You may have come across a recipe that calls for sofrito. If you don't have any on hand, it is possible to make your own or find alternative ingredients that may work well as a substitute.
To best understand what will work as a sofrito substitute, you must first know what it tastes like and how its used.
What Is Sofrito?
Best described as an aromatic blend of vegetables, this flavorful sauce is one of the foundations of Puerto Rican dishes. Sofrito is used in a variety of sauces and cooked proteins.
It is also found in Spanish, Caribbean and South American cuisine.
It is a flavorful and delicious starter that allows cooks a foundation to then go off into creating different, tasty dishes such as the popular arroz con pollo.
Although ingredients vary by region, they typically consist of Sofrito consists of green peppers, yellow onion, garlic, a tomato product (fresh cut, sauce, paste), Mexican oregano, and fresh chopped cilantro. Some variations also include annatto seeds, black pepper, garlic powder, red onions, cubanelle peppers, parsley, and even achiote. The sauce is typically blended together with olive oil.
Red bell pepper can also be used in addition to or in place of green bell pepper. This choice is based on cuisine and preference on which is used.
The Puerto Ricans love to stew meat or beans in sofrito. It is also incorporated into soups and sauces. This thick base is a staple of Puerto Rican cuisine.
In particular, where Sofrito could be considered most popular, Puerto Rico uses a pepper called Aji Dulces and they use cilantro. These sweet peppers are perennial and look like habaneros. They are very colorful but do not pack the heat of a habanero. They are very flavorful and make Puerto Rican Sofrito (otherwise known as Recaito) unique in its taste.
Mexican cuisine utilizes sofrito in seafood stews as well as some braised meat items.
Cuban cuisine focuses on using it in rice and soups as well. Other items such as chorizo and other meats can be added to add flavor and depth.
In the Dominican Republic, they call their Sofrito by the name Sazon. The major element of Sazon is its use of annatto to add that smoky flavor to the cooking. This version will also contain tomato paste or sauce and it offers a yellow color due to the annatto seed. This is the color of many famous Dominican rice dishes.
Instead of finding a substitute, you should first consider how easy it is to make. If you have the ingredients, you will love the fresh flavor of this sauce!
Sofrito is great because of how simple it is to prepare once you have a preferred recipe. It includes the Holy Trinity of Latin American Cuisine which is garlic, onion, and tomatoes. The ingredients you specifically use depends on the cuisine.
Sofrito is fairly simple to make. Typical fresh ingredients include garlic, yellow onions, bell peppers, tomatoes, cilantro, and parsley. They are simply blended in a food processor until homogenous. A food processor is used to save valuable prep time. This sauce is to be used immediately or properly stored for future use.
A popular way to store Sofrito is in ice cube trays. Picture a Latin American Bouillon Cube and that is what we are trying to achieve. Cooking and freezing the Sofrito in these trays allows you to pop the flavorful product out when cooking to incorporate into your recipes. This saves time and extends the shelf life on your Sofrito if you make it in a large batch.
Popular Sofrito Brands
By far the most popular brand of Sofrito found on store shelves is Goya. This product is used in various Latino recipes and contains tomato paste, red pepper, onion powder, olive oil, and garlic.
Because it is a commercial shelf-stable product, you will find other ingredients that you would not use if making it fresh. For example: soybean oil, monosodium glutamate, and citric acid. Because of this, if your recipe calls for sofrito, you may consider making your own instead of using store-bought.
There are other store-bought brands of Sofrito, but Goya for sure is the most known and widely used.
Sofrito vs Salsa
If you are reading the ingredients of Sofrito you would not be mistaken to believe that this product does sound like a delicious fresh Salsa. One of the biggest differences is the addition of oil to the Sofrito. This adds the fat needed when using this product in a cooking application.
If you were to braise meat or add it to a sauce, the oil within the Sofrito is able to blend in or be a medium for heat transfer. It is also much more powerful in flavor than Salsa. Sofrito is an aromatic cooking base, rather than a ready to eat product.
It is also translated into English to mean “fried”. This is due to the fact that it is being utilized as a simmer or cooking sauce, or in conjunction with a cooked product. In its use of building flavor, Sofrito has become a staple in many cuisines. But if you run out there are some good substitutes at your disposal.
Best Sofrito Substitutes
If you really need sofrito for a recipe and don't have any, can't find it in the store, and don't want to make it fresh, here are some alternatives that may work.
Recaito is the Puerto Rican version of Sofrito. It is a green puree compared to Goys's Sofrito which is a red puree. It can be used just like regular sofrito, but has more of a bite and earthiness due to the cilantro and green bell peppers. Goya Recaito is a popular brand you should be able to find in stores.
While the next substitutions are not direct substitutes to Sofrito, they do offer a similar taste.
Green Chile Sauce
One of the best substitutes is Fresh Green Chile Paste. Made by blending roasted green chiles and salt, this paste is great for adding the pepper and aromatic flavor that Sofrito is known for. Add some cilantro and garlic in with the paste and you are very close to what a traditional Sofrito will taste like.
You may also be able to find store-bought Fresh Green Chile Sauce. It is relatively easy to find in Latin American cooking sections. This product is used as a cooking sauce or finisher to a soup or other products.
Produce On Hand
One of the best substitutes is to use the fresh produce on hand in your kitchen. You may not have every single ingredient that Sofrito consists of. But if you alone have bell peppers, garlic, onion and tomato then you are close enough to having what you need to achieve the same flavor profile.
Chopping these ingredients, which are the main ingredients of Sofrito, and utilizing them in your cooking will yield a similar result on the palette. Sofrito is great because it is easy to make and the ingredients are easy to obtain. So if you have any of the base ingredients at home these will do. Sofrito has many variations and missing one or two components will not throw it off.
Sofrito is a delicious base of ingredients used throughout Spanish and Latin American Cuisines. It is a simple yet delicious blend of vegetables, oil and natural spices that acts as the base for so many amazing recipes.
I find a lot of joy in exploring the different Sofritos and what each culture has done to represent their cooking through them. The regional differences speak to the type of cooking done by those people and the produce available. It also gives each cuisine it;s own character in which we as food lovers can enjoy cooking and eating in.
Having Sofrito on hand is key when attempting recipes from these cultures. But if you do run out there are some quick and easy options for you to use just in case. Be sure to explore and experiment with the base flavors Sofrito and its substitutes provide, for it is a way to learn about not only different cuisine but different culture as a whole.
Do you have any other tried and true substitution recommendations? Please let me know in the comments!