Colombian Chicken Stew with Potato and Corn on the Cob (Ajiaco Bogotáno)
“Knee-high by the Fourth of July,” or so the old corn farming adage goes.
Growing up in the upper Midwest, where there are only a handful of months in which farmers could plant, cultivate and harvest, you quickly learn — and learn to anticipate — when each of these precious few crops is ready and at its peak. Here in the south, the lines blur as the growing season is twice that of my former home, if not more.
Still, no matter how quickly the stalks rise skyward, the first ears of ripe sweet corn in our kitchen will always signal it’s truly the height of summer. And this year, our corn is homegrown! A deliciously successful garden experiment.
Being that the heat and humidity practically shout that it is high season, you may be thinking, stew?! I love a good chilled gazpacho (this refreshed us twice earlier in the month), but for me, warm and cozy bowls of stews and soups are equally as satisfying any time of the year. Besides, there’s science behind heating to cool.
This recipe is inspired by a one-pot Colombian stew called ajiaco. As is often the case with regional dishes of note, there are probably as many variations as there are families, but ajiaco Bogotáno — in the style of the capital Bogotá — traditionally features poached chicken in a hearty broth, capers, potatoes, a native herb called guascas, and rounds of corn on the cob. Fresh cilantro, avocado, and sour cream or pouring cream are often served as accompaniments.
For my version the base is homemade chicken bone stock; though, corn cob stock would really drive home the flavor. If you can find the little yellow Colombian papas criolla potatoes + the dried herb called guascas — be thankful for a bountiful selection and use those. If, like us, you cannot, Yukon Golds or other yellow potatoes and dried or fresh oregano do nicely. As for the corn, experiment with whatever varieties you like best. Sweet summer ears freshly picked are incredible, but those cob portions from the freezer section work just as well.
What’s in it for me?
Potatoes and corn are quite often unfairly villainized in the nutrition world. Yes, both have high proportions of natural sugars + starches, but there is more to these vegetables than many of us know. (Technically speaking, corn kernels are classified as a whole grain; not a vegetable — surprise!)
The humble potato contains more than 10% of your daily fiber, 20% of your vitamin B6 + 17% of antioxidant vitamin C. Potatoes are also a source of prebiotics (the food for “good” probiotic bacteria), and beats bananas as a source of potassium — a mineral that can offset some of the negative effects of sodium. If you use a yellow-fleshed potato, expect additional antioxidant boosts from beta-carotene and alpha-carotene (both vitamin A precursors), plus lutein and zeaxanthin.
DYK that each cob of corn has an average of 800 juicy-sweet kernels? Half of 1 ear (the amount per serving in this recipe) provides roughly 10% of your daily needs for niacin (B3), phosphorous, vitamin B6, with just under 10% of your thiamin (B1), magnesium, immune-boosting zinc and brain-healthy choline. Corn is also surprisingly rich in antioxidants, and these particular phytochemicals are broken down more slowly than others, meaning extended benefits in the body.
For only 1 gram fat and 46 calories per ounce, chicken breast is a great source of high-quality lean protein (roughly 26 g per 3-oz serving). Chicken breast is also an excellent source of vitamin B6 and niacin, as well as phosphorous and antioxidant selenium, and is a good source of riboflavin (B2), zinc and choline. (A strangely similar nutrient profile to corn, wouldn’t you say?)
Sulfur from onion and garlic promotes synthesis of glutathione — a powerful antioxidant critical in controlling inflammation and boosting your immune system. Oregano is being studied for its potential to slow or prevent the progression of cancer cells in breast cancer patients, and is known for natural anti-bacterial properties. Among the herbs highest in antioxidants, oregano is also a source of vitamin K.
Homemade stock is low in calories, fat and sodium, is another good source of the B vitamin niacin, and offers small amounts of phosphorous, potassium, and copper. Stock is naturally hydrating and can help replenish depleted stores of electrolytes. Furthermore, research suggests that it may serve as a mild anti-inflammatory.
At the height of summer, when yellow, white and bi-color sweet corn is plentiful, a bowl of this rich, yet light ajiaco Bogotáno is a unique and beautiful showcase. If hot soup in July is wrong, I don’t want to be right!
Tell me… Do you eat or drink hot/spicy things in summer to cool down?
- 4 cups homemade or low-/no-sodium chicken, veg or corn stock (see HGN Notes)
- 1 cup water
- 1 lb raw boneless skinless chicken breast, OR roughly 3/4 lb (12 oz) cooked chicken breast, shredded
- 1/2 cup sliced white onion
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 small yellow-fleshed potatoes such as Yukon Gold or Papas Criolla (otherwise use red potatoes), peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, covered with water in a bowl
- 2 small ears of corn (5 to 6 inches long), husks and silk removed, cut into 1-inch rings
- 1 tsp dried oregano or dried guascas (or 1 Tbsp fresh oregano, minced)
- 1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped or left whole, to garnish
- 4 Tbsp capers, undrained
- In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, add the stock, water, chicken, onion and garlic. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer gently, for 30 minutes. (If foam forms on the top, skim away and discard.) Remove the chicken pieces to a cutting board to cool for about 5 minutes. Use two forks or your fingers to shred the meat; set aside.
- Meanwhile, increase the heat to medium-high and add the potatoes and corn to the pot; cook at a light boil for 15 to 20 minutes. Add half of the oregano (or guascas) and stir. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, or until the liquid is slightly thickened from the starches in the potatoes and corn. Add the remaining half of the oregano (or guascas), then taste and add salt and pepper as needed.
- Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Serve with separate bowls containing the shredded chicken, cilantro, capers, and any other desired garnishes, for guests to add to their own tastes.
HGN recipe for homemade corn stock: http://buff.ly/2tDlaeY.
+ Use any yellow-fleshed potato here, or experiment with different colors like red-, purple- or blue-fleshed varieties!
+ Yellow corn seems to be traditional in this stew, but I'm partial to white sweet corn, and hope to try it soon... and bi-color would be pretty!
+ Make it vegetarian by using veg or corn stock + tofu, tempeh, chickpeas or other beans in place of the chicken breast.
+ Be authentic and serve with chunks of avocado + pouring cream to garnish.
Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine.
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