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What's Chicken Asopao? It Depends On Which Puerto Rican Cook You Ask

Linda Cicero, Cook's Corner

April 13, 2003
Copyright © 2003
THE MIAMI HERALD. All rights reserved. 

Coming up with a single recipe for the Puerto Rican dish known as asopao is not a simple thing. L. R. of Easton, Pa., asked readers to help her make it for her husband, who missed his Puerto Rican grandmother's cooking. She described asopao as ''much more like a soup than dishes like arroz con pollo,'' and said it had ``chicken, rice, cheese and many other ingredients.''

Yvonne T. Cruz wrote, ''My Mom used to make it. The real asopao has a very extensive list of ingredients, but authentic asopao does not contain cheese.'' She recommends Cocina Criolla by Carmen Valldejuli (Pelican, $24) for those who want to learn more about Puerto Rican cooking. (The English-language Puerto Rican Cookery is available from the same author and publisher.)

On the other hand, Maria Clemente says her mother made her asopao with cubes of queso blanco tossed with chopped cilantro and pimiento. ``It was basically a stewed chicken cooked until it fell from the bones, then she cooked rice in the broth and added peas, ladled the chicken on top, and then the cheese.''

Of course, if someone were to ask for a definitive recipe for meatloaf or marinara sauce, it would be just as difficult. A section on food and drink at the Puerto Rico tourism board website ( explains in that ``soups are a popular beginning for meals in Puerto Rico or a full meal by themselves such as the sopón de pollo con arroz (chicken soup with rice), sopón de pescado (fish soup) or sopón de garbanzos con patas de cerdo (chickpea soup with pig's feet). . . Not really a soup, one of the most traditional of dishes is the asopao, a hearty gumbo made with fish or chicken.

``Every Puerto Rican chef has his own recipe for asopao. Asopao de pollo might take a whole chicken, which is flavored with spices such as garlic, paprika and oregano as well as with salt pork, cured ham, green peppers, chili peppers, onions, tomatoes, chorizos and pimientos. For a final touch, green peas or asparagus might be added. One well-known version, consumed when the food budget runs low, is asopao de gandules (pigeon peas).''

The following recipe is primarily from C.M. of North Miami, but I incorporated some of the tips and ingredients suggested by other readers. In Hispanic markets you can find adobo, a commercial blend of salt, pepper, turmeric and often garlic, that could be used in place of the individual seasonings.


Asopao of Chicken

1 whole chicken, cut up

1 bay leaf

Salt and pepper

1 heaping teaspoon turmeric

1/2 cup cubed ham

1 6-inch chorizo sausage, sliced thin (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, minced

1 onion, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 hot chile (optional)

1 1Ú2 cups uncooked rice

1 teaspoon capers

1/4 cup pimiento-stuffed green olives

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (optional)

Place the chicken in a large pot, cover with 4 cups water and add bay leaf, salt and pepper to taste and turmeric. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, add the ham and chorizo and cook, covered, until chicken is very tender, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, make a sofrito: Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet; add the garlic, onion, tomato, green pepper and chile and cook until onion is lightly browned.

Remove chicken from broth and set aside. If desired, skin and bones may be removed from chicken. Add the prepared sofrito and the rice to the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, until rice is tender, about 25 minutes.

Return chicken to the pot and heat through. Toss in the capers, olives and cilantro and serve. Makes 6 servings.

Per serving: 722 calories (50 percent from fat), 39.9 g fat (10.9 g saturated, 17.6 g monounsaturated), 169 mg cholesterol, 44.2 g protein, 43.2 g carbohydrates, 1.7 g fiber, 449 mg sodium.

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