I’ve been making pollo guisado for close to 30 years now. Like most people who grew up eating pollo guisado, I equate its flavor and aroma with comfort. For me, the taste of its garlicky, aromatic sauce surrounding tender chicken reminds me of trips to Brooklyn and the Bronx to visit family when the military took us too far away. Back then, and even now that I’m an adult, I prepare pollo guisado for dinner at least once a month.
What Is Pollo Guisado?
Popular in Latin American countries, pollo guisado (literally “chicken stew” in Spanish) is a savory dish made from a whole, cut-up chicken that’s been marinated in a garlicky paste for at least an hour (preferably longer) before stewing in a rich, culantro and tomato-based sauce. This version, in particular, has a surprise element from the Dominican Republic―brown sugar―but it’s very much a Puerto Rican recipe since, well, I’m Puerto Rican.
Pollo guisado has a prominent onion and garlicky flavor, toned down by floury potatoes and the light acidity of tomato sauce. A finish of parsley, which is not a typical herb used in Puerto Rican cooking, brightens up the earthy flavors in the dish just before it’s served. Unlike stews in the U.S., pollo guisado has minimal vegetables and is always served with steamed white rice. Even so, the added bonus of this recipe is how easy it is to tweak based on what you have in the kitchen.
My mother taught me to make pollo guisado when I was a pre-teen because it was a dish that could feed many people depending on how you cut the chicken. It was the dish she prepared most often for her and her seven siblings. Ours being a middle-class family of five, stretching meals was a must.
A Basic Recipe With Countless Variations
This is one of those recipes that is handed down within families. As a result, each family has a different way of cooking it. The basic recipe is simple: chicken seasoned with garlic and oregano, simmered in water, tomato sauce, onions, potatoes, and salt (or adobo) to taste.
What I like most about pollo guisado is how “go-with-the-flow” it is. You don’t have carrots? That’s okay. Leave them out. Need to get rid of some peas? Throw a cup of them into this stew at the end of cooking. Though the original recipe is usually made with onions, potatoes, and chicken, you can add to it plenty of vegetables, aromatics, or herbs to make it uniquely yours.
Tips and Tricks
- To cut down on prep time, pick up a cut-up chicken from your meat section. When you get home, cut the breasts in half across their width. Breast pieces come pretty large, so cutting them in half stretches the pollo guisado.
- Marinating your chicken for at least an hour ensures your pollo guisado is flavorful. I plan ahead for this recipe by marinating the chicken as soon as I bring it home from the grocery store. After marinating, I wrap and freeze it for up to 6 months. Whenever I want to make pollo guisado, the meat only needs to thaw in the fridge overnight, and it’s ready to jump in the pot.
- The brown sugar in this recipe is a popular addition in the Dominican version of pollo guisado. It adds a small bit of color and a bit of caramelization.
- Have you ever tried to remove the skin from a chicken wing? Not fun. That’s why I leave the skin on in this recipe. You can skin the larger pieces of chicken before marinating it if you have a chicken skin aversion, though.
- Look for sazón packets, spice jars of adobo con pimienta, and jars of recaito in the Latin American aisle.
Ingredient Swaps and Substitutions
- Add 1 cup of diced kabocha squash.
- Replace the russet potatoes with equal amounts of boniato (batata), 2 cups of peeled and cut yuca, or 2 large green plantains, peeled and sliced.
- Omit the carrots from this recipe or replace them with 1 pound of baby carrots (just leave them whole).
- You can make pollo guisado with boneless skinless chicken breasts and thighs. Just use the same weight (3 to 3 1/2 pounds). Cut the breast in half across their width, but leave the thighs whole. You’ll also need to reduce the first cooking time to 15 minutes instead of 20.
What To Serve With Pollo Guisado
Pollo guisado is unlike stew in the States in that it’s never served on its own in a bowl. Serve your pollo guisado over steamed white or brown rice. We usually eat it with stewed beans, few slices of ripe avocado, and maybe tostones if I’m feeling fancy.
Explore The World of Braised Chicken
- Fesenjan (Persian Chicken and Walnut Stew)
- African Chicken Peanut Stew
- Chicken Cacciatore
- Guyanese Chicken Curry
- Cà Ri Gà (Vietnamese Chicken Curry)
Marinate the chicken:
Begin by mashing together the garlic, salt, oregano, and peppercorns in a mortar and pestle (pilon) or blending it until smooth in a small food processor. Stir in the lime juice to create a thick paste.
Add this mixture to a large mixing bowl, followed by the pieces of chicken. Rub the marinade into the chicken, ensuring it’s covered completely. Cover the bowl and refrigerate the chicken for 1 to 12 hours. The longer the chicken marinates, the more flavorful the guisado will be.
Simmer the chicken:
In a 6-quart Dutch oven or caldero, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the brown sugar to the oil in the pot and stir it to dissolve it. After 1 1/2 minutes, the sugar will turn a light brown and begin to bubble up. Quickly add the marinated chicken to the pot, tossing it to coat it in the sugar. Next, add the chicken stock, onions, bay leaves, sazón, and adobo. Bring the liquid in the pot up to a boil, stirring once after the liquid starts to boil.
Cover the pot and reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow the chicken to simmer for 20 minutes.
Add the potatoes, carrots, recaito, tomato sauce, olives, and capers:
Stir to incorporate these ingredients and allow the liquid in the pot to come back up to a simmer. Cover the pot and allow the guisado to simmer until the potatoes and carrots are slightly tender, about 20 minutes.
Reduce the sauce slightly:
Uncover the pot and stir the guisado. Increase the heat to medium-high and allow the liquid to come to a rapid boil. Boil the liquid, stirring the guisado frequently to keep the chicken from sticking to the bottom of the pot, to reduce the sauce slightly, about 10 minutes.
Turn the stove off and remove, then discard, the bay leaves. Stir the parsley or cilantro into the pollo guisado just before serving over steamed white rice.
Allow leftover pollo guisado to cool before transferring it to a food storage container. Refrigerate for up to 3 days.
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