Saturday, May 8, 2010

Arroz Caldo or Lugaw (Chicken Congee)

Rice congee is a type of rice porridge that is eaten in many Asian countries. The word congee is possibly derived from the Tamil word “kanji”. The dish is widely popular in Asia and even in some part of Europe. It is called by many names such as “kanda” in Sri Lanka, “canja” in Portugal, “pinjin” and “zhōu” in China, “bubur” in Indonesia, “ukayo” in Japan, “juk” in Korea, “chok” in Thailand, “chao” in Vietnam, “babaw” in Cambodia and “lugaw” or “lugao/lugau” in the Philippines. Rice congee is an ideal comfort food for the sick and elderly as it has a soothing effect. Apart from the fact that it can be easily consumed and digested, it is believed to have therapeutic or healing properties for the ill.

While there are many varieties of toppings and flavoring ingredients added to make different variations, chicken is probably the most common addition. In the Philippines the dish with chicken is called “Arroz Caldo”, obviously from the Spanish word “arroz” that means rice and “caldo” that refers to broth. However, please note that it is not a Spanish dish. The name was only adopted by the Spanish colonial settlers who patronized Chinese restaurants in the Philippines for easy reference.

The Filipino “arroz caldo” is very similar to the Cantonese style congee but has a thicker consistency. It retains the shape of the rice while achieving the same type of texture. Rice is boiled with the chicken pieces and strips of fresh ginger, garlic and onions. Other flavors may be added according to taste. It is often topped with slices of boiled eggs, crumpled pork chitterlings, scallions or green onions and bits of crispy fried garlic.

Chicken stock is also added to flavor the broth. For more flavor and color, saffron can be added or for just color the cheap version called “kasubha” can be used. A very popular variation of the dish is “arroz caldo con goto” where instead of the tasty chicken meat, strips of succulent beef tripe is used. But because tripe is entrails, chicken is most preferred by the general public. :-)

Just like in many Asian cultures, chicken congee in the Philippines is eaten primarily as either a breakfast food, a late supper course, a midnight snack after working very late or a very early morning perk-up food for graveyard shift workers and early risers like those engaged in the wet markets. It goes very well with other snack dishes like “tokwa” or fried tofu or “tokwa’t baboy” and fried “lumpia” or spring rolls, either meat or vegetables.

The two (2) main ingredients you need in making “arroz caldo” are of course, rice and chicken. First, 1½ cups rice, a combination of regular long grain and glutinous would be perfect, but since I only have Jasmine so I have to settle with it. Washed the rice properly then drain thoroughly in a fine strainer. Brown it in a wok or pan without oil then set aside.

Second, about 1 kilo chicken cut up to serving sizes. While the use of cut up whole chicken is excellent, you can always use choice cuts of thighs or drumsticks. Season the chicken with 1 tsp salt and ½ tsp ground pepper and then slowly boiled in a casserole with enough water to cover until just tender. Remove it from the broth and set aside. Strain the broth and set aside as well.

The other ingredients are pretty basic: 2 tbsp vegetable oil, 1 whole garlic, peeled and minced, 1 pc thumb-sized ginger, peeled and minced, 2 tbsp fish sauce, 1 onion, chopped, 1 pc leek, sliced diagonally, 1 tsp “kasubha”, 1 tsp ground pepper, 2 pcs chicken cube seasoning, 1 tsp salt or to taste, 3 tbsp minced scallion or spring/green onion and additional broth to make about 10 cups (maybe more) all in all.

Heat about 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a thick wok or large casserole then fry half of the garlic until crispy. Drain and set aside.

In the same casserole, add some more oil and fry the remaining garlic followed by ginger. Add fish sauce, followed by onion and continue frying. Add the slightly browned rice and sauté.

Pour the broth in and let it boil with the lid on. Add the chicken cubes and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 40-45 minutes or until the rice grains are cooked and puffed. Add in the chicken, leeks and half of the green onions. When it boils again, taste and adjust the seasonings. Add salt or fish sauce if necessary.

To make the dish a real killer, add inn some pre-boiled chicken liver and cook for 3 more minutes. Adjust the broth level according to the consistency you like. After a minute, turn off the heat and it’s done.

Ladle into individual serving bowls, top with crispy fried garlic, some more minced scallion or green onion and slices of hard boiled egg (optional) and serve immediately. Some slices of “calamansi” and fish sauce serve on the side will complete the yummy meal. Enjoy! :-)

You can also serve it as you wish. Other toppings such slices of salted egg and crumpled pork skin chitterlings are wonderful. If you like it spicier, use “toasted garlic and chili” instead of the plain fried garlic. So yummy! c“,)

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