Salsas and Condiments


Panamanian cuisine is a Creole fusion of native produce and Spanish protein with a mélange of other cultural influences.  The country’s geographical isolation and natural fauna made cultural and trade interaction difficult so many local variations exist even in this small republic. Furthermore the Caribbean coast s diet has a huge African patois and tends to be spicy and more ethically diverse then the Pacific side benefiting from early trade route spices and centuries of the cultures and foodstuffs brought by slave and indentured labor forces.  The following sauces or table condiments are used like Mexican salsa or pesto, each diner helps himself or the cook doses in the kitchen.  You can increase the heat the spice by adding some piquant peppers which is how it’s done on the Caribbean side and if you add vinegar you’ll have a nice vinaigrette dressing or signature wet adobo.



        4 ounces culantro leaves

        4 ounces broad leaf parsley

        2 tablespoons garlic

        6 ounces wax, banana peppers and maybe a few hot ones

        4 ounces of green onion-scallions

        2 limes juiced or naranja agria /bitter orange

        2 egg yolks

        1 cup olive oil

        2-3 micha, local rolls/bread crumbs, torn into small pieces


  1. Process the  culantro, parsley, garlic, peppers and onions to paste
  2. Add the lime juice and blend well, then the 2 egg yolk blending again
  3. SLOWLY add the olive oil, your making mayonnaise, till thickened
  4. Add and process the rolls or crumbs
  5. Adjust the thickness with a little stock and the seasoning with base
  6. You can fake it by adding everything but the oil and egg to some mayo


The caveat here is don’t touch the peppers unless you’re a macho cook like me. Habanero aren’t the hottest pepper in the world but they can burn. I usually use canned chipotles along with some other hot peppers in this construct because I like the smoke taste and aroma they add.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 onions diced
2 mangoes, papayas or cherimoya skinned, seeded, and diced
3 chayote, diced
4 beets, peeled or a small can of sliced beets
1 teaspoon allspice
2 ounces molasses, miel de cana or 4 ounces sugar
8 Scotch bonnets or other pepper, or 1 can of chipotle
2 to 4 ounces of Seville/bitter orange juice or pineapple juice or coconut milk

  1. Saute the vegetables and fruits until soft
  2. Add the allspice, molasses and chilies and cook till soft
  3. Strain or not and refrigerate


  2 ounces culantro or cilantro

  2 tablespoons achiote powder/paste or fresh saffron

  2 tablespoons garlic cloves

  4 tablespoons green peppercorns in brine

  2 tablespoons coriander

  2 tablespoons paprika hot if you like

  2 tablespoons thyme (and allspice if jerking)

  2 tablespoons or more minced hot chilies or paste if jerking

  15 bay leaves

  2 naranja agria-Seville-bitter oranges or 4 ounces lime juice

  2 ounces sesame oil

  4 ounces balsamic, cider or Chinese black vinegar

  To taste granulated chicken or beef base, used as salt

  1. Process all the ingredients into a paste, refrigerate for months
  2.  Rub this paste on any roast or barbecue you’d like marinate overnight
  3.  You can coat your holiday pork roast, pernil de cerdo, with this paste
  4.  The jerk/adobo also works really well with baked or grilled fish


To infuse the olive oil with annatto seeds just toast the seeds in a pan, add the oil and heat then let steep at room temperature.  You can also use achiote powder in the oil or just add paste to the preparation. You can also add some Spanish cured (brined) bacon that looks like pancetta or substitute good smoked Panamanian bacon.  This condiment with out the meat is available in the market look for Goya brand.

                4 ounces olive oil 

                1 tablespoon achiote paste or a generous pinch of dried saffron

                3 roasted red, 4 Anaheim, or 6 pepperoncini/wax peppers seeded

                3 tablespoons minced garlic

                1 bunch culantro leaves

                1 bunch cilantro

                To taste granulated chicken base and fresh ground pepper

  1.  Heat olive oil and annatto/achiote or saffron then steep to infuse
  2.  Place all the ingredients in a cuisinart and process
  3.  Adjust seasoning with granulated base and pepper
  4.  Refrigerate and use as a table condiment


You can find this condiment in jars from Spain in most Latin markets and then embellish it with herbs and spices just are sure the olives are pitted or you’ll have a hard time processing it. In the US it’s available under the Goya label in most Hispanic markets

                8 ounces green olives with brine

                4 ounces pimientos

                4 ounces capers brine

                To taste culantro/cilantro

                3 tablespoons garlic minced

                1 teaspoon achiote paste or minced fresh saffron

                To taste granulated chicken base and ground pepper

  1. Coarsely chop all, adjust seasoning, refrigerate and use as a condiment  or topping for rice, soups, stews, meat, chicken and fish.


