Chicken and Saffron Arroz Caldo with Spring Onions, Fried Garlic Bits, Boiled Egg, Chicken Skin Chicharrones and Calamansi
If I am to be asked about what dish I would happily eat repeatedly for a month or two, in a heartbeat, I will definitely say, Chicken Arroz Caldo. It is the one and only soup dish, but really more accurately, a savoury and chickeny rice porridge, that comforts me, even comforts my spirit, and by this I mean, that this dish is warming, hearty, fills anyone up real well and quite blissfully, eases the suffering of anyone who is sick, and really, to me it is my kind of Chicken Soup For The Soul… my soul.
Arroz Caldo (Spanish for rice soup) is a Hispanicized or Spanish version of the Chinese’ Congee. It is Hispanicized because of the addition (traditionally) of safflower or kasubha in Tagalog (a cheaper and more abundant counterpart of the much proper and expensive saffron… but obviously I decided to be a bit posh and used Saffron in this) use to colour the porridge, and black pepper along with the aromatic trifecta of garlic, onion and ginger sauteed along with morsels of chicken or beef to which a Chinese congee is deprived of.
And although this rice soup/porridge dish is Chinese in inspiration and Spanish in adaptation, this is spot on natively Filipino in taste… I call this Filipino soul food.
This dish is one of the first things I made myself learn how to cook when I was a teenager only because I wanted so bad to cook it whenever I want it. It is one of my favourite humble foods to eat most of the time… any time.
I never often asked my mother or grandmother (when she was still alive) to teach me how to cook certain dishes, I just avidly watched them prepare the ingredients, and the steps or stages they went through cooking every dish from start to finish. And in making this particular dish, I learned from both my grandmother and mother, that the best rice to use in Arroz Caldo is glutinous rice because the starchiness of this variety of rice helps thicken the soup much more gloriously than the regular variety. Also, it is crucial for this dish that the rice is totally puffed or cracked because texture wise, it is much more better in the palate than munching on whole al dente rice grains.
I will not give the recipe for this as I always make it in a large stock pot. But here is the procedure; In a stock pot, put this ration of 1:3 glutinous rice to hot chicken stock with either safflower or in this case, saffron threads infused in the stock. Place pot over high heat and wait for the rice and stock to get to a boil, then turn down heat to medium-low and gently simmer rice. Meanwhile, in a sautepan, saute finely chopped ginger in canola oil for 3 mins over medium-high heat, then add finely chopped onions, sweat onions for 3 mins, then add finely minced garlic and saute until garlic is soft and fragrant. Add either cut up chicken pieces or chunks of chicken breast fillets, and saute with the aromatics until cooked. Transfer sauteed chicken into stockpot with simmering rice. Mix together and season with salt (or fish sauce, optional) and fresh cracked black pepper. Continue simmering the soup/porridge until liquid has slightly thickened and rice is puffed or cracked.
Serve piping hot in bowls and top with thinly sliced spring onions, fried garlic bits, sliced hard boiled eggs and either chicken skin chicharrones or crushed pork cracklings (optional) and serve with calamansi halves or lemon wedges on the side.
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