Recipe: Colombian Chicken and Potato Soup (Ajiaco)

updated Feb 3, 2020
Colombian Ajiaco (Chicken and Potato Soup)
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(Image credit: Sara Kate Gillingham)

Around the World in 30 Soups: This month we’re collaborating with chefs, cookbook authors, and our own Kitchn crew to share a globetrotting adventure in soups from countries and cuisines around the world. Today’s stop: Colombia.

This amazingly flavorful soup comes from the kitchen table of Sara Kate, one of Kitchn’s founders, passed to her by a Colombian friend who shared the secret ingredient of this traditional soup. For some of us here, this was our first taste of authentic Colombian cuisine and we can’t recommend it highly enough.

Many years ago, I had a memorably boisterous dinner in the upstate home of a Colombian friend, surrounded by snow and filled with light. It was a blustery winter night and she served a huge clay pot of Ajiaco, a traditional Colombian chicken soup. There was something different about this soup, so I asked if there was a secret ingredient. Indeed, there was one flourish: an herb called guascas that imparts a deep grassy flavor essential to an authentic bowl of Ajiaco.

You’ll find guascas in most Andean cultures, though it is most common in the Colombian kitchen and is considered essential to a good pot of Ajiaco. Turns out it’s also a very common weed in the United States, known as quickweed or galinsoga, and it grows abundantly in vegetable gardens — and even in places you might not expect.

“The herb actually grows wild in New York’s Central Park, though no one really uses it here,” said Felipe Donnelly, executive chef and owner of Colonia Verde and Comparti in Brooklyn. “But I grew up drinking Ajiaco and craving it constantly. It’s a perfect winter soup.”

The broth for this soup grows deep in flavor first by cooking the chicken, then the potatoes, then simmering the broth with corn and a bunch of cilantro and green onions tied up like aromatics. Between the guascas, corn (on the cob when possible) and a trio of potatoes and you have a veritable celebration of the Andes in one warm bowl.

Colombian Ajiaco (Chicken and Potato Soup)

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 2

    bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 pounds total)

  • 1

    large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

  • 5 cloves

    garlic, coarsely chopped

  • 1 tablespoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 tablespoon

    freshly ground black pepper

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 4 cups

    low-sodium chicken broth

  • 1 1/2 pounds

    mixed potatoes (red, Yukon Gold, and russets), peeled and cut into bite-size chunks

  • 2 to 3 ears

    fresh corn, cut crosswise into quarters, or 1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels

  • 1 bunch

    cilantro, with stems, washed very well and tied with kitchen twine

  • 1

    bunch green onions, washed and tied with kitchen twine

  • 2 tablespoons

    dried guascas

Toppings:

  • 2

    avocados, pitted, peeled and thinly sliced

  • 1/2 cup

    crema Mexicana, sour cream or crème fraîche

  • 1/2 cup

    chopped cilantro leaves

  • 2 tablespoons

    drained capers, chopped

Instructions

  1. Place the chicken, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper in a baking dish and toss to combine. Cover and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.

  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy 4-quart lidded pot, like the Chambaware pot or a Dutch oven, over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the chicken with its marinating bits and brown each side, about 6 minutes total. Pour in the broth and raise the heat to high. When the mixture boils, lower the heat to medium-low, then cover and simmer until the chicken is tender, about 30 minutes.

  3. Transfer the chicken to a platter, reserving the cooking liquid in the pot. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the chicken and discard. Cut or tear the chicken breasts into bite-size strips and discard the bones.

  4. Place the potatoes in the pot with the leftover cooking liquid and set over medium heat. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes.

  5. Add the corn, the bunch of scallions, the bunch of cilantro, and the guascas. Simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender but not overcooked. Remove the cilantro and scallions and return the shredded chicken to the pot. Simmer another few minutes until the chicken is warmed through. Ladle the soup into individual bowls and place the toppings on the table to be passed around.

Recipe Notes

Buying guascas: Most Latin-American markets carry guascas, under the Kiska or El Rey brand. You can also find it online at stores like Amigo Foods, TIFCO and even Amazon. If you can't track down guascas, substitute dried oregano.

Storage: Leftovers can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days.