Panamanian sancocho is considered to be the national dish. It is a thick chicken soup that is said to cure whatever ails you. Panamanian sancocho is also a hangover cure.
There are many countries that have their own version of sancocho. What makes this version unique is the use of culantro. Culantro tastes similar to cilantro but is a bit stronger. Culantro is often seen as a misspelling of cilantro but they come from two entirely different plants. They are like cousins as they do come from the same botanical family. They look completely different however. Here is a picture of the two side by side. The cilantro is frilly on a thin stem, and culantro is a long flat leaf with scalloped edges.. Cilantro is an annual plant and Culantro a biennial. I found it in my local Asian market as ngo gai. Depending on where you live it may be called something else as it goes by many names. In Spanish it is called cilantro de hoja ancha or broadleaf cilantro, also called recao in and in the Caribbean it is called chandon beni. Sometimes it is called spiny cilantro, long-leafed coriander or saw-toothed mint. Culantro is also known as a medicinal plant used for its analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties.
I hope you can find culantro for an authentic Panamanian sancocho. If not you can substitute cilantro but use the stems too. Local Panamanian chef Francisco Castro says “Culantro is the flavor you’re going to find in sancocho, even more than the chicken.” It’s our traditional dish. It’s the flavor of Panama.” If that doesn’t make you want to try it, I don’t know what would. Panamanian sancocho is delicious!
Did you know that Panama is the only place in the world where you can see the sun rise in the west and set in the east? If you would like to learn more about this Central American country be sure to check out “Our Journey to Panama“.
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- 1 chicken cut into pieces
- 1 Tablespoon oil your choice
- 3 garlic cloves pressed
- 2 Tablespoons oregano, fresh 2 teaspoons dried
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 4 Tablespoons culantro* chopped
- 1 large onion chopped into bite-size pieces
- 3 pounds of starchy vegetables (otoe name/yams, yuca/cassava or green plantains)
- Season the chicken with the garlic, oregano, and pepper
- In a heavy pot, brown the seasoned chicken in the oil over a medium flame and allow to sweat.
- Set a little culantro/cilantro aside for garnish at the end.
- Add the rest of the culantro/cilantro, onion and water.
- Make sure water covers the chicken.
- Bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer for 20 minutes
- Meanwhile, peel the root vegetables and cut into bite-size pieces.
- After chicken has simmered for 20 minutes, add the root vegetables
- Cook until everything softens, about one hour.
- Keep adding water so the veggies stay about an inch under water
- Stir in salt to taste.
- Note * If you can't find culantro, chopped cilantro leaves and stems can be substituted.