I have quite a few hand-written recipes that were given to me by my grandmother. Of course, I’ve only attempted to make a few of them. Why just a few? Well, most of my grandmother’s recipes are intended to feed a small army. And my household consists of only me and my wife. No matter how hungry she and I get, a small army we are not.
Recently though, I was feeling ambitious and rifled through my accordian folder full of recipes (Nerd!) to find the instructions for my Grandma’s Chicken Sotanghon. After going over my Grandma’s list of ingredients for this noodle dish, I was ready to give up and file the recipe away like I had many times before. The recipe called for boiling one whole chicken and then picking the cooked chicken meat from the bones. That’s a lot of work. And I’m lazy.
But I realized something as I was stuffing my Grandma’s hand-written, college-lined notebook paper back into my nerd-folder of food: I can’t go on living my life like this can I? I can’t deprive myself of good Filipino food just because I am lazy. I had to do something. So I created a couple of shortcuts and reduced my Grandma’s ingredient list to produce just enough food for me and my wife.
Instead of using an entire chicken like my grandmother does, I decided that it would be easier to just use chicken breasts. My grandmother also reserves the water from boiling the chicken (a quick stock) and used it to cook the Sotanghon noodles. In place of this, I used canned chicken stock from the supermarket. One last change to my grandmother’s recipe was for the trademark reddish hue of Chicken Sotanghon. To color the Sotanghon, my grandmother soaked annatto seeds in water and then strained the red water into the Sotanghon. To obtain an amber hue for my Sotanghon, I instead made some achuete oil that I adapted from “Memories of Philippine Kitchens,” a wonderful cookbook that I’ve mentioned before. I then used the achuete oil to cook the chicken breasts.
Were my tweaks and resultant recipe as good as my Grandma’s Chicken Sotanghon? Of course not. Homemade chicken broth makes a world of difference in this dish. But I found my version to be easier to make, and still quite tasty despite my shortcuts.
(adapted from “Memories of Philippine Kitchens” by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan)
1 cup canola oil
1/4 cup Annatto seeds
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 bay leaf
1 ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat.
When the oil begins to bubble, remove from heat and let the ingredients steep for 1-2 hours.
Pour cooled oil through a cheesecloth-lined funnel and into an airtight container. Store oil in refrigerator.
Lazy Chicken Sotanghon
9 oz. Sotanghon noodles (also known as Saifun, or Mung Bean threads)
1/2 cup dried shitake mushrooms
2 Tbsp. Achuete oil (see recipe above)
1 lb. chicken breast, cut into small cubes and seasoned with salt and pepper
1 onion, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock (homemade is best, but canned is fine too)
1 Tbsp. patis
2 stalks green onions, chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste
Soak the Sotanghon noodles in cold water for 15 minutes. Soak the dried shitakes in warm water for 20 minutes. After the shitakes have soaked, slice them into uniform pieces.
Add the 2 Tbsp. achuete oil to a large saute pan over medium-high heat. After the oil starts to shimmer, add the chicken and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes.
After all the chicken has browned, remove the chicken from the saute pan with a slotted spoon and place in a medium bowl. Add the onions to the saute pan and saute for 5-8 minutes, until the onions are cooked through and beginning to brown. Add the garlic to the pan and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
Add the chicken stock to deglaze the saute pan, being sure to scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. Add the patis and bring liquid, onions, and garlic to a boil.
Drain the Sotanghon noodles and add to saute pan. Add sliced shitakes. Return chicken to pan. Mix well and bring everything to a boil. When all the liquid has absorbed into the noodles, check the noodles for doneness. If they are to your liking, remove from heat. If noodles are still too firm, add more chicken stock until noodles reach desired doneness. Add chopped green onions, salt and pepper if needed, and serve. Lemon or Kalamansi can be squeezed over noodles as well.