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Lisa’s Pollo Guisado with Spaghetti from Panama

Of my earliest memories of eating my mom’s Panamanian dishes, I remember her pollo guisado—stewed chicken. My mother, Lisa, grew up with a world of flavors in Panama, and this traditional dish reflects that variety: it has sazón, a habanero chile, spaghetti, paprika, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. She proudly describes the cultural magnitude of her native Panama by saying, “One country divided, the world united.” This motto stems from the presence of Panama Canal, which brings so many global cultures to the nation.

When my mom came to the States, she brought this rich stew of culture with her—though her love of cooking. For more of my mom’s cooking, try her amazing Beef Empanadas From Panama, submitted by my sister, Mary-Elizabeth.

Pollo guisado translates to stewed chicken. Although my mom likes her stew served with rice as the carb, her mother and grandmother preferred it with spaghetti-style pasta. I also remember an instance of food “code-switching” when I first learned that spaghetti pasta is typically used for American-Italian spaghetti in the United States.

For this recipe, Mom and I followed Abuelita’s preferences and used pasta! For the chicken, my mom’s approach is to use chicken on the bone since it has more flavor. But if you are unaware of how to properly clean and cut chicken (like me), you can also buy pre-cut, boneless chicken breast, which also works.

One fall Sunday during this pandemic, my mom and I made this dish together over FaceTime. We did everything across two screens in each of our homes: from heating our pan, cutting the vegetables and cleaning the kitchen while the stew simmered.

FaceTiming with Mom and making this comforting dish together was a fun way to connect with her even though we don’t live near each other. Although we were physically apart, it still felt like we were cooking together in the same space and having dinner, just like old times.

Lisa’s Panamanian Pollo Guisado with Spaghetti

Recipe by Sarah Kear Cuisine: Panamanian
Servings

6

servings
Prep time

20

minutes
Cooking time

1

hour 

15

minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs 2 chicken

  • 1 Tbsp 1 grapeseed oil

  • Marinade
  • 2 Tbsp 2 white vinegar

  • 2 Tbsp 2 soy sauce

  • 2 Tbsp 2 Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 packet 1 sazón with culantro and achiote

  • salt to taste

  • pepper to taste

  • The Sauce
  • 1 1 onion, diced

  • 1 cup 1 celery, diced

  • 4 cloves 4 garlic

  • 5 5 ajíes dulces or sweet peppers, chopped

  • 1 Tbsp 1 tomato paste

  • 8 oz 8 tomato sauce

  • 1 cup 1 water

  • 1 packet 1 sazón culantro and achiote

  • 1/4 cup 1/4 olives stuffed with red peppers, sliced

  • 2 2 bay leaves

  • 1/2 Tbsp 1/2 oregano

  • 1/2 Tbsp 1/2 turmeric

  • 1/2 Tbsp 1/2 paprika

  • 1 1 habanero pepper

  • Putting It All Together
  • 1 lb 1 pasta (spaghetti)

Directions

  • Prepare the chicken: Mix the chicken with the marinade ingredients. Set aside in a bowl and let the chicken marinate for one hour.
  • While the chicken marinates, dice the onion, celery, garlic and ajíes dulces.
  • When the marinated chicken is ready, heat a shallow pan to medium heat and add the grapeseed oil. Add the chicken and pan-fry. When the chicken is golden brown on each side, set aside in a glass baking dish.
  • In the same shallow pan where you cooked the chicken, add the diced onion and celery. Add a smidge more oil, if needed.
  • Saute the onion and celery for 5 to 7 minutes at medium to medium-high heat until softened.
  • Now add the garlic and ajíes dulces and saute. Once you can smell the aroma of garlic and ajíes dulces, add the tomato paste. Let the tomato paste cook until it browns.
  • Once the paste is browned, add the chicken, tomato sauce, sazón packet and water. (The amount of water should equal the amount of tomato sauce used.)
  • Add the olives, bay leaves, oregano, paprika, turmeric and the whole habanero to the sauce. If the sauce is not too salty, add a dash of olive juice.
  • Bring the chicken and sauce to a boil on medium high, then bring the heat down to low. Let it simmer for 30 minutes to an hour.
  • Meanwhile, prepare the spaghetti in boiling water in a separate pot. When ready, drain and set aside.
  • When the chicken and sauce are done simmering, add the pasta to the pan. Stir them together and mix well.
  • Serve and enjoy this Panamanian traditional dish loved by four generations of my family!

Notes

  • Using bone-in chicken provides more flavor, according to my Mom! Traditionally, Abuelita raised her own chickens so it was cut up into pieces and cooked that way, mixing dark and light meat.
marinated chicken
Marinate the chicken for one hour before adding to your stew.
Facetiming with Mom as we both cook her pollo guisado.
FaceTiming with Mom as we both cook her pollo guisado—apart but together.
A typical Panamanian lunch: pollo guisado, with two sides: rice with gandules and ripe plantains.
Lisa, center, with daughter Sarah and Mary-Elizabeth Kear
My mom, Lisa, with me, at left, and my sister Mary-Elizabeth, right.

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Suggestions and questions from our readers

  1. I continue my mom’s tradition as well with her Panamanian recipes as well. I have all her recipes which I keep close to my ❤️