Recipe by Lisa Kear
Written by Isabelle Banin
Sancocho de pollo is the heart and soul of the Panamanian kitchen in Lisa Kear’s childhood.
When Lisa was raised by her grandmother, aunt and uncle in Panama, she learned to make this hearty chicken stew from her uncle, whom she calls her dad. He was also el jefe, the boss, of any kind of sancocho made in their house, including this beloved version.
Almost every Saturday morning, Lisa’s dad would prepare a sancocho, which he nicknamed “sancho,” for lunch, with a side of steamed rice and sometimes habanero hot sauce to spice things up. Saturday was the day their family would go to the market early in the morning and return with fresh produce.
He would usually add four different kinds of roots—yuca, ñame, ñame morado, and otoe (the Panamanian name for malanga)—and always used the entire chicken, head and claws included. Lisa remembers how her grandparents never even filleted fish, since they viewed leaving any part of the fish or any animal behind as a waste. While she never did take to eating the chicken head or claws, she misses the variety of roots that her family had access to in their native Panama.
Lisa created this recipe to honor her father’s sancocho, with the aim that it would be as traditionally Panamanian as possible, while keeping in mind ingredients that are readily available in American grocery stores. For example, Lisa prefers to use deboned chicken breast when she cooks this stew today, but sometimes goes for chicken with bones to add nutrition and healthy collagen to her dish.
An important ingredient in Panamanian sancocho is whole corn on the cob, which is usually not seen in U.S. stews. Her father liked to make his sancocho with maiz viejo—older corn— since it was tougher than fresh corn and would not overcook during the long stewing process. Lisa also remembers him using the less sweet, white corn variety popular in Panama. She notes that in American grocery stores, usually only new corn is available, but white corn can often be found in various specialty grocery stores or in the frozen section.
Today, if it’s Saturday, you’re likely to find Lisa in her cocina in Knoxville making sancocho. Or if it’s a cold winter day. Or if someone in her family is feeling under the weather. That’s what makes this recipe sancocho de pollo such a go-to and well-rounded dish, she says. Any time of year, it’s hearty, healthy, comforting—and delicious.
If you like this traditional dish, check out Lisa’s other authentic Panamanian recipes, including: her family-famous beef empanadas, her Familia Kitchen Recipe Contest-winning Panamanian flan, her sweet guava-and-cheese empanadas, her Panamanian pollo guisado (stewed chicken) with spaghetti, and her amazing handmade Panamanian corn tortillas.
Ready to Make Lisa’s Authentic Panamanian Sancocho de Pollo?
Sancocho photo by Michelle Ezratty Murphy