This Creamy, Saucy Chicken Stew Is for Cilantro-Lovers (Like Me!)

updated May 5, 2021
Kitchn Love Letters
Seco de Manok

This extra-saucy chicken dish is a twist on seco de pollo, a zesty, rich Peruvian cilantro-based stew.

Serves6 to 8

Prep10 minutes

Cook50 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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seco de pollo on a brown dish over rice
Credit: Brittany Conerly

If I had to make a gratitude list, cilantro would land somewhere between dogs and wireless bras — both of which I hold very dear to my heart. People think I’m exaggerating when I say I’m obsessed with cilantro, but I’m seriously two herb bunches away from getting an inner lip tattoo of the word. I often thank the universe that I wasn’t born with the soap-tasting cilantro gene. Cilantro sprinkled over noodles? Great! Speckled in a bowl of pico de gallo? Wonderful! Blitzed into green goddess dressing? Pour it all on me!

Luckily for me, I married into a Peruvian family that loves cilantro just as much I do, which is how I was introduced to seco de pollo, which might be my favorite way to eat the herb. Seco is a zesty, rich Peruvian cilantro-based stew that can be made with chicken, beef, or duck, just to name a few. The word seco (which means “dry” in Spanish) refers to the cooking method of reducing the sauce until its thick and intensely flavorful. It’s often made with peas and carrots and served over garlic-infused arroz blanco, a Latin-style white rice. 

Over the years, my in-laws have lovingly prepared seco de pollo for our many weekend family dinners, meals that have helped me deal with my occasional homesickness. I was born, raised, and still live in New York, but my parents now split their time between the Philippines and Thailand. Several years ago, they made the difficult decision to retire back home in Asia because they could no longer afford to live in America. When they moved, a major part of my “heart home” left with them. Although I’m grateful for our infrequent reunions, I sometimes long for that warm heart home feeling. Sharing meals with my husband, Leo, and his family have provided that warmth, especially after traveling, when all I crave is the comfort of home.

Credit: Brittany Connerly

My New “Welcome Back Home Meal”

When I was growing up, my family had a tradition we called the “Welcome Back Home Meal,” which was when we’d cook a family member’s favorite dish after they returned from a long trip. My favorites were any sour tamarind-based soup, like Filipino pork sinigang or oxtail soup, served with freshly steamed white rice. I didn’t realize how important that practice was for me until I no longer had it. That’s when my sweet husband took it upon himself to continue the tradition.

While I was away on an extended work trip, Leo decided to surprise me and figured that seco de pollo would make a great Welcome Back Home Meal. He was right. The bold, tart, deep flavors were reminiscent of my family’s sour soups and satisfied my comfort cravings. My only request: I needed way more cilantro sauce.

Leo was happy to accommodate as he, too, is a sucker for cilantro. His simple adjustment was to multiply the sauce ingredients in his family’s recipe. Then one day, I decided to add a little Filipino and Thai flair by stirring in some coconut milk. This creamy addition beautifully rounded out the dish’s bright acidity and left us smiling from ear to ear. A new dish was born: seco de manok (“manok” is the Tagalog word for chicken).

Credit: Jen Phanomrat

Making and Serving Seco de Manok 

There are many flavor similarities between our beloved cuisines, so Leo and I have fun combining traditional dishes from each other’s cultures. Our seco de manok includes Peruvian aji amarillo, a slightly fruity, mildly spicy yellow pepper. You can find it jarred whole, as a paste, or frozen. We prefer jarred or frozen, but if you can only find the paste, start with a little bit and adjust to taste. Keep in mind that it’s already seasoned with salt. We also sometimes swap it with Thai bird’s eye chili, so if you have a hard time sourcing aji amarillo, feel free to experiment with other types of peppers. It’s even delicious with roasted yellow or orange sweet peppers and some fresh jalapeño — throw in the seeds if you’d like some heat.

The perfect carrier for this saucy goodness is Leo’s arroz blanco. Because I grew up in an Asian household, where an electric rice cooker always had warm rice at the ready, I found it challenging to cook rice on the stovetop. I would often say to Leo, “How do you get it so perfect every time?” because I could never match the effortless fluff of his rice. He would explain that the secret was covering the pot with a towel-wrapped lid at the end of the cooking time. I dismissed it as one of his superstitious quirks until we watched Samin Nosrat’s mother do the same thing with her tahdig in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat. He leapt from the couch, pointing at the screen shouting, “You see! I told you the towel does something!”

I’m sorry I ever doubted him, but now I’m happy I no longer make mushy stovetop rice, and that our cross-cultural attempts in the kitchen allow us to embrace and find comfort in our roots. Especially cilantro roots.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.

Seco de Manok

This extra-saucy chicken dish is a twist on seco de pollo, a zesty, rich Peruvian cilantro-based stew.

Prep time 10 minutes

Cook time 50 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the rice:

  • 3 cloves

    garlic

  • 3 cups

    long-grain white rice

  • 2 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 4 cups

    water

For the sauce:

  • 1

    large bunch fresh cilantro

  • 2 to 3

    medium limes

  • 4

    fresh, frozen, or jarred whole Peruvian aji amarillo peppers

  • 1/2 cup

    water

  • 10 cloves

    garlic

  • 3 tablespoons

    olive oil

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    ground cumin

  • 1 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground black pepper

For the stew:

  • 1

    large yellow onion

  • 1

    large carrot

  • 3 pounds

    bone-in chicken thighs

  • Olive oil

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 3/4 cup

    full-fat canned unsweetened coconut milk

  • 1/4 cup

    frozen peas

Instructions

Make the rice:

  1. Mince 3 garlic cloves. Rinse 3 cups long-grain white rinse in a fine-mesh strainer until the water is relatively clear. Drain well.

  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add the garlic and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and cook until the garlic begins to brown. Add the rice and 4 cups water and stir to combine. Cover and bring to a boil.

  3. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook covered until the rice is tender, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat. Uncover, wrap a clean kitchen towel around the lid, and cover the pot again. Let the rice rest for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, make the sauce.

Make the sauce:

  1. Prepare the following, placing them in a blender or food processor fitted with the blade attachment: Pick 4 loosely packed cups fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems. Squeeze the juice from 2 to 3 medium limes until you have 1/4 cup. Stem and seed 4 fresh amarillo peppers if needed, otherwise add directly into the blender.

  2. Add 1/2 cup water, 10 garlic cloves, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Process until well combined.

Make the stew:

  1. Peel and thinly slice 1 large yellow onion and 1 large carrot crosswise into rounds.

  2. Pat dry 3 pounds chicken thighs dry with paper towels. Season with kosher salt and black pepper. Heat a small drizzle of olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Working in batches if needed so as not to crowd the pot, add the chicken skin-side down and sear until browned. Transfer to a plate.

  3. Remove all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Add the onion to the pot, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened. Uncover and return the chicken and any accumulated juices to the pot skin-side up. Pour the blended sauce over the chicken. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is cooked through, 6 to 8 minutes.

  4. Uncover and add 3/4 cup coconut milk and the carrots. Simmer uncovered until the carrots are tender and the sauce has slightly reduced, about 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup frozen peas and cook until heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Serve the stew over the rice.

Recipe Notes

Using aji amarillo paste: 3 tablespoons jarred aji amarillo paste can be substituted for the fresh or jarred whole peppers.

Make ahead: The rice can be made up to 1 day ahead and refrigerated. Reheat in the microwave.

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