Chicken Comfort: Arroz Caldo

 

Arroz caldo is the last thing I eat before a flight out of the Philippines, and its also the first thing I look for when I arrive. This is my ultimate comfort food and one of the foods that define me most as a Filipino.

Arroz Caldo (literally “rice broth”) or Lugaw is the Filipino equivalent of  Chinese congee. Lugaw is soupy rice cooked with lots of ginger, garlic and safflower then topped with various meats and other goodies. The broth itself is normally bland, and only serves as a base for more wonderful toppings such as toasted garlic, spring onions, hard-boiled eggs, chicken, tripe (goto), pig’s blood cakes (“dugo” my favorite!), fried anchovies (dilis) or the classic ” tokwa’t baboy” which is fried tofu and pork tossed in a spicy vinegar-soy sauce dressing.

Every street corner food stall sells the stuff for breakfast or for a substantial afternoon snack.  Hot lugaw with  pig’s blood cake was my favorite breakfast as a child, which my mother bought in amazingly thin plastic bags from the street corner. When I was living in a dormitory when I was first starting to work, I used to have plain lugaw with tokwa’t tokwa (literally tofu with tofu, cheaper than the “baboy” or pork version). It was nutritious, filling and almost all I could afford on my almost minimum wage at the time.

Anywhere in the world the Philippine Airlines Mabuhay lounge serves top-your-own arroz caldo to make the traveling Filipino feel at ease. I always grab a bowl before the flight. When I arrive, I dispel all memories of  hotel continental breakfasts  with a great big bowl of chicken arroz caldo, nice and warm just like home.

Chicken Arroz Caldo

Ingredients

2 Tbsp of oil for sauteing

2 inch length of ginger

1 medium onion, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped (the more garlic the better)

1 small chicken, chopped (or any combination of parts, the bonier parts make the broth better)

1.5  cups of  uncooked rice

5-7 cups water or broth

Pinch of safflower (optional, but Filipinos like their lugaw to be yellowish due to the safflower)

Fish sauce to taste

Spring onions, chopped

Optional toppings: hardboiled eggs, dried anchovies, century eggs, etc..

Directions

  • Wash and clean the rice as if you would cook it for any rice meal.
  • Heat oil in a heavy soup pot.
  • Saute garlic until golden brown. Watch this carefully as golden brown to black happens in a split second! Remove the garlic from the pot and set aside.
  • Saute ginger and onion until fragrant.
  • Brown the chicken in the oil. Do not hurry this step, its important to get the chicken to impart its flavor.
  • Season with 3 Tbsp of fish sauce. Do not put in too much, its easier to adjust seasonings later.
  • Add the washed, uncooked rice and brown in the oil, making sure each grain is covered with the flavored oils.
  • Add the water or broth and stir.
  • Add the safflower.
  • Boil over low heat until rice is cooked (15-20 mins). You may need to stir occasionally to prevent sticking and to ensure even soup texture.
  • Add more broth if you prefer a soupier consistency (no Filipino cook does this one alike). Remember though that as the soup cools, the rice expands and it sucks up all the broth, making it more risotto like than lugaw. Err on the watery side.
  • Before turning off heat, check the seasoning. Its Ok to leave it a little bland.
  • Garnish lugaw with chopped green onions, Philippine lemon (kalamansi), and the toasted garlic.

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