Asopao de Camarones y Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice Stew with Shrimp and Pigeon Peas)

1-PotPuerto RicanRiceShrimp

This hearty, filing Puerto Rican stew is full of pigeon peas, shrimp, and rice. It's satisfying soul food for cold days—or any day you need some TLC. Soaking the rice ahead of time speeds up the cooking.

Photography Credit: Marta Rivera

Most cultures have some version of a comforting, hearty rice stew in their diets. The Chinese have congee, West Africans have jollof, and U.S. Southerners have gumbo. Puerto Ricans have their very own version, which we call asopao.

Much like its international counterparts, asopao’s consumption isn’t relegated to the winter months—there really isn’t a “winter” in Puerto Rico, so asopao is a dish that is enjoyed year-round. That said, this asopao can be particularly comforting in the colder months.

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Puerto Rican Stew with Pigeon Peas


Asopao is rice stew—it’s basically a savory porridge. It can be prepared using most meats, poultry, or seafood. This version combines my two favorite asopaos ingredients into one, substantial meal: shrimp and pigeon peas.

Sofrito, a common Spanish mixture made from tomatoes, onion, peppers, and garlic forms the flavor base, giving the stew a bold flavor without imparting any spiciness. Adding shrimp and pigeon peas gives the asopao an earthiness that balances the sofrito.

The peeled and deveined shrimp, as well as canned pigeon peas, are the co-stars to this thick, porridge-like rice. Ham is also used to create this base, which will flavor the rest of the stew.


Pigeon peas—or gandules, as they’re called in most Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands—are not as common in diets in the States as they are in the rest of the world. Much like the well-known green pea, pigeon peas grow in pods that need to be split open before extracting the small, brown peas.

Pigeon peas have an earthy, unique flavor that holds their own in many dishes and plays well with other flavors, too.

You should be able find them easily in most supermarkets where the Hispanic foods are sold (look for the Conchita brand). Most stores sell them canned, although larger stores (or those in predominately Hispanic, Indian, or African communities) may also sell them frozen. Both forms can be used without any adjustments to the recipe. Dried gandules take way too long to cook, if you can even find them in stores.


Recaito is an herb-based paste that’s popular in most Caribbean cooking. It’s used to add a punch of aromatic flavor to stews, beans, or meat dishes. The main ingredient is culantro, or Mexican coriander, along with white onion, garlic, and sweet peppers. While it can be made from scratch, I’ve found that jarred recaito is a great stand-in.

  • FIND IT! Try making your own recaito following this recipe on my site Sense & Edibility, or look for it online from places like this one.

Sazón is a flavor-enhancer used in many dishes in the Hispanic kitchen. It’s an MSG blend of seasonings that impart color and flavor at the same time. The sazón I like has culantro, which gives food a flavor that’s similar to cilantro, but more potent. It also contains annatto (achiote), a seed that imparts color when added to foods.

  • FIND IT! Try making your own sazón following this recipe from my site, or online.

Puerto Rican Stew with Pigeon Peas soak the rice


The main ingredient of any asopao is, you guessed it—rice! Long grain rice is what I use because I always have it on hand. Medium or short grain rice will work as well.

Rinsing rice may seem like an odd step, but it does a great job of removing excess starch, which can make the stew too thick.


After rinsing, soak your rice in a mix of water and the pigeon pea liquid for 45 minutes prior to cooking. This gives it time to soften and achieve the proper texture in the relatively short cooking time for this stew. Without the soaking, the rice needs to cook longer to become tender, but that longer cooking time can also turn it to mush quickly.

To make things efficient, I recommend starting your rice soaking prior to cutting and measuring your other ingredients.

Also, save the water from the soaked rice, as you’ll need it to later to add more flavor and body to the stew!

Rice Stew with Pigeon Peas


Because this is such a rich stew, the only accompaniments you’ll need are a few slices of ripe avocado and a slice of toasted, buttered French bread. Serve immediately, because the rice will continue to absorb the liquid as it sits.

The longer the asopao cooks, the more liquid you will need to add to maintain that stew consistency. Stir in a cup of hot water (or chicken broth if you want more flavor) and add more, as needed, to thin out any leftover asopao.

How to Store and Freeze Asapao

Leftovers will last for three days under refrigeration—just pack them into an airtight food container. The asopao can also be frozen for up to two months, and thawed for 24 hours prior to reheating. The rice will have broken down more after thawing, but it will still taste as wonderful as when it was first made.


