Arroz Caldo for the Soul
Last week Mother Nature gave us a sneak peak into summer, and we had a few days of glorious sunshine and warm temperatures. I even broke out my flip flops. In February!
But, it was just a tease, and that’s okay. The chillier temperatures (and who am I kidding, they’re still mild relative to the rest of the country in the depths of winter) made me crave comfort food once again. And what’s more reminiscent of childhood comfort foods than chicken soup?
Most people look to chicken soup when they need that extra bit of TLC, and I think it’s pretty common around the world. The soup that fed my soul growing up is called Arroz Caldo, which literally translates to “Hot Rice.” It’s the Filipino version of chicken soup, and it truly encapsulates the complexity of the Philippine’s history. While the name Arroz (rice) Caldo (hot) reflects its Spanish heritage, the soup itself is more similar to its Chinese influences. It’s not unlike the congee or porridge you can find in many Chinese restaurants. In the Philippines, it is sometimes referred to as “Lugaw.”
I vividly remember eating some of the best Arroz Caldo as a child while on a vacation to the Philippines, from a legendary outdoor food vendor in Laguna, where my maternal grandmother grew up. There were two tall, steamy vats full of the soup (as tall as I was at the time), and you could sprinkle your soup with toppings such as crispy cubes of fried tofu, dressed with soy sauce and vinegar, scallions, and garlic. I loved how the tangy combination of the soy sauce and vinegar would cut into the simple but very satisfying soup.
Arroz Caldo was the soup my mom would make whenever we were sick, and the combination of onions, garlic and ginger at its base would always ease any tummy troubles. When I have a lot of time, I like to let the soup cook for hours, developing its own chicken-y broth. But when I’m in a rush, there are many shortcuts I can take so I can have this ready in under an hour. It tastes just as good, and sometimes, it’s nice to not have to wait.[/donotprint]
Yield: Serves 4-6.
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 pieces of ginger, sliced in thick chunks
2-3 lbs chicken (a combination of boneless, skinless thighs and breast works well), cut into bite size pieces
1-2 tablespoons patis (fish sauce), to taste. If you don't have this handy, just use salt!
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
8 cups chicken stock, low sodium
1 cup jasmine rice
scallions, finely sliced
In a large stock pot, saute the onion, garlic and ginger over medium heat until onion starts to become transparent. Add chicken, patis and pepper. When the chicken is cooked, add stock and rice. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer. Cover and continue to cook until chicken is very tender. Stir frequently and adjust seasoning as necessary. Take out the medallions of ginger (no one really likes biting into chunks of ginger!). Garnish with scallions and freshly ground black pepper before serving.
If you have extra time on your hands, after you saute the onion, garlic and ginger, go ahead and put half a chicken, bone in, into the soup pot, and season accordingly. Add water (or a combination of stock and water), and bring it to a boil. Allow the soup to simmer until the meat is falling off the bones and can be easily shred. Remove any bones. Add the rice and continue cooking until ready. Adjust the seasoning as necessary.
In the Philippines, like many Southeast Asian cuisines, patis or fish sauce is used just like salt. If you have some in your pantry, it will add a really nice depth of flavor to the dish. It's not unlike the anchovy based sauces found in Western cuisines.