Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Hmm Smells like Home…It Really Does!

I am not sure if I should either be proud or embarrassed to say it. Ok, Ok, I will say it. Despite of my late initiation, I am too happy to not share my joy:  “I made “Sancocho de Gallina!”  =) =)  Well, you’re probably wondering what the big deal is right? What is that anyway?   Ha, ha.  Let me explain.  This delicious “Hen Stew/Soup” is one, if not the most typical dish served in the region I am from in Colombia: Valle del Cauca.  Actually, this is a very popular dish whose aroma often fills many kitchens and hearts across Central, South-America and the Caribbean.  However, the recipe varies according to the country.  In Colombia specifically, the recipe varies depending on the region as well.  It can be done with different meats, beef, fish, etc.  But in Valle del Cauca, Sancocho is made with hen, thus the name.  

Our first "Sancochito" ..Mind you, portions are served normally 3 times this size in Colombia. We just left it up to our guests if they wanted seconds. So Yummy! =)

Of course the most common question I get when I say this is:  so “What’s the difference between a hen and chicken?  I actually had to look it up, as I really didn’t think about it as they always looked different when I saw mom cooking it at home.  Basically, a hen is an older female chicken old enough to lay eggs.  Hens are normally fed differently from chickens as they’re not raised to be sold massively like chickens.  That’s the reason they’re bigger, their meat tastes different and has a different texture.


The rest of the goodies. Sancochos are normally served with rice, aji and patacon pisao. I made small tostadas and served ropa vieja, frijoles and maduritos instead. YUMMO!

So, if you ever are a tourist in the South west region of Colombia make sure that you try this soup.  Actually the most popular small town in the area to try the best “Sancocho” is Ginebra, Valle del Cauca. -Try the link to get a taste of some of its looks and idiosyncrasies and how Colombia folk music sounds like.  ;)  If you ever go, promise you’ll have a blast seeing this picturesque destination with its dozens of restaurants decorated in all the colors and styles that you can imagine.  From modern to deeply traditional they all try to talk your emotional language to lure you in and try their Sancocho.  One good thing, you can’t go wrong. They’re all good!  I know this is already on my destination list next time we visit home with my new family. Hopefully soon! =)

The men couldn't wait to jump to the feast! ..Specially Garrick! =)

Yummy mommie, do they have Sancocho Yogurt? =)

Now, you probably also wondered why would I be embarrassed right?  Well, because this is actually the first time that I made it, and coming from a home where cooking was such a big deal, I kind of had a late initiation on the cooking trade.  I know it took me longer than usual to actually get the baton.  I’m pretty sure most Colombian females get the first Sancocho under their belt waaay before I did (Not guessing of my age here ok!).  =P Actually I think that making Sancocho, is one of those rituals that families pass from one generation to another.  I really don’t know why that transition was not completed in my family earlier.  Maybe I had a hidden trauma from the first time I saw mom in action making one?  And I mean cooking, including the very beginning which includes the chasing, killing and feather plucking of the animal! -That’s how it’s done in the country areas of Colombia. =o0 Anyway, now I laugh about it, but at that time I was terrified!  But I have to admit that I really don’t think that is what held me from doing it.  Actually now I wish my HOA would let me have some chickens.  Sancochos made with free range hens are actually the best.  It’s said that they’re fed specially to give their meat a special flavor.  Even though I don’t think I would ever get the same flavor Colombian free range hens, aka, “Gallinas Criollas” have. Even if I get it to be bilingual!  I would never be able to feed them with the foods they can get in Colombia. Neither will I be able to surround them with the views and aromas that they can only enjoy while being in the small towns that blossom like flowers all over the Andes.

Going thru the dishes and explaining what was what..

Making tostadas...pictures are courtesy of my friend Katie from "A Couple of dreamers"..isn't she good? You should check her blog out! it's really good! =)

You can also get Sancocho de Gallina in the cities, but the experience will probably be, I guess, more sophisticated. Nonetheless, if you don’t ever get to go, don’t fret.  If you keep in touch and are good to us, you can always get it at our house.. We love having friends over!  There are a lot of beautiful stories that make up the collage of memories surrounding the cooking of this soup among Hispanic households and gatherings:  From mischievous children giving grandpa a hard time while “mama” cooks, to little kids helping mom to peel the garlic cloves, from making the cooking a whole family affair by the side of the river on an improvised "Fogon" or cooking bon-fire made with rocks and coals, to the grandma that would not allow anybody else in the kitchen..(Chuckles..)  So many fragrant memories! Even though it took me a while to actually try the recipe on my own, I was delighted by not only reminiscing my own family collage, but also by putting the first picture in the one we are currently working on. I hope well get to impregnate many of those pictures with the smell of home.
.the one that resides overseas, but in our heart from the past and the one that we are building now.

Now, if you read my story all the way to here, let me tell you that I like you very much. So as a token of my appreciation I am going to share the recipe with you. It’s really not difficult. So, if you ever want to bring the Colombian gastronomy to your kitchen and family memories, give it a try.  Let me know how it goes.  Enjoy!

(From the Bushes Kitchen and my mom’s heart)


12 cups of water
1 fresh big Hen (Easier to get on Hispanic Markets. You may have to skin it and cut it in pieces at home)
2 cubes of chicken stock or replace 4 cups of water with chicken broth
2 big green plantains, peeled and cut into .3 to 2 inch pieces . (The thicker their skin the better, I like to cut them into .3 inch pieces)
1 fresh peeled yucca, cut in 2 inch pieces
3 ears fresh corn cut into 3 pieces
6 medium size potatoes (peeled and cut in thirds)
½ cup of fresh coarsely chopped cilantro
1 bunch of culantro
1 bunch of green onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Hogao or sofrito with no tomato, achiote, tumeric or saffron (See recipe below)


1.      In a large pot, place the hen, with 2 green onion sticks. Add water and salt and cook on low-    med heat until water is about to start boiling (Approx 40 min)
2.      Add plantains and let cook for 10 minutes
3.      Add potatoes, yucca, corn and culantro and let it cook for another 30 minutes (I tie a bit    of  thread to the culantro to get it out of the soup when it’s done)
4.      Add Hogao, lower heat and let it simmer for another 30 min.
5.      Taste and adjust the seasoning
6.      Add the cilantro 5 minutes before serving
7.      Add slices of avocado and serve with white rice as a side.
8.      Sancochos are normally served with “Aji” which is a type of Colombian chili. I truly love it!


Hogao is a basic Colombian condiment and it varies from home to home. You can experiment with the quantities and adding or leaving off ingredients until you make it your own. I normally use saffron or turmeric but some people substitute with Sazon Goya. I don’t as I try to avoid additives. However, I don’t use any of the three for Sancocho as I like to keep the color more greenish than reddish. So for Sancocho,  in lieu of those I add 2 finely chopped sticks of green onion. Ok here it goes:

2 medium onion, finely chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 green pepper (about 1/3 cup finely chopped)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tbs of Cumin
1 tbs azafran, turmeric or Achiote (saffron)
Salt and pepper to taste

Just heat the oil on a medium size skillet. Add all the ingredients and cook over medium heat until all the ingredients are soft and fragrant. Some people add chopped cilantro and pepper, but I don’t. Remove from heat and let cool. Hogao can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.


  1. It was yummy! Thanks for sharing that little piece of home with us! :)

  2. So glad you liked it!..We also had a great time! Hope to make many more kitchen memories together!..did you see your blog featured? =)

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