either buy a thread of saffron or some annatto. This is what gives it its deep golden color and floral taste.

16. Tapatio Hot Sauce (this is the best...but you can use Chalula, Valentina, or any other Latino hot sauce...avoid Texas Pete or Tabasco as it gives the stew a weird vinegar flavor)

17. Salt, Pepper, Dried red pepper, and Ginger Powder to taste.

Step 2: Get the Pot Rolling

Pull out the largest pot you own (or a crock pot if you prefer) and add the chicken, veggies, seasonings, beer, coconut milk, 2-5 tbsp. of hot sauce(depending upon how spicy you like it), one bundle of cilantro(stems removed and leaves torn), 3 limes halved, and enough water to fill the pot. Once the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat and allow to simmer about 4 or more hours until the chicken is cooked and the veggies are tender. At this point, remove the limes (otherwise their skins will sour the stew) and remove the chicken, allow to cool, then remove the skin and bones from the chicken. Return the chicken to the pot and continue to heat on low until you're ready to eat.

Step 3: Serving

If you' re not feeling well or you're about to die of starvation, the stew is ready. If, However, you want to impress your guests or enjoy the full Sancocho experience, here are the finishing touches. Ladle the stew into bowls. Then add to each bowl: 1/2 lime(squeeze the juice over the soup and toss in the rind), a generous pinch of cilantro leaves, a dash or two of hot sauce, and if you really want to kick it up a notch: a splash of brandy. This dish is also complemented nicely if served with Arepas (Latino cornbread tortillas with queso fresco or mozzarella sandwiched in between and grilled) or a nice crusty artisan bread.