Tinola, or Filipino chicken ginger soup, is one dish that I don’t make often. When I was growing up in Manila in the, ahem, 80s, my father brought the farm from his hometown of Ilocos Sur with him. We had a backyard with a small fish pond and a chicken coop. Each week, we would either have paksiw, or fish soup with ginger, or tinola. Every Sunday, our family lunch consisted of a freshly-slaughtered chicken, all innards included, in a big pot of steaming soup.
Traditionally, tinola uses green papaya and the leaves from a Thai chili plant. For the sake of making it easier here in New York, I use chayote, which is readily available in Harlem, and watercress, which is plentiful in Chinatown. I’ve given you a recipe that calls for fish sauce, but salt will do just fine especially if your mother is allergic to fish. You can also use spinach salad leaves instead of watercress.
We still stay in that house whenever we go back to the motherland, but it has changed so much I can’t imagine that it used to have a guava tree and a large mango trunk out back, too. Twenty or so years later, the spirit that comes with eating tinola with the family is still there, no matter what vegetable I substitute.
4 pieces of chicken back, some with skin on
2 finger-size gingers, peeled, sliced
3 chayotes, peeled, seeded, cubed
2 bunches watercress
1 small onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1. In a large Dutch oven, heat some oil. Brown chicken pieces, about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pot and set aside.
2. In the same pot, add a little more oil. Sauté garlic until light brown, ginger until fragrant and onions until soft. Add the chicken pieces back and add a few jiggers of fish sauce. Cook for 3 minutes or enough for the chicken to absorb the fish sauce essence.
3. Add 3 cups of water with the chayote and simmer, covered, for 25 minutes, or until chicken is cooked and chayotes are tender. Season with a few more jiggers of fish sauce. The broth should be gingery with a little bit of saltiness to it. Turn off the heat when done and submerge the watercress. The remaining heat should be enough to cook the watercress.