Arroz caldo—from the Spanish words “arroz” for rice and “caldo” for broth—is the Filipino version of Chinese congee that was adapted to the tastes of the Spanish peninsulares. Filipino congee comes in three basic forms: lugaw is plain rice broth; when tripe is added, it becomes goto ; but when chicken is used instead, it is called arroz caldo or pospas.
A hot and hearty bowl of lugaw, goto, or arroz caldo is pure comfort on a rainy day. But to nurse a cold or a fever—or when you’re just feeling under the weather—the best food to eat would be arroz caldo. The ingredients that go into arroz caldo suggest everything restorative in nature: calming rice for an upset stomach, chicken and broth for that cold or sniffles, plus the antioxidant properties of ginger, garlic, and onion.
Arroz caldo is typically served either as merienda (afternoon snack) or as ulam for lunch or supper. It is also traditionally served with puto during Misa de Gallo (Christmas dawn mass) or in thanksgiving for a good rice harvest. Traditional arroz caldo has the consistency of congee but some people prefer it like a risotto; Havenhill arroz caldo is on the soupy side.
Good, old-fashioned arroz caldo has a light-yellow tinge. This comes from kasubha, the dried stamen of safflower. Kasubha resembles saffron, which is why it is sometimes called fake saffron, although it doesn’t taste at all like saffron. In fact, kasubha doesn’t taste of anything, but it is great in adding color to food without imparting a distinct or strong flavor. If you can afford to use saffron, by all means use it—a pinch would be enough.
Arroz caldo reminded my husband of his grandmother. Like other housewives of her generation, Lelang went to market and cooked every day. She called this dish by its other name, “pospas.” She toasted the kasubha on the bottom of an upside-down kawali (skillet) before adding it to the simmering rice. I sometimes toast the safflower before adding oil to the pot; but sometimes add it at any time.
Arroz Caldo | Chicken Congee
- 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1 head garlic peeled and crushed
- 1 inch knob of ginger julienned
- 1 onion coarsely chopped
- 1 tsp. kasubha safflower
- 1 (1½ kchicken cut up
- ¼ cup patis fish sauce, plus more to serve
- ½ cup long-grain rice rinsed
- ½ cup malagkit (glutinourice rinsed
- 10 to 12 cups chicken stock or rice water
- 2 spring onions chopped
- Kalamansi halved, for serving
- Heat oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add garlic; stir for about 1 minute until golden and fragrant. Remove most of the garlic with a slotted spoon; transfer to a small bowl.
- Stir-fry ginger for about 30 seconds or until lightly browned and wilted. Stir-fry onion and safflower for about 1 minute or until onion is soft. Add chicken and fish sauce; simmer covered for about 5 minutes, or until chicken juices have seeped out. Stir in the rice and stock. Bring to boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer covered for about 20 minutes, until rice is very soft and the grains break up, stirring occasionally to blend flavors.
- Ladle into individual bowls. Garnish with the fried garlic and the spring onions. Serve hot with kalamansi halves and a saucer of fish sauce on the side.
- Serve arroz caldo for merienda with pan de sal and butter; or as ulam with tokwa’t baboy