This is goooooood. Finger-licking good. Comfort food good. Warm my toes from the nasty weather good. Grow hair on your bare chest good. Well, I don't need that. And I don't have any nasty weather, I am in The Caribbean. ;-) But it's still goodness to the last spoonful.
Here is my infamous (as in the 8 people who have tried it love it) concoction I call Sancochao. It's sorta like a Sancocho, but instead of doing the usual Sancocho & White Rice combo, I add rice to the Sancocho-like soup and turn it into an Asopao. A Sancocho Asopao of sorts. Not only do I save time by not making rice, but also I think it adds to the yum and hearty factor. You can call it Sancocho, Asopao, Sancochao, Asococho. Call it whatever you want. But the point is, it's delicious.
To my friends who are currently freezing their butts off up north, whose body parts are cracking and falling off from the cold, whose jobs and classes have been canceled due to the frigid temperatures, whose heating bills are about to hit an all time high, listen to me when I say... HAHAHAHA!!! Make fun of me coming back to PR? Who's laughing now? Huh? Ha! Thought so! Oh, sorry. What I meant was, I'm urging you to try to cook a pot of this and you will be sending me money just to thank me. If you don't have malanga, yautia, yuca, and all those other tubers we easily find in PR, use winter vegetables like different squashes, turnips, rutabagas, potatoes, or whatever else you find. It works exactly the same. If in a city, you might find frozen tropical roots and tubers in the freezer section.
Our cast of characters starts with a beautifully - if I do say so myself - diced and chopped array of veggies and meats. Cut these whatever size you want, just be as uniform as possible to make sure they cook evenly. I cut most of them pretty small because I like bite size pieces and my goal is to get some to almost become purees and help thicken the Sancochao. But if you want to see them all when it's finished, I suggest you cut them a bit larger.
Let's not make fun of the Country Crock bowls. I was cooking at my dad's apartment and let's just say his tupperware/plastic storage solutions, well, are limited. Besides, you're not Puerto Rican unless you have some sort of margarine bowl you use as tupperware. Next time I'll make sure to use the "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" bowl.
Back to the ingredients... from top left to right we have: Calabaza (Caribbean Pumpkin), Potatoes, Corn, & Pork. Middle row we have Yautia Lila (Purple Taro), Italian/Frying Pepper, Malanga Lila, & Beef. Bottom row we have Panapen (Breadfruit), Yellow Onion, Carrots, & Jamón de Cocinar (Cooking Ham).
We also had a supporting cast of the ingredients above, as well as some not pictured: Tomato Sauce, Adobo, and Abuela's Sofrito. Sadly, I used up the last of Abuela's Sofrito. She recently passed away so I was feeling a little melancholy. But it's all good. Life goes on...
Get the biggest pot you can or do what I did, divide into two pots. Why two pots? Because I want to brown my meat and slowly saute my veggies. If the pan does not have enough room, it will basically steam up and prevent me from getting the caramelization and browning (more flavor) that I am looking for.
Get your pot/pots nice and sizzling hot and add some oil. When they're nice and hot add your choice of protein - I used beef and pork here. Feel free to use chicken (I was going to use some but got lazy and didn't want to debone it.), turkey, buffalo, kangaroo, crocodile, whatever's handy. Oh, and feel free to leave proteins out of this. Just as good without. But if I give my dad a Vegetarian Asopao he might disinherit me. And we don't want that, do we?
DO NOT overcrowd the pan. Again, you want to brown the meat. Overcrowding will create steam/moisture, which will inhibit the browning. If you must, divide the meat and do this step in a few batches. Here's the pork being browned.
Here's the pork after I flip it over.
Not MUCH color here, but good enough. Once browned, remove and set aside. Now do the same with your other protein, in my case the beef. Do not worry about the seemingly burnt bits on the bottom of the pan. This is where the flavor is boys and girls. Here's the beef before and after browning.
Once all your meat is nice and brown, take it out. See those bits of brown goodness?
That is called FOND and they're a great base of flavor when cooking proteins. Drain the fat and let's start add mirepoix (onions, Italian frying peppers instead of celery, and carrots). Start with the onions over medium heat and let them absorb all the brown goodness from the pan. Add some salt for flavor and to help draw out excess the onion's moisture.
Then add your peppers and carrots. Let them caramelize a bit as well. If you're adding Sofrito & Recaito, here's the place to do it. I use a wooden spoon here to help the veggies pick up the fond and brown bits by scraping the bottom of the pot with the spoon.
Next I add the tomato sauce here and let it brown a bit as well, helping bring out some sweetness from the tomatoes. Followed by the meat. Oh, and the Jamón de Cocinar (ham) I forgot to brown earlier along with the meat. Oops. Stir it all together.
Oh, see the bones? They're good not only for flavor, but for their natural gelatin which will assist in thickening the soup once it's done. Finally I add all the remainder cast members, including the chicken broth/stock/water. Mix it all together and bring it to a boil.
Once it boils check for seasoning and add salt if needed. Once it boils, lower a bit and keep it at a simmer (slow boil). Eventually you'll see a scum-like layer of, well, scum floating on the top. You want to skim this out. Use a ladle or large spoon. To make it easier, put your pot half on and half off the burner. One side will continue boiling, pushing the "scum" to one side, which will make it easier to skim off.
Now comes the part where I "thicken" the soup using the most dangerous method of all: the potato masher. ;-)
I simply plunge it into the pot and carefully smash some of the veggies and chickpeas. Their starch will help thicken the soup with no need for a slurry. At this point you can add the rice if you're using it and continue to boil slowly until the rice is cooked and the veggies are tender. I also add the Calabaza towards the end because it cooks quickly and I don't want it to be super mushy.
Towards the end you may get another film of scum or grease. Skim this off as well. It's just a way to make your soup look and taste cleaner and better.
Hopefully you'll end up with some clean looking soup.
Add some green for freshness. This is Italian Parsley. I wanted Cilantro but the 475 lbs of it I had to buy was not really necessary, so I got the parsley instead. Add the parsley, stir, and maybe you'll end up with something that kind of resembles my pot of goodness.
So what goes well with this? Besides some crusty bread?
Um... some friggin' TOSTONES DE PAPA!!!
Yes, Breadfruit Tostones. Plantain tostones should be fine. But dad had some Panapen Tostones that are sold ready for the last frying so why not? Seriously, can anything be better than Tostones de Pana? Um. No.
So fry up some Tostones de Pana, fill up a bowl of this Sancocho/Asopao concoction and forget about your troubles. Then pass out.
Sancochao, it's hearty, filling, easy to make, delicious, and nutritious. So get to it. If you dare. ¡Buen provecho!