Like in courting the girl of your dreams, cooking tinolang manok (chicken broth) requires patience, care and using the right mix of ingredients. Never rush things or risk ending up being “basted” or spurned, I mean, having a busted recipe. Contrary to the prevailing practice of cooking tinolang manok in a hurried fashion, attention to details from start to finish is needed to get the desired taste.
As with most tinola recipes, boiled chicken needs but the barest essentials – salt, red and green onions, tomatoes, chili, ginger, leaves of malunggay and/or red pepper plant, although others would prefer theirs with pechay or camote leaves. Some folk would love to add sliced green papaya which they say helps nursing mothers produce more milk. But I prefer my tinolang manok without papaya, lest the soup would lose the chicken’s distinctive taste.
Again, like in choosing a partner, be, well, choosy. Pick a free-range chicken, the kind that roams around feeding on grass, insects and grains that may be strewn on the yard or meadow. Look for a pullet, six months or younger; my old folk said pullets taste better than roosters. I don’t know, but old people harbor wisdom that defies explanation. If none is available, a young hen will do. Cage the fowl for at least three days without giving it any food, just water, to prevent it from dehydrating and losing much weight.
The enforced hunger strike before judgment day will rid its body of unwanted substances that causes the rancidness you’d notice in many tinolang manok servings that’s hastily done, resulting in tastier meat. It could be because there’s now less fat in the meat since the chicken’s body would be forced to use it up to compensate for the food deprivation.
In Bisaya, we call it “laming”, a practice that appears to have waned (maybe because many would view it as a form of cruelty to animals, or maybe because of the penchant for instant gratification). I wished I had asked my Lola, she who introduced me to “laming”, if they saw it this way, or, if in the distant past, it had formed part of a ritual to please a deity. But on the other hand, questions could mean the demise of tradition. And, hasn’t the world seen harsher forms of ritual involving hapless beasts, the “pinikpikan” in the Cordillera for one, although I’d rather not make a value judgment on cultural norms.
Back to our tinola. After dressing your fowl, rub half a fistful of rock salt on its entire body for around three minutes and then rinse it with running water. The salt helps reduce the characteristic odor of the raw meat that tends to stick to the skin even after heavy washing. Moreover, after cutting the chicken into chunks it is advisable to let the remaining blood drip out. If you aren’t starving yet, it’s best to allot at least 30 minutes for this before cooking.
(Sometimes, I’d cook the chicken whole or uncut minus of course the innards. I’d stuff it with the same spices and add some more into the soup. Nonetheless, the process remains the same whether you want it whole or in slices.)
Thirty minutes over? Place the meat in your kettle or pot with a liberal amount of thinly sliced ginger. Don’t put water yet; allow the meat to tenderize and its juice to simmer out first through slow fire. The juice helps make the soup tastier. It doesn’t matter if you cook it with firewood, coal or LPG. The trick lies in applying the right amount of heat to avoid toasting the meat before it becomes soft enough for the bite.
Don’t wait for the meat’s juice to dry up before adding water; do it once the meat can be pierced with a fork at a slight touch and the juice releases a pleasant, distinctive aroma. Remember, the juice holds the key to a tasty soup, the heart and soul of any tinola recipe.
By the way, see to it that the water you add doesn’t go higher than the pile of the meat placed evenly inside the cooking vessel. Putting in too much water makes the soup bland.
Salt may be added once the soup starts to boil. Put in the red onions, tomatoes and chili, too. When you’re sure you have sprinkled enough salt, add the green onions, malunggay and/or red pepper leaves. There, your “nilaming” chicken is now ready. (H. Marcos C. Mordeno/MindaNews)