You’ll find Colombia, where the mountain chain’s northern end reaches to within miles of both the Pacific and the Caribbean. Here the cuisine celebrates the broad availability of goods from the mountains (potatoes), the temperate valleys (corn, peas and bell peppers) and the tropical plains (annatto seeds and, of course, the coconut). Combine these ingredients, among others, in a luscious stew and you have Cazuela de Pollo y Coco, a soup favored in Colombia and, as this journal’s interest demonstrates, elsewhere.
“Cazuela” is Spanish for “cooking pot” or “casserole,” and it applies to any number of South American stews, hearty with all manner of goodness. Originally, this was going to be a Chilean cazuela, until a site named My Colombian Recipes captured the imagination with its version from the continent’s northern coast. Ultimately, it was the coconut, the coco, that sealed the deal and inspired the journey across a continent. Maybe next time, Chile.
Not only does the coconut milk add an unmistakable tropical flair, but its mildly sweet silkiness smoothly unifies a potful – literally – of ingredients. Corn, cilantro, fresh peas and red peppers contribute vibrant garden notes, while the potatoes add a textured substance.
Then there’s the chicken, both the broth which carries all these ingredients, as well as the bird itself. It infuses the soup with a richness, while taking on the medley of flavors surrounding it. Chicken thighs are well-suited to this purpose, as they have a nicer, more succulent flavor then does any other cut.
Before leaving, a word about an ingredient that contributes not flavor, but color – lots of it. A mere half-thimbleful of annatto seeds is ground and added to the pot, which gives the soup its deep yellow tones. In fact, annatto seeds serve Latin American cooks the same way that saffron does the Spanish. While saffron sometimes is used in South American cooking, annatto usually is favored as a purely “local” option.
Meanwhile, Colombia’s cazuela offers a culinary and geographical tour of the continent, from towering peaks to the emerald flatlands belw. Each bite offers a variety of tastes, elevations and topographies, as befits a land where the jungle climbs the Andes.
Cazuela de Pollo y Coco
(Colombian Chicken and Coconut Soup)
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onions (*1)
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 2 scallions, chopped
- 1 large carrot, peeled and shredded
- 1/4 teaspoon groung cumin
- 1/4 teaspoon ground annatto seeds (*2)
- 2 large yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
- 4 cups chicken stock
- 2 large chicken breasts, coarsely diced (*3)
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 ears of corn, cut into pieces or kernels
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup peas
- salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
- fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped, to garnish
Place a stockpot over a medium flame and melt the butter. Add the onions, bell pepper, scallions, carrots, cumin and annatto seeds. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they soften, about five minutes.
Add the potatoes, chicken, tomato paste and stock, then increase the flame to medium-high to bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partly covered, for 25 minutes.
Add the corn and coconut milk, and continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Add the cream and peas and cook for another five minutes. Salt and pepper to taste, ladle into individual bowls, garnish with cilantro and serve.
1 – Of course, you know what I’m going to suggest. 1 large shallot fills in perfectly.
2 – If you can’t find annatto seeds, use a pinch of saffron. Or, you can skip it altogether without diminishing the taste, though the color won’t be as striking. We eat first with our eyes, right?
3 – As mentioned in the intro, chicken thighs are a better, tastier choice. Five thighs are equal to two large breasts. Honestly, that wasn’t intended to sound…