What’s Cooking in…Panama

By Sandra Scott
This item appears on page 28 of the August 2020 issue.
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Chef Nicolas Preger at work. Photos by Sandra Scott

I am just becoming comfortable traveling solo since my husband, John, passed away. He and I usually traveled independently, never doing group travel for more than day trips. In January 2020 I spent a week on my own in Panama City, Panama. I had been to Panama several years before but had not stayed in the city.

I was able to use frequent-flyer miles to fly from Syracuse, New York, to Panama, which was an important factor in my decision to visit. Also, I have a credit card with InterContinental Hotels & Resorts and could use my points for a stay.

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Chef Nicolas Preger at work. Photos by Sandra Scott

I am just becoming comfortable traveling solo since my husband, John, passed away. He and I usually traveled independently, never doing group travel for more than day trips. In January 2020 I spent a week on my own in Panama City, Panama. I had been to Panama several years before but had not stayed in the city.

I was able to use frequent-flyer miles to fly from Syracuse, New York, to Panama, which was an important factor in my decision to visit. Also, I have a credit card with InterContinental Hotels & Resorts and could use my points for a stay.

I opted to stay at Club level at the InterContinental Miramar Panama (Miramar Plaza, Balboa Ave., Panama City, 5, Panama; phone +507 07 2068888 or, in the US, 888/695-4678, ihg.com). I had an Executive Room. Depending on the season and day of the week, it can cost $300 per night.

Chicken being sautéed.

Club level included internet access and breakfast as well as evening cocktails with hors d’oeuvres, which often was enough to serve as my evening meal. Club level worked for me because most of the people were businesspeople traveling alone. There were a few people to chat with, and being alone was the norm, so I was very comfortable.

I always like to attend folkloric shows in the countries I visit. The InterContinental had a folkloric evening with a buffet dinner of traditional Panamanian food plus dancing. Perfect for me!

At the buffet, I noticed that the longest line of people was where they were ladling out the soup. I was told it was Sancocho, the national dish of Panama.

When I was having breakfast the next morning in the Club InterContinental Lounge, Nicolas Preger, Executive Sous Chef, stopped by to make sure all was right with the breakfast buffet, so I asked him about the soup.

He said it was the best medicine — it is even said to cure a hangover — and no celebration is considered complete without it. He told me it is best at large family gatherings when it is cooked outdoors over an open fire.

Chef Nicolas said Sancocho is easy to make, and he showed me how.

Sandra Scott can be reached by email at sanscott@gmail.com.

Sancocho

1 tbsp oil
1 white onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tbsp fresh oregano (2 tsp. dried)
4 tbsp culantro, chopped (Culantro is not the same as cilantro, which, if substituted, should include the stems)
1 whole chicken, with the skin removed but not the bones, cut into 2-inch pieces
6 cups water
3 pounds yuca, peeled and cubed
3 tsp salt (to taste)
1 tsp black pepper

In a large pot, sauté the onion and garlic in oil until onion is transparent. Add oregano and culantro and sauté for a few more seconds. Add chicken and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add water and bring to a boil. Skim off any blood that may rise to the top. Reduce heat to medium, add yuca and simmer for another 20 minutes. (It is common to add 2-inch slices of corn on the cob; if using, add them to the pot with the yuca.) Add salt and pepper to taste before serving.

The soup is even more tasty the following day, and it freezes well.


The soup cooking.
Sancocho ready to serve.
Modern Panama City as seen from the Club InterContinental Lounge in the InterContinental Miramar Panama.
Chef Nicolas Preger ready to make Sancocho.
A dancer in the folkloric show at the InterContinental Miramar Panama.