We all know the healing power of chicken soup. If popular lore is to be believed, it does everything from curing the common cold to mending a broken heart. This reputation probably owes much to chicken soup’s neutral, some would say bland, flavour. And that is where the problem lies. To me chicken soup just doesn’t try hard enough. It’s much too slack, too laid-back, too relaxed.
Good thing us Filipinos are light years ahead in the chicken soup stakes. At the dawn of civilisation one of our ancestors probably thought, “Yeah, chicken soup is fine. But what if it had more zest, more zap, more zing?” And so, chicken tinola was born.
Chicken tinola is the black sheep of the soup family. Where most soups comfort you, chicken tinola grabs you by the throat. Where others give you a sense of fulfilment, chicken tinola leaves you wanting more. And where some make you say, “That was good”, chicken tinola makes you go “Oh, yes! Yes! YES!”
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced lengthwise
- 1 large onion, peeled, halved and sliced thinly
- 4 cm knob ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1.6 kg chicken, cut into serving pieces
- 3 to 4 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 tsp whole black peppercorn
- 2 small chayote (choko in Australia), peeled, stone removed and cut into 3 cm chunks
- 225 gm chili leaves (dahon ng sili), available in the freezer section of your local Filipino store
- 1.5 litres water
How to Cook Chicken Tinola
Thaw and drain chili leaves if using from frozen.
In a deep heavy-based pan, heat the oil over a low flame. Saute the garlic until fragrant. Add the onion and ginger, continue sauteing until the onion turns soft. Turn up the flame to medium and add the chicken pieces. Cover the pan and allow the chicken to stew in its own juices, stirring occasionally to prevent the chicken from sticking to the pan.
Once the chicken has coloured, add the peppercorn and drizzle 3 tbsp of fish sauce over the chicken. Cover the pan and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat to a steady simmer and keep cooking covered for about 10 minutes.
Add the chili leaves and the chayote and return to the boil. Check the seasoning, adding more fish sauce if required. The dish is ready once the chayote becomes tender. Serve with freshly cooked steamed rice.
Chicken Tinola Tips
- Traditionally, green papaya is used in chicken tinola in place of chayote. When using green papaya, slice the fruit lengthwise into 3 cm segments, peel them and remove the whitish, inner pulp. Then bend or twist each segment to squeeze out as much of the sap as possible.
- Use spinach if chili leaves are not available. Chili leaves are not spicy but they do give chicken tinola a unique flavour which, sadly, is not present in spinach.
- A simple dipping sauce of 1 bird’s eye chili crushed in 1 tbsp of fish sauce adds more zing to the dish.