Lee Elliott knows the best cure for a hangover is a hearty bowl of sancocho, so he learned how to make it himself. This is his very own Panamanian sancocho recipe.
At the best of times, many of us can be quite crude in the morning before getting their coffee on, especially in the unrelenting heat of Panama. And a hung-over Elliott can feel quite delicate until he’s put himself in front of a hearty bowl of Panamanian sancocho.
Sancocho is a manly breakfast, a true breakfast of champions, guaranteed to soothe the souls of the broken and weak, while they tenderly piece together the events of the night before.
While every culture has its own version of chicken soup as a restorative measure, sancocho is the order of the day in Panama.
I don’t claim sancocho is exclusively Panamanian any more than I claim it to be a soup rather than a stew. The only claim I make is that my very own Panamanian sancocho recipe creates the perfect hangover cure for me!
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I tried my first bowl of sancocho not long after arriving in Panama City.
It wasn’t particularly morning anymore, but it was the first daylight I’d seen after a confusing trail of events involving secco and lots of dancing.
After missing breakfast (and also lunch) we decided to try out the Jap Jap across the road from our hotel. Jap Jap is a local Panamanian fast food chain serving this magical dish, that so many had recommended for occasions like this.
There’s nothing more wretched than the sight of a middle-aged gringo with a hangover in the heat of Panama City trying to cross a busy street in cargo shorts. If my snow white legs were not enough to stop traffic, the fact I was an obvious newbie in town was. Every taxi stopped to offer me a ride, creating enough of a bottleneck for me to get across the road in one piece.
And although a hot bowl of soupy stew seemed counter-productive in this heat, it sat well on my delicate stomach – and in such a warm, cozy, reassuring way. I also noticed, for the first time, that only gringos wear shorts in Panama City. My brain was working again!
Now, whenever we have friends over from out of town, I make a big pot of sancocho for the weekend. Like the best stews, sancocho tastes so much better the next day, and is perfect to have on hand for emergencies.
Each region has its own angle of sancocho (parboiled) with variants including different meats and vegetables. When you order sancocho in Panama, you’ll expect the classic sancocho de gallina (with chicken).
This Panamanian classic version is the base to my own sancocho recipe. A staple that deserves to be on every pale-legged, cargo short-wearing, middle-aged gringo’s fridge door.
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My Panamanian sancocho recipe:
- 1 whole chicken
- 1 tbsp culantro – long cilantro
- 1 large onion
- 3 lbs yucca root (cassava)
- 2 ears of corn
- 6 small potatoes
- Bunch of green onions (just the green part)
- 3 carrots
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 tsp olive oil
- 5 cups of water
- Salt & pepper
This sancocho recipe calls for chunky ingredients; everything in good solid chunks!
Rub the chicken in the oil mixed with the minced garlic, oregano, and chopped culantro (this is a long-leaved relative to cilantro – if you can’t find it, double the amount of cilantro to substitute), and chop into sections, bone in.
Throw it in a large pot on medium heat to sweat while you chop the vegetables into no less than one-inch chunks, leaving the potatoes whole. Not only does this make it a hearty safari to eat – it allows it to boil in anger and reheated without turning to mush.
Now toss in the onion before adding the stock and those vegetables. The sweet corn in Panama is more starchy and less sweet than you might be used to. If you use regular sweet corn and the carrots, it’ll be too sweet.
Cover it with water, bring to the boil, and let simmer. Adding water if it gets too low, boiling back down if it gets too runny. You’ll know when it’s ready. Chicken tender and yucca soft enough to stab with a fork.
Serve with rice straight away, or leave to infuse the flavors in the pot for a morning brunch tomorrow.
You can adapt and change many of the ingredients to your own taste, using any starchy vegetable or any meat. As a national dish enjoyed with friends and family, I’m sure many will criticize my version.
But it is darn good and it does its job! And if you really want to upset the locals – add a dash of Tabasco to your bowl! Yum!