It’s comfort food. And so easy to make. The slow cooking allows the chicken to flavor the broth. The chicken, broth and vegetables benefit from the flavors of the spices and seasonings.
Actually, make that seasoning. Singular. The only seasoning used in this recipe is fish sauce. Why fish sauce? It’s not just saltiness that you get from it. Fermented food has an incomparable depth of flavor. Additionally, fish sauce gives the rather sickly-looking broth a beautiful golden hue.
But there’s so-so nilagang manok and there’s well-prepared and well-cooked nilagang manok. The key is choosing the right chicken, prepping it correctly and adding the vegetables in the correct order. Let’s take that up one by one.
Use a large chicken preferably free range
The best chicken for making soup is the kind that takes a rather long time to cook. I understand that dressed chicken in the grocery is not always labeled according to how they are meant to be cooked. As a guide, choose a whole free range chicken that is at least a kilogram and a half in weight.
Parboil the chicken to remove impurities for a cleaner and clearer broth
Even if scum does not pose health risk, I still prefer to get rid of it. And while it’s possible to skim off scum as it rises to the surface of the cooking liquid, there is a more efficient way of getting rid of impurities.
Parboil the chicken. Dump the cut up chicken into a pot, cover witn water, and leave to boil for about ten minutes. There is no need to skim off the scum.
Place a colander in the sink and dump the chicken into it. Rinse the chicken under the tap. Rinse them one by one and inspect carefully to make sure that all impurities have been removed.
Take a clean pot, put the chicken in it and cover with water. Add the aromatics (I like onion halves, whole garlic cloves and peppercorns) and pour in fish sauce. Simmer the chicken until tender.
Position a clean colander over a clean pot and drain the chicken in it. This accomplishes three things. One, you will be able to pick out the now useless onion, garlic cloves and peppercorns, and discard them. Two, you strain the broth so that it is super clear before you cook the vegetables. Three, there is no danger of overcooking the chicken.
Cook the vegetables in the strained broth
A smart tip: While the broth may be perfectly seasoned after the chicken has been removed, vegetables do soak up saltiness. This is especially true with potatoes. So, while cooking the vegetables, taste the broth occasionally and add more fish sauce, as needed.
Reheat the strained broth until boiling. Drop in the vegetable(s) that take longest to cook ahead of the others. In this recipe, that means the cabbage wedges and potato halves.
After the cabbage and potatoes have simmered for about ten minutes, drop in squash cubes, and continue simmering.
When the squash is half-cooked (pierce the center of one piece to test), add bok choy and simmer for another five minutes. Drop in the chicken, wait for the broth to come to a boil, leave to boil for a minute then turn off the heat. By the time the chicken pieces are heated through, all the vegetables will be cooked through but none will be overdone.
Boiled chicken and vegetable soup (Filipino nilagang manok)
Chicken and broth
- 1 whole chicken - about 1.5 kilograms, preferably free range
- 1 onion - halved
- 2 cloves garlic
- 5 peppercorns
- fish sauce
- 1 head white cabbage - (outer layer discarded) cut into wedges
- 300 grams potatoes - peeled and cut into halves or quarters
- 500 grams squash - peeled, deseeded and cut into two-inch cubes
- 200 grams bok choy - halved and rinsed well
Parboil the chicken
- Chop the chicken into serving-sized pieces.
- Place the chicken in a pot, cover with water and bring to the boil.
- Continue boiling for ten minutes until scum rises to the surface.
- Drain the chicken then rinse to remove all visible impurities.
- Place the cleaned chicken in a clean pot and cover with water.
- Add the onion halves, garlic cloves, peppercorns and a quarter cup of fish sauce.
- Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer until tender, around forty to fifty minutes.
Cook the vegetables
- Drain the chicken (discard the onion, garlic and peppercorns).
- Bring the broth to a boil then drop in the cabbage wedges and potatoes.
- When the broth is boiling once more, lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer the cabbage and potatoes for ten minutes.
- Taste the broth and add more fish sauce (the cabbage and potatoes would have absorbed the saltiness of the broth).
- Drop in the squash, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for another five minutes.
- Taste the broth once more and add more fish sauce, as needed.
- Drop in the bok choy halves and simmer for another five minutes.
- Return the chicken to the pot and boil with the vegetables for a minute or so.
- Give the broth a final taste and, if needed, stir in more fish sauce.