Hypothetical situation: You’re a Filipino American, in your 20s or 30s, and you live on your own. You are sick, can’t seem to keep anything down other than Saltines and need some comfort food. You are hankering for your mom’s cooking, naturally. You’re probably wishing she were there to take care of you, poor baby, but she’s a few states away. It’s likely you haven’t gone to the grocery store recently, between your gallivanting and getting sick, so you have to rely on pantry items or what is still stomach-viable in your refrigerator to conjure up something that resembles nutritious food. Besides that, you don’t have a lot of energy so whatever you cook needs to be relatively easy. Put that package of ramen down – we’re not desperate.
I present: Lugaw.
Lugaw is a Filipino rice porridge. Lugaw works as an excellent base for any kind of meat or seasonings, similar to congee. When you’re sick it’s perfect: warm, filling, and mushy. You don’t even have to chew very much. I like my lugaw with chicken, ginger and lemon.
Here’s how to do it.
- Jasmine rice
- Chicken broth, or a substitute like vegetable broth or a bouillon-based broth
- Ginger, fresh or frozen or powdered
- One chicken breast
- Garlic, 4 cloves
- optional green onions, fish sauce, soy sauce, salt, fresh-cracked black pepper
Note on the ingredients: If you can get them, the fresh versions of these ingredients will give the best flavor. But you might be in a bit of a desperate situation and need to use whatever’s handy. For example, during my recent visit to Beijing, my dear host fell ill with some strange stomach ish. He was laid up in bed, poor thing, and of course my instinct was to cook him a pot of lugaw. Alas, no chicken, no chicken bullion, even. This was a problem because I don’t speak Mandarin, I didn’t know where the grocery store was, and worse – I didn’t have any cash! What a pickle! But then, I found a can of Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup! I strained and used the soup broth, washed out the can and its contents (twice) and added that water and the chicken bits to the lugaw mix also. Stirred in some powdered spices (ginger, onion, garlic, pepper, touch of salt) and a spoonful or two of concentrated calamansi juice, and voilá: MacGuyver’ed lugaw!
Cook 3 cups of jasmine rice in a rice cooker. Using cooked rice speeds up the process than if you started the recipe using raw rice.
Spoon the cooked rice into a large pot on medium heat. To this add several cups of chicken broth. Of course you can use vegetable broth, low-sodium or even water and bouillon cubes to both season and soften the cooked rice. The amount of broth you add depends on how soft you want the porridge. You’d probably want to start with as much broth as it takes to meet the top of the rice. Stir. The main idea here is to over cook the rice without burning it. The heat setting needs to over cook the rice and bring the broth to a simmer, but not so hot that you have to constantly stir for fear of scorching. Scorched rice doesn’t taste good and doesn’t make for good lugaw. Once the broth-rice comes to a simmer, lower the heat, and stir every 3-5 minutes. Keep the lid on or slightly askew so that the broth cooks into the rice, rather than evaporating. Watch the consistency of the rice and make adjustments to your taste. You might add more broth if you want it softer. Or if you’ve added too much broth, take the lid off, raise the heat a bit and stir more often.
Everything else. Dice four cloves of garlic and half of a medium-sized onion. Warm a little vegetable oil in the bottom of a pan on medium heat. Now for the ginger. If you have fresh or frozen ginger on hand, use that. There’s also ginger powder, too. How much ginger you use, again, depends on how ginger-y you want your lugaw. Keep in mind that despite the fact that ginger can be strong, there’s a lot of starch (rice) to season, plus any other meat you add. Using the fresh or frozen ginger, cut into thumb-sized pieces that are more manageable. Then cut the skin off. Do this by placing it on its short side and slicing off the skin carefully. You can probably use a vegetable peeler instead, but this is easy for me. Do what’s right for you. Once skinned, dice it up. I used about 3-4 thumb-sized pieces of ginger – a good taste of ginger but not overpowering for someone whose stomach is upset. If I were just cooking for my (not sick) self, I could have used one or two more pieces of ginger. Throw all the aromatics in the warm oil and soften.
Defrost one frozen chicken breast carefully in the microwave, if you’re very hungry, or in submerge in some cold water, if you have more time. If you go the microwave route, be careful not to cook it. You’ll know it’s getting cooked because the edges will turn from pink to whitish. If the piece is pretty large, you can defrost for 30 seconds, check it and cut off any cooked or defrosted parts before continuing. I usually toss out any cooked pieces because I don’t like the consistency. After you defrost the chicken, cut it up into 1/2 inch pieces or smaller. Put the meat in with the garlic, onion and ginger. You want to heat the chicken through and cook it without browning. Add the cooked chicken, garlic, onion and ginger to the rice. Put a little water in the pot you used to cook the chicken, swish it around and add that to the rice, too.
If there are some bones or skin on the chicken, don’t throw those out. Cut as much meat off the bones as you can. Cook the bones and skin with the meat, too, to draw out its juices. Add the bones and skin to the rice along with the meat. You can remove any bones and skin later when you serve the dish. Of course, you can use dark meat instead of chicken breast – I prefer the former – or keep the meat on the bones, but be warned that doing so will add cooking time. But it will also be tastier.
Stir everything together and give it a little while for everything to get happy, approximately 30 minutes. This recipe feeds four to six people.
This dish can also be served with tripe, cut into small slices. Oh, I love tripe! But it’s not an easy thing to make unless you’re handy with a pressure cooker. Another post for another day!
Easier additions to lugaw include fresh-cracked black pepper or salt, fish or soy sauce, basically anything. I don’t usually add these because, for me, the broth has enough seasoning. And, I am also a little allergic to fish sauce. It’s good to keep known allergens out of my food, right?
What I do like my lugaw with is a generous amount of fresh lemon juice – the more, the better for me – and sometimes green onions to give it crunch and color. Happy eating!
- What is Your Favorite Filipino Street Food? (sarahlynnpablo.com) Ano ba ang paborito ninyong street food sa atin? I’m writing a chapter on Filipino street food for a book that will be published later this year! Share your favorite stories, recipes and vendors!
- I’ve also written about how to cook Filipino dishes like chicken adobo (a classic!) and ginataan bilo-bilo, a sweet soup snack.
- Lugaw is for the Children (burntlumpia.typepad.com). My recipe is the quick-and-dirty way to do lugaw. Burnt Lumpia’s got the real deal Holyfield, using the whole chicken. Do it her way if you have time!