Chef María Mercedes Grubb’s Asopao de Pollo

Chef María Mercedes Grubb’s Asopao de Pollo

My name is Maria Mercedes Grubb, and I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. My parents were part of a huge wave of Dominicans that moved to the island in the 70’s. My grandmother had a food stall in a small town in the Dominican Republic, and my parents earned a living with a hot dog cart in our hood. So I’m a third generation cook. 

I moved to NYC after high school and fell in love with food, new foods, not just Caribbean cuisine. I attended the French Culinary Institute—now the International Culinary Center—and worked for top restaurants like The Modern and Pastis. 

I moved back to Puerto Rico because my son was diagnosed with severe autism and my grueling double shifts were too much for my husband to handle alone. My family is in Puerto Rico. 

I started a supper club with my brother called Underground Dining Club. That progressed into a restaurant called Gallo Negro. We had years of success and accolades but it was very hard for us to recover after Hurricane Maria and in December 2020 it was closed. Since then I've been doing consulting, popups and private cheffing.

What is Asopao de Pollo?

Asopao de pollo is a Caribbean dish that consists of our sofrito, rice, annatto and/or tomato paste, and bite sized pieces of chicken. It is an ultimate comfort food dish, one of those you bust out on a rainy day or after a hurricane. Although it might be considered an easy preparation, it’s one of those where people argue about who has the best version. For me, it might be a bit blurred as my mom’s has a few differences as it has a Dominican versus Puerto Rican influence.

What Makes This Asopao de Pollo Unique

My asopao is different from most common versions all the way from the sofrito base. Every home has a way of preparing theirs and mine is influenced by my Dominican heritage. The other ingredients in my recipe, like the saffron and the harissa, are influenced by my time in NYC kitchens where I learnt so much about international ingredients. 

The harissa feels like a great substitute to tomato paste and is a delicious twist. It adds a sense of depth to the dish. I suggest harissa on the mildest side of the spectrum. Believe it or not, most boricuas are not into spicy food. Lately I’ve been really into the preserved lemon harissa by NY Shuk.  

How to Serve Asopao de Pollo

Serve asopao de pollo with a slice of avocado and tostones made out of green plantains or breadfruit. A bottle of pique, aka Puerto Rican hot sauce made with vinegar and spicy chiles, should be at the table. This soup pairs very well with a light beer. Or if you’re “fancy,” like my mom accuses me of being, a glass of godello wine will do very fine.

“All I can say is WOW! This soup was incredibly delicious. I especially loved how the green plantains formed simple, yet perfect dumplings! The saffron, coconut milk, and harissa paste infused deep, rich flavors. The lime lent a bright note to the soup, while the avocado added creaminess. I’ll definitely make this again.” —Diana Andrews

Chef Maria Grubb's Asopao de Pollo/Tester Image A Note From Our Recipe Tester

Ingredients

For the Chicken Stock:

  • 2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs

  • 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered

  • 1 medium lemon, halved

  • 5 cloves garlic, smashed

  • 2 tablespoons coriander seed

  • 2 dried bay leaves

  • 4 tarragon or parsley stems

  • 5 leaves culantro (recao) or stems from 1 bunch cilantro

  • 12 cups chicken broth

For the Sofrito:

  • 6 leaves culantro (recao) or the stems from 1 medium bunch fresh cilantro

  • 5 seeded ají dulce peppers, or mini sweet peppers

  • 1/2 medium seeded Cubanelle pepper

  • 5 cloves garlic

  • 1/2 medium celery stalk

  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

For the Asopao:

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil

  • 3 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 teaspoon mild harissa paste

  • 5 saffron threads

  • 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt, more as needed

  • 1/2 cup canned coconut milk

  • 1 medium green plantain

  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 cup raw long grain white rice

  • 2 medium scallions, thinly sliced

To Garnish:

  • 1 large avocado, thinly sliced

  • Lime wedges

  • Tarragon and/or cilantro leaves, optional

  • Olive oil, for drizzling

Steps to Make It

Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this Asopao de Pollo is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation.

Make the Chicken Stock

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    chicken stock ingredients gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. Cut the bones from the chicken thighs and add them to a large Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot. If the chicken thighs have skin, remove and discard, or save them for another purpose.

    chicken bones in large pot with meat on cutting board

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  3. Cut the chicken thighs into bite-size pieces. Set aside.

    chicken thigh meat cut into bite size pieces on cutting board

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  4. Add the onion, lemon, garlic, coriander, bay leaves, tarragon or parsley stems, culantro, and chicken broth to the pot with the chicken bones. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes.

    stock ingredients in pot

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  5. Strain the stock through a fine mesh strainer, discarding the strainer's contents. Set the stock aside.

    finished stock in large pot with solid ingredients in strainer

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Make the Sofrito

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    sofrito ingredients gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. Add the culantro (or cilantro stems), ají dulce peppers, Cubanelle pepper, garlic, celery, oil, and oregano to a blender or food processor.

    sofrito ingredients in bowl of food processor

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  3. Pulse, then process on high until the ingredients are puréed. Set aside.

    blended sofrito in bowl of food processor

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Make the Asopao

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    asopao ingredients gathered

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  2. Add the coconut oil to large Dutch oven or other heavy-duty pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the garlic, harissa, saffron, salt, and the sofrito. Sauté, stirring constantly until the mixture begins to soften and become fragrant, about 2 minutes.

    aromatics in pot over heat for asopao

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  3. Add the reserved chicken meat and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly caramelized, about 5 minutes.

    chicken meat added to pot

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  4. Add the coconut milk and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot.

    coconut milk added to chicken mixture in pot for asopao de pollo

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  5. Add the reserved chicken stock and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to low, and continue simmering, covered, while you make the plantain dumplings (bolitas).

    chicken stock added to pot to simmer

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  6. Remove and discard the peel from the plantain. Cut the plantain into 3 to 4 large crosswise pieces. Transfer to a food processor with 1/2 teaspoon salt, garlic powder, and pepper.

    peeled plantain and other spices add to bowl of food processor

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  7. Pulse, then process the plantain mixture, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally, until a smooth paste forms. Alternatively, grate the plantains on the small holes of a box grater or with a microplane.

    pureed plantain mixture in bowl of food processor

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  8. With damp hands, form dumplings, about 1-inch in diameter. Transfer the dumplings to the soup. Raise the heat to medium and continue to cook, uncovered, gently stirring occasionally until the dumplings float to the surface. Continue to cook until the dumplings begin to soften, about 10 minutes.

    round plantain dumplings in soup pot

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  9. Add the rice and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the rice and bolitas are tender, 15 to 20 minutes more. Adjust the seasoning of the soup with salt to taste.

    rice added to pot of asopao de pollo

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  10. Stir in the scallions and continue to cook until they begin to soften, about 1 minute more.

    scallions added to pot of asopao de pollo

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

  11. Divide the soup between bowls, garnish as desired, and serve.

    asopao de pollo in bowls with garnishes of lime and avocado slices

    The Spruce Eats / Diana Chistruga

Recipe Tip

If you’ve never deboned chicken thighs before, don’t worry! The process is actually quite easy.

Make Ahead

  • The chicken stock can be made up to 5 days ahead of time.
  • The sofrito can be made up to 3 days ahead of time. If it sits much longer its fresh flavor will start to deteriorate.

Recipe Variations

The cubanelle and aji dulce are an important part of Caribbean sofrito. However, you can substitute with a mix of hot and sweet peppers like poblano, jalapeño, and bell pepper. Let your palate and imagination flow!

How to Store

Refrigerate leftover asopao in airtight containers for up to 5 days.

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