Pollo en salsa de coco, or chicken with coconut sauce, is one of the most popular popular dishes of Colombian cuisine.
Gastronomy has always been one of the best vehicles through which a culture is known. The dishes of each country show, through the colors, the aromas and flavors, the different characters of a people and its history. Let’s not forget that the best meetings are held at the table and that alliances and friendships are formed quickly while “breaking bread”.
Colombia has a very rich culinary tradition of which the mixture of colors and dish presentations is truly unique, just like the country, where you can really feel places and peoples very different from each other, but with a strong and indisputable common identity.
Colombian gastronomy is an exciting blend of colorful cuisine and character, with indigenous roots and Spanish and African influences. It is characterized by a varied and immense biodiversity that is defined by the crossroads between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
Today, I am sharing a typical Colombian recipe that has its origins in the Colombian Caribbean, specifically in Cartagena de Indias, a Unesco World Heritage site.
Cartagena is Colombia’s main tourist destination and one of the most active in the Caribbean region due to its favorable geographical location in a bay surrounded by islands and lagoons. Its history is rich as it has been the main port of the continent during the Spanish Colonial period.
“Barriga llena, corazón contento” (“When the belly is full, the heart is happy”)! This is a leitmotif of Costeños, the inhabitants of the Caribbean Coast in Colombia, known for their epicureanism and their joie de vivre.
As the most important port in South America, Cartagena was therefore the gateway to the New World that historians have called the “Key of India”. Cartagena de Indias was predestined to occupy a prominent place in history. Its strategic importance allowed intense exchanges with the outside world in the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The gastronomy of this Colombian Caribbean region has traveled through a path of flavors, colors and techniques resulting from the blending of Spanish, indigenous, African and Arabic cuisines. The influence of Arab cuisine, certainly strange in Colombian cuisine, originated in the migrations that affected the northern coast of the country, between 1850 and 1950: Arab Jewish migration in small groups, which quickly settled on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
What are the typical dishes from Cartagena?
The range of tropical fruits is amazing and, beyond papayas, mangos, mamoncillos, passion fruits and other delights, you will find the coconut that perfumes our dish today.
Pollo en salsa de coco is a typical Colombian recipe. These are pieces of chicken, with or without skin and bone, stewed with coconut milk, and spices, which vary according to taste and availability. In this dish, you should not miss the white onion and the red pepper. For a more golden color, it is possible to enrich the mixture of spices like achiote, saffron or even turmeric. For my part, I chose the finesse of saffron.
The taste of coconut milk is not too sweet as it is creamy and delicate. If you want to intensify the taste of coconut, you can enrich the cooking sauce with coconut, all flavored with cilantro, cumin, mustard seeds and … vanilla!
For the original recipe of the pollo en salsa de coco, it is possible, in order to obtain a more intense coconut taste, to prepare the coconut milk immediately before starting the recipe.
How to make homemade coconut milk?
It is possible and very simple to prepare coconut milk, either with fresh coconut pulp or desiccated coconut.
If you use desiccated coconut, you will need 1 lb of coconut for 1 cup of water.
Place the grated dehydrated coconut in a bowl and cover with hot, non-boiling water. Mix with a hand blender and let stand for half an hour. Finally filter to keep all the liquid.
If you use fresh coconut pulp, you will need ½ lb of pulp and 2 cups of water.
Grate the coconut pulp finely and mix it with slightly heated water. Let stand for 1 hour, then filter the mixture.
Coconut milk is a dense and nutritious natural drink that can be consumed by anyone looking for an alternative to cow’s milk or those who have chosen to follow a diet without animal ingredients or those with lactose intolerance.
Coconut milk is also used for the preparation of many bread doughs, such as coco bread from Jamaica.
In savory recipes, coconut milk goes perfectly with spices such as curry and saffron.
Pollo en salsa de coco is a delicate dish, perfumed at will and very simple to make. Enjoy the delicious lightness of Colombian cuisine!
- 1 lb chicken (breast or thighs)
- 1 cup tomato puree (or crushed tomatoes)
- ½ red bell pepper , diced
- 1 large onion , diced
- 2 cloves garlic , crushed
- 1 cup coconut milk
- ½ vanilla bean (or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract)
- ½ teaspoon mustard seeds , ground
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- A few thread of saffron , diluted in 2 tablespoons of hot water
- Cilantro (for garnishing)
- Olive oil
- White rice
- Fried plantains
- Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat.
- Place the chicken and cook for a few minutes or until golden brown on all sides.
- Remove chicken from pan and set aside.
- Add onions, garlic and red pepper to the pan.
- Cook, stirring occasionally for a few minutes.
Add tomatoes, coconut milk, cumin, mustard seeds and saffron and cook, stirring constantly for 4 to 5 minutes.
- Return chicken to the pan.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low, add vanilla, cover and simmer for about 20 minutes or until chicken is tender.
- Add salt and pepper.
- Stir in chopped cilantro and serve hot with white rice and/or fried plantains.