As most everyone knows, New York’s winter has been especially brutal this year. Subzero temperatures, weekly snowstorms, blustery gray days that blend into one another… it feels like winter will never end.

My husband’s friend Will is a Nuyorican who has lived in Albany for many years. He’s helped us out of many a jam, not the least of which has been digging us out of every snowstorm.

After the last storm, I gratefully asked Will what I could make to repay him. He immediately answered, “Sancocho!”

I wasn’t even sure what it was. But after a little investigation, I learned that sancocho is another ubiquitous culinary term: most countries in and near the Caribbean have their own version. (Peru’s sancochado is a soup – not quite the same.)

Some cite sancocho’s origin as the Canary Islands: slaves brought to the Caribbean by the Spanish brought the dish (originally made with fish) along with them. Others elaborate, asserting that African slaves set a pot of sancocho to simmer in the morning, so they would have a hearty stew to sustain themselves after toiling in the scorching heat. (It also alludes to the individuals themselves, boiling under the hot sun.) Still others credit the indigenous Taino peoples with introducing the Spanish to their root vegetable stew.

Like most food history, things have a tendency to get muddled over time. There’s surely truth in each version.

But it is important to remember – especially now, in honor of Black History Month – that each Latin American country’s cuisine was not created by only indigenous and Spanish food cultures. African slaves prepared, influenced – and truly, invented – many dishes for the viceroy and upper class households. This vastly influenced the mainstream cuisine of many countries. African contribution to Latin American cuisine simply cannot be overstated.

Will says his family always used oxtails – which is usually used in the Colombian version – and included tomatoes. This version, based on Will’s family recipe, is a meat-heavy stew, full of earthy roots, sweet squash, and of course, sofrito.

Sofrito is a central ingredient in sancocho. Every Latin American culture has at least one version of sofrito. (Truly, almost every food culture has a similar culinary staple: a mix of aromatic vegetables which form the foundation of a dish’s flavor. Think pre-cooked, Latin American mirepoix. (Recaíto, a cilantro-based sofrito, is usually used for Puerto Rican sancocho.)

When I asked Will if his family’s recipe was traditional, he said that each family had its own version; but added: “Does it taste good? Then it’s traditional.” Truer words were never said!

It was such a hit, I’ve made it three more times in the last month! I can’t think of a more satisfying comfort food for this frigid weather – or for a loyal friend.

Sancocho
Servings Prep Time
8people 30minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Servings Prep Time
8people 30minutes
Cook Time
1.5hours
Ingredients
Browning meat:
  • 2packets Goya Sazon seasoning
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1pound oxtails or beef shin bones
  • 1pound beef short ribs
  • 1pound beef neck bones
  • 2pounds beef eye or top round,cubed
  • 1 ham hock
Stew base:
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1large yellow onionmedium dice
  • 10cloves garlicminced
  • 1medium green peppermedium dice
  • 1/2can tomato paste(6 oz.)
  • 1pint Sofritofresh or frozen Goya
  • 2quarts beef stock
  • 1 1/2 quarts water
  • 1packet Goya Jamon seasoning
  • 1tsp. Goya Adobo seasoning
  • 1tsp. achiote, ground
Vegetables:
  • 4medium yellow potatoespeeled and quartered
  • 1large sweet potatopeeled and quartered
  • 1pound yucca,frozen, defrosted, strings removed
  • 1large batata (yam)peeled and quartered
  • 1large plantain,cut in quarter width-wise
  • 1 pound butternut squashfresh or frozen, large dice
  • 2whole corn cobs,cut in thirds width-wise
  • 1bunch cilantrochopped
  • salt and black pepperto taste
Instructions
Mise en place:
  1. Gather / measure all ingredients.
Browning Meats:
  1. Sprinkle meats with the two Sazon packets and ½ tsp. black pepper. Heat oil in a very large, heavy-bottomed stockpot, over medium-high heat. Brown meats, starting with the fattiest meats (oxtail / shin bones, neck bones, then boneless diced meat). Lightly brown pork bone. Remove meat from pot with slotted spoon.
Base:
  1. Lower heat to medium. Add onions to oil; sauté until transparent (3-4 minutes). Add garlic; sauté 2-3 minutes. Add green pepper; sauté until soft (3-4 more minutes).
  2. Add tomato paste; sauté until paste darkens and has a distinctive, rich aroma (pincé), about 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add liquids; deglaze pot. Add sofrito; stir. Bring liquid to a boil, then add meats and pork bone to the broth.
  4. Turn heat back down to medium; partially cover (but allow some steam to escape). Simmer meat for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Check that all meats are tender. (They do not need to be completely fork tender, since the stew will continue to cook. But if they are still firm, continue to cook. Check every 10 minutes until meats are just starting to become fork tender (fork will penetrate meat, but will not sink all the way through with no effort).
  6. Remove cover. Add all vegetables except butternut squash, corn, and cilantro. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Check that all starches are fork tender. If not, continue to cook until they are tender; but be careful not to overcook, or they will disintegrate.
  8. Add squash and corn; cook 7-10 more minutes, until squash is tender and corn is done. (Be careful not to overcook squash, or it will fall apart).
  9. Taste the sancocho. Add Adobo, salt, and/or black pepper to taste, if desired. Stir in cilantro. Remove from heat and serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

You can find Goya (and other) brand sofrito, recaíto, and yucca (cassava) in most grocery stores.

Goya frozen sofrito has a very strong oregano flavor and aroma.

If using recaíto instead of sofrito, omit the tomato paste.

You can substitute 1 can yellow hominy (rinsed) or 1 cup frozen and defrosted corn nibs for the cobs, if desired.