Asopao de Camarones y Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice Stew with Shrimp and Pigeon Peas) Recipe

  • Prep time: 45 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 8 servings

Any kind of rice can be used for this dish—long grain, medium grain, or short grain. Use what you have on hand.


  • 1 (15-ounce) can pigeon peas (gandules), drained and liquid reserved
  • 6 1/2 cups water, for soaking the rice
  • 1 1/2 cups rice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 ounces ham, diced
  • 1 medium white onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1/2 large green bell pepper, diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 large yellow bell pepper, diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 1 medium Roma tomato, diced (about 3/4 cup)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons recaito flavor base, store-bought or homemade
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 6 stuffed Spanish olives
  • 1/2 teaspoon capers
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sazón seasoning, store-bought or homemade, optional
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp, tails removed


1 Rinse and soak the rice: Rinse the rise in a strainer under running water to remove the excess starch from the outside. In a large bowl, mix the reserved liquid from the pigeon peas with the water for soaking. Add the rice to the bowl and soak for 45 minutes.

When the rice has finished soaking, drain the water into a large pot on the stovetop, and turn the heat to medium-low. Keep it at a low simmer; you'll add this liquid to the asopao later.

soak the rice

2 Cook the ham and the veggies: In a 3-quart Dutch oven or similar large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the ham and brown it, about 3 minutes.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onion, peppers, tomato, garlic, and recaito to the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 6 to 8 minutes; or until the vegetables have softened and begin to form a thick, chunky paste.

Stir the tomato sauce, olives, capers, sazón, oregano, salt, and pepper into the paste, and cook for 2 minutes.

add the veggies Rice Stew with Shrimp add the seasonings and spices Rice Stew with Pigeon Peas cook the ham and veggies and spices

3 Add the rice to the pot: Add the rice into the pot and stir to thoroughly coat the grains in the sauce. Add the pigeon peas and the warmed, reserved soaking water.

Puerto Rican Stew with Pigeon Peas add the rice to the pot Puerto Rican Stew with Gandules add the pigeon peas

4 Simmer the stew: Bring the stew to a gentle simmer and continue to cook, uncovered, for 15 minutes.

After 15 minutes, stir the shrimp into the asopao and continue cooking, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes.

Puerto Rican Stew with Pigeon Peas stir in the shrimp

5 Serve the stew: Serve promptly, as the stew will thicken the longer it’s left to sit. Thin the stew as needed with hot water or with chicken stock to maintain consistency and flavor, especially when reheating leftovers.

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Marta Rivera

Marta Rivera is trained chef with over 20 years in the culinary field and the blogger behind Sense & Edibility. She graduated from the Baltimore International Culinary College with degrees in Culinary Arts and Classical Pastries. Her cookbook is Taste and See Cooks.

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16 Comments / Reviews

No ImageAsopao de Camarones y Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice Stew with Shrimp and Pigeon Peas)

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Leyda

    I’m from PR and I never saw Asopao with pigeon peas! Oh well maybe something to taste

  2. YD

    I had this recipe saved for months before I finally decided to try it out. I’ve only recently gotten more comfortable in the kitchen. It turned out really great. It was a big hit with my 16 year old. I bought the can of pigeon peas with coconut milk. I thought that was an interesting addition. Otherwise, I followed the recipe to a tee. Just wanted to say thank you! for adding to this home chef-in-training’s repertoire. We loved it!


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  3. Leopold

    Off the hook, Used no Ham but my familia love it!! used 2 season, and alittle adobo. But that’s it, can’t wait to eat the left overs tomorrow! Thank you

  4. Yara

    It was so delicious! I always love reading Marta’s recepies, easy to follow, entertaining and pure flavour. Soaking the rice really makes the trick, it’s the first time I make this dish and I couldn’t be happier. I didn’t have shrimp (covid-19 limitations) but it still came out great! I also like that you get one full meal in just one pot! Works great as a meal prep. I just vary the sides.


  5. Joyce

    Can I omit the ham? I’m not a fan of ham/pork products (not for religious reasons).

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Puerto Rican Stew with Pigeon PeasAsopao de Camarones y Gandules (Puerto Rican Rice Stew with Shrimp and Pigeon Peas)