Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Lugaw: Chicken Soup for My Soul

Chicken Lugaw garnished with Fried Chicken Skin

It's a rainy December day here in Austin. I'm still in my pajamas and happily sipping a large mug of hot ginger tea as I write this. Looking out the window, the leaves are finally changing color and after surviving yet another triple-digit happy Texas summer, the chilly evenings, overcast days, and precipitation (period) are welcome. And while the change in weather can be seen as a harbinger of the holiday season and rapidly approaching new year, for many it also marks another season - for colds, allergies, and the flu.

Fortunately, I've been able to stay healthy thus far. But with the stress of the holidays and pre-"New Year's resolution" diets abound, from time to time I've felt myself teetering on the edge of exhaustion and sickness. And seeing people everywhere sneeze into their hands, cough over their shoulder, and tuck used tissues into their pockets, I've definitely found it necessary to take extra precautions to maintain balance and fortitude.

So today I'm going to share with you one of my favorite way to stay healthy during the holidays: Chicken Soup.

Of course, this isn't just any ol' chicken soup. It's a traditional Filipino dish called lugaw (loo-gaow), also known as arroz caldo - a simple rice porridge made with chicken and ginger. It has several variations throughout other cultures, and may also be known as congee, jook, jaou, or okayu, to name just a few. My grandmother used to make it for my family, especially when the weather turned colder or if any of us became sick. And when I worked at Eastern Accents in Ann Arbor, they would serve it every Wednesday during the winter, making double batches to keep up with the demand.

Photo of my grandmother from 2008, with Liam, our huge dog.

It's remarkably comforting, warming from the inside, and one of those dishes that can instantly transport me. When I'm feeling unwell, just the smell of it makes me feel stronger. And when I can't keep anything else down, this always helps to settle my stomach. Ah, the power and magic of chicken soup.

Now some people may see that the traditional recipe calls for white rice and shudder. And while I understand to an extent, I also like to remind others that moderation is key. The texture and consistency come out much better and you spend less time cooking when using white rice. And if you indulge me offering one more reason, when you're feeling unwell, one of the last things the body needs is to expend extra energy digesting and the higher fiber content of unrefined rice can upset the stomach. So it actually serves a purpose.

But if you'd prefer to use a non-white rice, or if that's all that you have available, I'll be offering some tips on that in a vegan variation that I'm also including here today (scroll down a bit).

Something for everyone. :)

Chicken Lugaw
(GF, DF, rSF, SF)

1 c uncooked long grain white rice
3 c cold, filtered water for soaking
1 large yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
2-3 knobs ginger, sliced
4 chicken thighs (~1 1/2 lb), bone-in and skin-on
5 c warm stock
salt to taste
scallions to garnish
fish sauce to taste

1. Soak white rice for at least 4 hours in cold, filtered water. This step is optional, but beyond cutting down on cooking time, it can also boost the nutritional benefits and ease of digestion.
2. Prep onion, garlic, and ginger. After peeling the ginger, I partially pulverize it to break apart the fibers and slice it on the bias so the soup can be infused with as much ginger flavor as possible. If you're a fan of ginger, but not that much of a fan, feel free to use less.
3. Warm a stockpot over medium-high heat. When hot, place chicken thighs skin side down to sear and render out the fat. They should make a loud sizzle when they make contact with the bottom of the pot. Do your best not to move them - just let them do their thing.
4. After about 2-3 minutes, remove thighs from pan. There should be about 2-3 tablespoons of rendered chicken fat left in the bottom of the pot. Remove skin from thighs and set aside. (You can continue to render the skins in another pan to not only give you chicken fat for another day, but a dangerously delicious crispy chicken skin garnish. Waste not, want not, right?)
5. Reduce heat to medium and begin sauteing onions. After one minute, add garlic. After another minute, add ginger. Your goal is to avoid coloring the ingredients through caramelization, so keep 'em moving.
6. Add skinned chicken thighs back in, drained rice, and 5 cups warm stock. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook for 25-40 minutes.
7. The result is a thick, creamy porridge. If you would like a thinner consistency, simply stir in more warm stock a 1/2 cup at a time. Salt to taste.
8. Garnish with scallions and offer with fish sauce on the side. A squeeze of lime, lemon, or calamansi is also wonderful to help brighten the flavors.
9. Makes 8-10 servings.

Soaked rice doubled in size.

Whoa, that's a lot of ginger. [stomach grumbling]

Just the beginning for you skins...

Fish sauce infused with serrano peppers and garlic cloves.

Vegan Lugaw
(GF, DF, V, rSF, SF)

3/4 c uncooked long grain brown rice
1/4 c uncooked short grain brown rice
4 c cold, filtered water for soaking
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
2 cloves ginger, sliced
2 knobs ginger, sliced
2-3 tablespoons coconut oil
5 c warm vegetable stock
1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
salt to taste
scallions to garnish

1. When using a non-white rice, I definitely recommend that you soak it first, overnight if possible. Another extra step that will pay high dividends is partially pulverizing the rice with a mortar and pestle or giving it a few quick pulses in the food processor before soaking it.
2. Warm the coconut oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Begin adding ingredients about one minute apart. This is the order I used: onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger.
3. Add drained rice and warm vegetable stock. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to low heat. Cook for 45-75 minutes.
4. The resulting consistency will be less thick, as the grains will have retained more integrity than their white counterpart. The liquid should be silky and smooth though, and if you'd like to break down the grains further, give the soup a few good stirs.
5. Add sesame oil and salt to taste.
6. Garnish with scallions and serve with additional sesame oil on the side.
7. Makes 8-10 servings.

Building my stock as I prep the vegetables.

The addition of mushrooms and seaweed add great depth to the stock.

Vegan Lugaw/Congee/Arroz Caldo

While I prefer the chicken version, I've made the vegan version several times, most recently when my family came to visit this past week, and I've thoroughly enjoyed it each time. While some may choose to pick out the ginger, one of my favorite parts, as you may have guessed, is munching on the ginger, savoring its slightly crunchy consistency and fiery bite in contrast to the soft, creamy rice. And the ginger, in and of itself, may be responsible for a majority of the healing benefits of this soup. Ranging from reducing inflammation, calming an irritable stomach, reducing fever, and providing a range of antibacterial and antiviral benefits, you definitely don't want to miss out on it, especially if you're feeling unwell.

I hope you enjoy either or both of these recipes for lugaw, the healing soup I grew up with. Whether you're feeling 'under the weather,' hoping to bolster the immune system and maintain your health, or just looking for a delicious, cozy recipe to make on a rainy day, this may be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Health is Wealth

For similar recipes, please visit these wonderful blogs:
Jun-blog : How to Make Chicken Arroz Caldo
Burnt Lumpia: Lugaw is for the Children
Oh the Humanitea: The Power of Lugaw Compels You!


  1. Lugaaaaawwww! Yes, thank goodness that I had the strength the other night to make Lugaw and more Salabat. My body told me it was time to bring in more reinforcements. Lugaw is a true comfort and healing food. Thanks for sharing your versions and giving a shout out to some of the others there in blogland =) Awww it was so nice to see a photo of Lola and Liam. I miss them both. I can remember Lola telling Liam to 'sit down' when he was already sitting down (he was such a big dog that it didn't look like he was sitting down; even when he actually was sitting down. Anyway, I have definitely shared batches of Salabat and Lugaw whenever one of my friends or coworkers wasn't feeling well. It's a good way to share the love and to keep everybody healthy!

  2. "Sit, Liam! Sit!" lol... I'm glad you had the strength, too. There's nothing like a steady supply of ginger when you're feeling sick. Hope you feel better soon, ading!


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