Panamanian beef stew, made with natural ingredients, is simply delicious. Panamanian food is your tried and true comfort food beef stew with a Latin American twist! Learn how to make this stew with homemade sofrito and recaito for a spicy authentic flavor. The dish also reheats well for a quick meal.
Why it’s traditional
This Latin American recipe is a staple in most homes. The flavors explode in your mouth. The simple ingredients work together as in a symphony to produce a fabulous concert of aromas and flavors that will have your mouth watering all the while the stew is cooking. This was one of my favorite things to eat as a child, and every time I cook it for my family a flood of memories come back. Make it, eat it, and let me know how you like it. And if you can, use the homemade sofrito and recaito.
Here are some key tips on making a great Panamanian beef stew. You don’t need and expensive cut of beef. In the recipe I mention sirloin but any inexpensive cut will work. My local store carries packs of stew beef and those work wonderful. Getting the onions into the pot and soften them with a little heat comes first. Then you want to add the beef and get a nice brown caramelization on it for more flavor. Think “stir fry” beef after the onions are soft and you get those nice brown bits of flavor into the dish.
Step by step photos:
- Gather all your ingredients before you start the dish and have them measured, chopped and ready to go.
- Heat a soup pot on medium heat, add the olive oil and onion. Cook the onion until translucent, stirring frequently.
- Add the beef and stir fry until brown on all sides.
- Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, paprika, jalapeño, cumin, celery, carrots and the potatoes. Cook covered for about 5 minutes until the potatoes and carrots are soft.
- Turn the heat to low. Pour in the water and then add the tied bunch of cilantro.
- Add the sofrito and recaito. Cover and cook for about 1 hour on low until the beef is fork tender. Serve over rice or with a crusty bread.
Tips for your stew
- After the beef has browned nicely you can add in the other vegetables along with the salt and pepper and get them soft. Once they are soft you are ready to simmer.
- Add the water and simmer until the potatoes and carrots are fully cooked.
- This dish is great reheated but I would avoid freezing it with the potatoes. Defrosted potato tends to have an unpleasant texture or may fall apart completely.
- If you remove the potatoes before freezing you would have a much better result when you are going to serve again.
Frequently asked questions:
- How long can I store the stew? You can store in the refrigerator for 2 or 3 days and reheat in the microwave for a quick and easy meal.
- Can I freeze the stew? No, since this soup contains whole pieces of potato they will get very mushy once thawed. If you want to remove the potatoes and freeze without them you can store in airtight containers for 4-6 months. For single servings, freeze portions in a muffin tin and pop out the frozen rounds and store in freezer bags. You can add in some cooked potato chunks after the stew is reheated.
- What kind of potatoes should I use for this dish? Soups and stew that have chunks of potato in them work better if you use a potato that has a waxy skin. Waxy potatoes stay firm in soups and stews, the other types get mushy. For example, Russets get mushy but are great for a pureed soup or mashed potatoes.
Flavors in Panamanian Beef Stew
What really gives this beef stew slow cooked is the unique Latin flavor are the recaito and sofrito. I have step by step instructions on how to make them both and freeze into cubes. If you keep these on hand you will be able to use the cubes in many Latin dishes. One of my favorite quick and easy dishes that uses both are Latin style black beans you serve over rice.
If you want to venture into trying some other tasty ethnic type soups and stews here are a couple more I think you will enjoy. You can bookmark these for later reference or pin them on Pinterest.
Vietnamese bo sot vang is a beef stew with some truly amazing flavors that I have never had in any stew I have ever eaten. This is a must try recipe. One classic dish I love to make during winter is French cassoulet with it’s hearty beans, pork, sausage and aromatic herb flavors. If you want something on the spicy side then try this lamb rogan josh from the Kashmir region on the North of India. For Saint Patrick’s Day I always have to serve this Guinness Beef stew that my family loves! Let me know how you like these if you try them.
Panamanian Beef Stew Recipe Card
Panamanian stew is a traditional Latin style carne guisada or beef stew that is a hearty and delicious dish that can be eaten alone or over white rice. If you live in a cold area, it is perfect for those cold winter nights when you crave to eat something that will stick to your bones. This is a prime example of Latin American comfort food.
- 3 Tbsp olive oil
- 1/2 cup onion chopped fine
- 2 lbs. sirloin cut into small 1 inch to 2 inch cubes
- 3 tomatoes large, diced (substitute: 28oz can of diced tomatoes)
- 2 tsp salt paleo diet: sea salt
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1 jalapeno cored, seeded and diced
- 3 tsp cumin
- 1/3 cup celery chopped
- 1 cup carrots sliced about 1/4 " thick
- 1 potato peeled and cut into cubes (waxy type work best), paleo diet: sweet potato or cauliflower
- 4 cups water
- 8-10 sprigs cilantro tied with butcher's twine
- 3 Tbsp sofrito
- 3 Tbsp recaito
In a soup pot on medium heat the oil. Add the onions, and cook until translucent stirring frequently. Do not let the onions brown.
Add the beef and stir fry for about 5 minutes until brown.
Add the tomatoes, salt, pepper, paprika, jalapeño, cumin, celery, carrots and the potatoes. Cook for about 5 minutes until the potatoes and carrots are soft.
Turn the heat to low. Pour in the water and then add tied bunch of cilantro.
Add the sofrito and recaito.
Cover and cook for about 1 hour on low or until the beef is fork tender. Remove from heat. Serve over rice or if you are feeling "international" eat with a piece of naan bread. You could also eat with noodles if you want.
Originally published November 2013 and updated October 2020.