It’s been a month since we got back from the Philippines and winter has landed heavily on New Zealand. I’ve pulled out my old winter coat and I’m wrapped in my biggest scarf. I’m contemplating new slippers. Is two pairs of slippers really enough? All I want is comfort food. I love comfort food. If I could figure out how to make a living devouring the world’s comfort foods, I would be in heaven.
One comfort food that I grew up with is congee. Rice porridge. Placed somewhere between soup and risotto, it’s a bowl of steaming goodness. My Cantonese parents made congee when we were sick or just needed comfort.
Congee was brought to the Philippines by Chinese migrants, where the locals tweaked it and gave it a Spanish name: Arroz Caldo. ARROZ is “rice”, CALDO is “hot” and this tricked up relative to congee was on my list of dishes to try. Many parts of the Philippines serve a yellow-hued Arroz Caldo (coloured with safflower) however, we visited the Visayas where they serve it white.
A popular breakfast dish, traditionally made using a whole chicken simmered to a stock, deboned and shredded. You make a huge amount at a time feeding 6 people or more. To make this into a convenient weekday dinner, brunch, or something when you’re feeling under the weather, my version uses a single boneless chicken thigh, use a breast if that’s all you have. Just get this pot simmering away, piss off for half an hour and soon your arroz caldo is ready to eat. This would also make a great hangover food.
Fresh calamansi is easily available in the Philippines but not so here in New Zealand so I have substituted fresh lime. I like my congee with lots of ginger but if you’re not a fiend like I am, just use 1 tablespoon of ginger. Use 1 or 2 eggs depending on your preference.
Arroz Caldo for two
- 1 freerange boneless chicken thigh (100 grams)
- 2 tablespoons cooking oil
- 1 or 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, thinly sliced and cut into batons
- 1/2 cup long grain rice
- 2 teaspoons fish sauce
- 3 cups chicken stock
- 3 cups water
- 1 or 2 soft boiled eggs, halved
- Sliced spring onion
- Toasted garlic
- Calamansi or lime
- Cut the chicken into thin strips and then into small pieces.
- Heat a large saucepan and add the cooking oil. Fry the ginger and chicken pieces together for 2 minutes on high heat, stirring to ensure even cooking. Stir in the uncooked rice and cook 30 seconds until nicely coated.
- Add fish sauce, stock and water. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer, cover with the lid propped open just touch so that it doesn’t boil over. Cook for 45 minutes, stirring at the 30 minute mark to check for anything sticking to the bottom. The congee is ready when the individual grains of rice have burst and you have thick porridge-like consistency. Add more water if required. Taste and season with salt and black or white pepper as you like.
- Ladle into bowls, squeeze calamansi or lime juice on top and serve with boiled egg halves, a scattering of sliced spring onion and toasted garlic.