Generally speaking, babies (of the human variety) can begin to eat semi-solid food between 4 and 6 months of age. So when my kid hit the four-month mark, and our pediatrician gave us the green light to shove spoonfuls of rice cereal into his mouth (the baby’s mouth, not the pediatrician’s), I was rather excited. As soon as my kid got used to the idea of rice cereal in his maw, I would begin gifting his palate with little tastes, here and there, of Filipino food.
Here in the U.S., the introductory food of choice for toothless lil’ babies seems to be rice cereal because it is easy to digest and relatively bland in flavor. In the Philippines though, a rice porridge called “Lugaw” is often the first semi-solid food given to babies.
Like rice cereal, Lugaw (looh-gow) makes for a wonderful first food because it too is relatively easy for babies to digest. But unlike rice cereal, Lugaw is anything but bland as this Filipino porridge contains the essence and soul of a chicken (mwahahaha!).
The chicken in this porridge died a hero.
The terms “Lugaw” and “Arroz Caldo” are sometimes used interchangeably to refer to the same Filipino comfort food–a porridge of rice and chicken cooked in chicken broth. However, there are some Filipinos (i.e. my mother) who use the term “Lugaw” to refer to a rice-only porridge, and “Arroz Caldo” to refer to a porridge that contains both rice and chicken. And I’m sure there are others who use the terms in completely different ways. For the sake of this post, I’ll take my mom’s lead (ugh) and use “Lugaw” to refer to rice porridge, and “Arroz Caldo” for the whole shooting match of chicken and rice porridge.
Despite the various ways to call a porridge a porridge, Lugaw and Arroz Caldo can be achieved via the same recipe, albeit with a few modifications. And although I’ve written about Arroz Caldo before, I’ll give another refresher as to how it’s made here.
For Lugaw/Arroz Caldo, I usually start with a whole chicken that I break down into serving pieces, but you can certainly use a couple pounds of just thighs, or thighs and legs, or whatever chicken part you fancy. I then heat some oil in a big pot and then add all of the chicken pieces.
This next step is gonna sound strange, but it’s a trick I recently learned from my mom and now utilize for all Filipino dishes containing chicken: I don’t brown the chicken, I actually throw a touch of water into the pot (maybe a scant quarter cup), clamp on the lid, and then let the chicken cook and steam in its own juices over high heat. After a few minutes, there will be a considerable amount of liquid and fat that has leached out of the chicken and bones and into the pot. This is the essence and soul of the chicken I mentioned earlier. This is magic chicken liquid. It is glorious.
I know you may be thinking that this “magic chicken liquid” I speak of is probably just chicken fat, and can be had by also browning the chicken. But I’ve tried both methods, and for some reason or another, browning the chicken does not result in the same rich flavor in the final dish. Trust me.
Anyhizzle, after magic chicken liquid is obtained, I then add some ginger, soy, and patis (fish sauce) to the pot, toss everything around, and cook for a few minutes more. I then add enough water to the pot to cover the chicken, and then I simmer everything with the lid on for 2 hours.
Once the chicken has been simmered to smithereens, remove it from the broth with a slotted spoon or tongs, and set the chicken aside to cool. Now you can add some rice (I use a mixture of malagkit and regular medium grain white rice) to the liquid in the pot and cook until the desired consistency of porridge is achieved (i.e. soupy, stick-to-yo-ribs, or somewhere in between).
At this point, you now have Lugaw: a rich porridge of rice cooked in chicken broth. Lugaw isn’t eaten exclusively as baby food; most Filipinos, big and small, enjoy the porridge. It’s good for baby and tasty enough for grown-ups! Could Lugaw be made with store-bought chicken stock? Of course. And you could also make it with water as well. But those are less tasty options, so why bother?
Now, remember those chicken pieces you’ve set aside? If you want to take your porridge relationship to the next level, you can remove the chicken meat from the bones, and then add this chicken meat back to the pot. Serve the chicken and rice porridge in bowls with some side accoutrement (ooh lar lar) such as chopped scallions, fried garlic, hard-boiled eggs, more fish sauce, kalamansi, etc. and voila, Arroz Caldo.
Baby spoon, big appetite
Because our baby is barely eating a tablespoon of food at one sitting, and because he isn’t yet used to anything other than bland rice cereal, I made an entire pot of Arroz Caldo for me and the wife, and just scooped out a single baby spoonful of rice sans chicken for the baby.
Once it hits your lips, it’s so good!
After a good 3-Mississippi count of the Lugaw being chipmunked in my confused baby’s cheeks, he actually swallowed the rice rather than spewing it all over himself. Good times. As he gets more used to eating different things and experiencing different flavors, he may graduate to Arroz Caldo soon. But for now, he does love him some Lugaw.
Like the late and great ODB might’ve said, “Lugaw is for the children!”
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 2-3lb. chicken, cut into serving pieces
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and julienned
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons fish sauce
6 cups water, plus more to cover
1 cup uncooked white rice, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup uncooked glutinous rice (malagkit, found in Asian markets) rinsed and drained
Heat the oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat. Add the chicken pieces to the pot, along with a splash of water, and then cover the pot. Allow the chicken to cook (covered) over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, for 5-10 minutes, until about a cup of liquid has accumulated in the bottom of the pot.
Add the ginger, soy sauce, and fish sauce to the pot and stir. Continue cooking for 2 more minutes until the ginger becomes fragrant.
Add enough water to the pot to completely submerge all of the chicken pieces. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours. After simmering for 2 hours, taste the liquid for seasoning. Add more fish sauce as needed.
Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove the chicken pieces from the pot and set aside to cool in a large bowl. Add all of the rice to the liquid in the pot and cook over medium heat until the rice is soft and the porridge reaches the desired consistency–this can take 20-40 minutes depending on how thick you want the porridge. If the porridge becomes too thick, you can add water to thin out.
For Lugaw, serve the porridge in bowls as is.
For Arroz Caldo, remove the chicken meat from the bones and add the meat back to the porridge. Arroz Caldo can be topped with sliced hard boiled eggs, fried garlic, sliced scallions, additional fish sauce, ground black pepper, fresh kalamansi, anything the heart desires really.