When spending Christmas at my parents' house, we adhere to quite a few traditions:
- My brothers and I challenge each other's manhood via video games. This past year it was Guitar Hero. I'll admit that my brothers are better than me at virtually rocking. But I rock literally. So there.
- My dad challenges everyone's religioushood (I just made that word up) by not attending Midnight Mass. While my mother, my brothers, my wife and I attend church late Christmas Eve, my father stays home and practices his finger jabs and throat punches on a wooden dummy in the garage. He then practices his striking with the business end of his belt, jangling the metal buckle like a jingle bell (he's festive like that).
- My mom challenges my wife's stomach-hood (again, another awesome made-up word) by telling her to eat more and more at the dinner table. Any Pinoy who has ever brought a non-Pinoy home knows what I mean:
Mom: "Why don't you eat?"
Wife: "I am eating."
5 minutes later...
Mom: "Are you OK? Why don't you eat some more?"
Wife with mouth full: "Um, yes. Ok, I'll have more pancit."
2 minutes, 39 seconds later...
Mom: "You're not eating! Have some more rice! Rice! Eat! Eat! Eaaaaaaat!"
Wife with gastrointestinal pain and no other choices: "Ummm. Uh. Yes. Please."
And so it goes at my parents' house on Christmas Eve.
As fun as all of that sounds, and it really is, there is one other tradition that I look the most forward to: Arroz Caldo. And seeing as the theme for the latest Lasang Pinoy event is rice, I see no better entry than my mother's Arroz Caldo.
Arroz Caldo is perhaps the most comforting (at least to me it is) of all Pinoy comfort foods. Arroz translates to "rice" and Caldo means "soup", so Arroz Caldo is essentially a rice soup. Despite the literal translation though, my mother's Arroz Caldo is less like a soup and more like a runny risotto (I'm sure versions of Arroz Caldo from other households run the gamut of thickness).
Also, in spite of it's Spanish name, Arroz Caldo is very similar to Chinese Congee (as seen at Steamy Kitchen) and Vietnamese Chao (as seen at Wandering Chopsticks). According to Wikipedia, Arroz Caldo...
"... is often mistaken for a European dish due to its name. Arroz Caldo is actually a Chinese congee that was adapted to the tastes of the Spanish colonial settlers who patronized Chinese restaurants in the Philippines. As the Spanish could not pronounce Chinese, they gave it a Spanish name for easy reference."
Strange, that. I'm not sure how accurate Wikipedia's description is, but no matter the origins, Arroz Caldo has become a distinctly Filipino dish.
My mother makes Arroz Caldo every Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve (I haven't spent New Year's at my parents' since high school). Since Arroz Caldo takes a few hours of simmering on the stove, it makes complete sense as a late-night snack. My mother usually starts making Arroz Caldo early evening (around 6 or 7), and by the time we leave for Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve the rice porridge is ready--we just wait till we get back from church to enjoy it.
Arroz Caldo provides a nice pick-me-up after spending an hour and a half in a stuffy church looking at my watch, trying to stay awake, and wishing I had enough juice like my father so that I could evade my mother's nagging and skip the whole Midnight Mass thing. Alas, I must attend lest my mother pray for my eventual downfall to arrive that much sooner. Ironic.
Anyhoo, like my experience with Pinakbet, I watched my mother make Arroz Caldo for the first time and found that it was a very easy dish to prepare. All it takes is some chicken, some rice, ginger, soy and patis, and some water. As is the usual with anything my mother makes, there is no recipe for Arroz Caldo. You just throw everything in a pot and cook it!
But I did take pictures, so here goes...
Start with a whole cut-up chicken, with most of the skin removed. Heat a little bit of oil in a large pot and add the chicken pieces. My mom didn't actually brown the chicken, she just cooked it through.
After the chicken has cooked through, add some sliced ginger and a couple tablespoons each of soy and patis. Cook for a few minutes more until ginger becomes fragrant.
Then, add enough water to just cover the chicken.
My mother then did something she has never done in my entire lifetime. She added a couple pinches of saffron threads! WTF! She never adds saffron to her Arroz Caldo. No one told her to add saffron. I don't know what got into that lady.
After consulting with my buddy, The Goog, I found that many Filipino recipes for Arroz Caldo actually call for saffron. I guess it's another connection to Spanish Colonialism.
Anyways, after covering the chicken with water, bring the pot to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Place the lid on the pot and continue simmering the chicken over low heat for the next 2-3 hours. You are pretty much making a quick chicken stock here.
When the chicken becomes tender, add a few cups of uncooked and rinsed rice to the pot and stir well. My mom added three cups of rice here, but keep in mind that it was a big pot of chicken and water. Continue cooking until the rice is cooked through and the porridge reaches the desired consistency. Depending on how much rice is added, times will vary.
In the above picture, the Arroz Caldo was still a bit too soupy for our tastes. So it cooked for a bit longer on the stove. If you find that your Arroz Caldo gets too thick, you could always add more water.
When your Arroz Caldo reaches the desired consistency, taste it for seasoning and add more soy and patis as desired.
Ladle into individual bowls and serve with fresh ground black pepper and Kalamansi halves on the side. You can also garnish with chopped scallions and fried garlic if that's how you roll.
After my brothers and I tasted this Arroz Caldo with the new addition of saffron, we were still quite pleased with it. We all preferred the old version sans saffron, but this version was still tasty.
"Arroz by any other name would smell just as sweet!" my younger brother exclaimed.
I then accused him of stealing my joke as I remembered saying the exact same thing a few years earlier. He then argued that he was the one who once uttered these words. We then went back and forth for the next few minutes arguing over whose joke it was. Good times.
Even though I think I came up with this high-larious saying, I will give my little brother credit for this one. He is surly by nature and a likely candidate for depression and despair. So, with that credit, he will cry himself to sleep for one less minute tonight. Sweet dreams Jean Luc, sweet dreams.
(Inside jokes make no sense in the blogosphere, but I am dying of laughter right now.)
The allusion to Shakespeare is right though. Arroz Caldo, no matter what is in it, will always be a warming and comforting dish for us.
Depending on how inebriated I get on New Year's Eve, I may try to make Arroz Caldo for my wife and myself. Perhaps a new tradition can be started for the two of us. I just won't force her to eat more than her stomach can handle.