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Arroz Caldo

Filipino Chicken and Rice Soup

By COSPublished 8 days ago 3 min read

In my household, there was a culinary revelation waiting in the form of arroz caldo—a Filipino chicken congee that, until my wife introduced it to me, had remained an unfamiliar delight. The recipe, crafted by none other than White House chef Cristeta Comerford, beckoned me with promises of simplicity and flavor. That very night, I decided to embark on its preparation, unknowingly setting the stage for a lasting culinary affair.

What initially captivated me about arroz caldo was its practicality. From grocery bag to table, I had a steaming bowl ready in less than an hour—a feat not lost on someone accustomed to longer cooking times. Its essence, enriched by ginger, garlic, and fish sauce, offered a comforting blend akin to a robust chicken and rice soup, but with a distinctly Filipino twist. Its heartiness made it a versatile dish, equally suitable as a satisfying meal or a soothing remedy for dreary days and seasonal sniffles.

Today, arroz caldo has seamlessly woven itself into the fabric of my daily life, becoming synonymous with cozy winter evenings, rainy day comfort, and the nurturing touch needed during bouts of the common cold—where it competes, albeit fiercely, with the traditional chicken soup remedy. Its presence has become so integral that imagining life without it seems unfathomable.

Moreover, arroz caldo is one of those culinary creations I've felt little inclination to alter. True to the original recipe and traditional practices, I've made subtle adjustments along the way, guided by personal preferences and family traditions.

One essential component that elevates arroz caldo from good to exceptional is the crispy garlic topping. Initially overlooked in my early attempts, I later discovered its transformative power. Unlike Chef Comerford's method of soaking garlic in milk before frying in copious amounts of oil—admittedly more effort than I typically invest—I've adopted a simpler approach passed down through generations in my family. I gently cook minced garlic in cold oil until it reaches a delicate golden-brown hue, achieving a crunch that adds depth and texture to every spoonful.

The preparation of the soup itself begins with sautéing thinly sliced onions until they soften, releasing their sweet aroma. A generous tablespoon each of minced garlic and ginger follows, filling the kitchen with their fragrant embrace. The choice of chicken, typically deboned thighs for their succulence, sometimes gives way to chicken breasts to accommodate familial preferences. Regardless, the chicken is meticulously cut into bite-sized pieces, ensuring even cooking and a delightful interplay of flavors.

A sprinkle of black pepper and a dash of fish sauce amplify the savory notes, paving the way for the star ingredient—jasmine rice. Left unwashed to retain its natural starch, the rice mingles with the aromatic medley in the pan, absorbing every nuance. The addition of chicken stock, preferably homemade but enriched by the preceding ingredients, marks the transition from preparation to anticipation.

Six cups of stock, I've learned through trial and error, strikes the perfect balance—enough to cook the rice to tender perfection while maintaining a comforting soupiness. Occasionally, adjustments are necessary—a splash more stock here, a gentle simmer there—to achieve the desired consistency that beckons with each ladleful.

To impart a final flourish of brightness, a tablespoon of freshly squeezed citrus juice—often lime or key lime in lieu of the elusive calamansi—permeates the dish with its zesty charm. A final adjustment of seasoning with salt and pepper ensures each spoonful delights the palate.

When serving, tradition dictates a garnish of thinly sliced scallions, a generous sprinkling of crispy garlic, and lime wedges ready to impart their citrusy essence. While sliced hard-boiled egg remains a staple in many households, it's a variation yet to find favor in mine—a testament to the adaptability and personalization inherent in cherished recipes.

In essence, arroz caldo epitomizes the profound connection we forge with dishes that transcend mere sustenance. Though not a part of my upbringing, it has become a culinary cornerstone—a testament to the power of shared meals and the traditions we embrace along life's journey. With every simmering pot and aromatic bowlful, it continues to weave its magic, enveloping us in the warmth of tradition and the comfort of flavors cherished.

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons canola oil, divided
1/4 cup freshly minced garlic (about 12 medium cloves), divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces (see Notes)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon freshly minced ginger
1 tablespoon Asian fish sauce
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
1 cup uncooked jasmine rice
6 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1 tablespoon calamansi, key lime, or lime juice (see Notes)
Kosher salt
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 hard-boiled eggs, cut into 1/4-inch slices (optional)
2 fresh limes or calamansi, quartered

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    COSWritten by COS

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