• Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings

In Esmeralda Santiago's family, asopao is often the meal after the meal. Her mother, Ramona Santiago, usually makes this soup after everything else has been eaten, the Christmas dishes have been washed, and leftovers have been divided and stored in plastic so that everyone can take a bit of the Christmas meal home. As guests begin to leave the party, Mami offers the asopao. This happens every time the family gathers, not just during Navidades, but it's at Christmas when it's most appreciated, as we prepare to battle the cold and snow of life away from Puerto Rico.


  • 4 tablespoons sofrito (recipe below)

  • 1 tablespoon vinegar

  • Adobo (recipe below)

  • a 3- to 4-pound chicken, washed, rinsed in lemon juice, dried, and cut up

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil achiote (recipe below)

  • 1/2 cup white wine

  • 1/2 cup tomato sauce

  • 1/2 cup rice

  • 7 cups water

  • 1 tablespoon capers

  • 1 tablespoon Spanish olives, chopped

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt


  • 1 onion, peeled

  • 1 medium green bell pepper, seeded

  • 3 sweet chili peppers, seeded

  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro

  • 4 cloves garlic

  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano


  • 4 cloves garlic

  • 1 teaspoon peppercorns

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika


  • 1 cup cooking oil

  • 2 tablespoons annatto seeds


1. Add 1 tablespoon of the sofrito with the vinegar to the adobo mixture in a bowl and blend well. Rub the mixture over the chicken pieces. Let marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, preferably overnight.

2. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil achiote. Add remaining 3 tablespoons sofrito. Cook for 2 minutes.

3. Add chicken. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently to ensure that all the pieces of chicken are seasoned. Continue cooking a few minutes more until the chicken is opaque.

4. Add the white wine and tomato sauce and stir well, then add the rice, water, capers, olives, bay leaves, oregano, and salt. Return the mixture to a boil, then lower heat and simmer, covered, 20 to 25 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Whir all ingredients for the sofrito in a blender until chopped. Store in the refrigerator in a tight-lidded container.

Grind all the ingredients together in a mortar and pestle to make a paste.

In a cast-iron or heavy skillet, heat 1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil. When very hot, add annatto seeds. Turn heat to low, continue cooking, stirring frequently, for approximately 5 minutes, until oil is a rich orange-red color. Allow to cool, then strain into a clean glass container. Set aside.

Variation: Add 2 cups (1/2 pound) walnut or pecan pieces to the batter.

From Las Christmas: Favorite Latino Authors Share Their Holiday Memories, edited by Esmeralda Santiago and Joie Davidow.