The variety is endless and you could “put some up” just as you would pickles if you care to. The relish can be stored for weeks or longer in the refrigerator.  Again the heat can be moderated by the type and amount of peppers you use.  A couple of tablespoons of pickling spice amended with whatever else is available will work quite well.  The choice vegetables are up to you as is the quantity and if the pickle is too hard just blanch or nuke the offending vegetable before brining.

                4 cups white or apple cider vinegar

                1 cup lime or bitter orange juice

                2 ounces ginger root, sliced

                1 teaspoon allspice berries, pimenta gorda

                1 teaspoon whole cloves

                3” stick cinnamon

                1 ounce local unrefined sugar

                1 tablespoon green peppercorns in brine

                1 tablespoon oregano, less if using the fresh local variety

                3 tablespoons pureed or finely minced culantro

                1 tablespoon granulated chicken base

                1 cup cauliflowettes

                1 cup sliced carrots

                2 cups diced red onion or whites of leek

                1 cup Japanese eggplant

                1 cup diced sweet peppers

                1 cup diced mango

                1 cup diced chayote

                To taste sliced hot chilies, granulated chicken base


  1. Bring the vinegar and lime juice to a boil in a large non reactive pot
  2. Add the next 9 ingredients, or 4 ounces of  pickling spice and sugar
  3. Bring to a boil, add vegetables then remove from heat
  4. Let the pickle cool to room temperature, check for seasoning
  5. Jar or store than refrigerate for weeks


Although this kind of pesto sauce is actually from Argentina it’s used extensively here for steaks and starches. A sauce of this type pops up in many Hispanic menus and accordingly has numerous variations and sometime names

4 ounces each fresh oregano, garlic, Italian parsley, green Onions, culantro red onion, sun-dried Tomato

                8 ounces olive oil

                5 ounces apple cider, red wine or balsamic vinegar

                To Taste cumin, canned Chipotle peppers, granulated chicken base

1.  Place everything is a blender or Cuisinart and process to a paste

2.  Refrigerate for weeks

3.  Use as a sauce and marinade for grilled meats




Learning a new cooking procedure often seems intimidating but not when you put it into the perspective of what you already know and you can always buy Goya brand in the store.  I remember my grandmother sweating vegetables for her turkey dressing in a little bacon fat just like a Latin American or New Orleans cook would use a sofrito. This flavoring base is used as a first step to cook beans, rice, soups and stews and imparts a distinctive Hispanic taste to what ever you’re making.  Sofrito can be purchased in many Hispanic grocers and you’d keep a jar in the cooler to use as needed.  You can also just make the Vegetable portion and add the protein when you’re ready to use it.


                4 ounces annattos infused olive oil or add 1 teaspoon achiote paste

                1 cup culantro leaves

                2 cups diced red onion

                1 cup diced sweet, roasted red, wax, Italian or wax peppers

                4 ounces sun-dried tomato in oil

                1 tablespoon oregano, thyme paprika or achiote powder

                To taste Spanish ham, bacon or smoked tocino minced


1. Process the first eight ingredients into slurry, refrigerate till needed

2. Sweat the ham, bacon or tocino till brown then

3. Add the appropriate amount of aromatics for whatever you’re making


A condiment much like chimichurri sauce some call it dog sauce since chein in French means dog, and others because of its bite, woof!  But the a sauce of the similar ingredients exists in Chinese and Vietnamese but then both the French and the Chinese occupied Vietnam Food’s so confusing. Again these sauces or condiments are all-purpose and can differ from one fonda to the next so create until you find the one for your table especially good with fish and that explains its Caribbean roots. It can be stored for weeks or more in the refrigerator and if you have fresh herbs please use them rather than dried.

4 ounces spicy or indifferent colored chilies

1 onion chopped

1 teaspoon each dried oregano, thyme and allspice

2 tablespoons each chopped ginger, garlic and culantro

1 cup balsamic, red, white or cider vinegar

 2 limes juiced or 1 blood orange/naranja agria

To taste sazon or granulated base and white pepper

1.  Process everything until smooth

3.  Adjust seasonings with sazon/base and pepper



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