“If you can boil water, you can cook anything.” This is what my late mom told me and in turn what I taught my sons when they were learning how to cook. At that time, my sons looked at me puzzled. A few years after, I proved I was right when I showed them how to cook the most basic Filipino dish – Chicken Nilaga, a boiled stew with vegetables.
Chicken Nilaga (say ‘nee-lah-ga”) is so easy and basic, yet one of the most comforting meals I have served the family. The Tagalog word ‘nilaga’ means boiled.
As the east coast braced for snow storm “Jonas”, I was reminded of the warm comfort this chicken stew brought our family. My mom used to cook this stew every Sunday. We grew up in Tarlac, a small agricultural town in the Philippines. My late father grew vegetable crops and fruit trees in our expansive backyard and we had poultry and livestock, too. It was routine for me to go with my mom and gather the brown colored eggs from the free range chickens roaming our yard. And for family dishes, mom always said, “The best kind of chicken to use for Chicken Nilaga are the native chickens.” What mom referred to as ‘native chickens’ were organic, free range like those we had at our yard. Mom also used the freshest, newly-harvested vegetables my dad grew. All these made for marvelous flavors.
Today, I cook this chicken soup meal all the time. Winter is the best time to serve it to the family. I don’t have free range chickens in my backyard here in America like we did when I was a child. I buy regular chicken from the nearby supermarket. This soft stewed chicken in a clear broth flavored with fish sauce, scallions and large onions is splendid poured on a bed of steaming white rice. I religiously like to mash my boiled potatoes within the dish, and let it mix happily with the soft chicken, the soupy broth and the plump rice grains.
No other dish has made my life as a mom so easy on any day I want to feed my family a good home cooked meal. Thanks to my mom who taught me “how to boil chicken.” And now let me go ladle some superb soup broth into the hungry bowls that await at our table tonight!
Chicken Nilaga - Filipino Boiled Stew with Vegetables
- 4 to 5 pounds whole chicken bone-in, whole or cut up
- 2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 whole white or yellow onions sliced
- 2 stalks scallion whites chopped
- 2 Tablespoons patis (fish sauce)
- 6 to 8 cups organic chicken broth
- 2 cups rice wash obtained from second washing of uncooked rice
- 2 whole large potatoes peeled, quartered
- 2 whole medium-sized carrots peeled, sliced
- 2 slices cooked ham cut in 3-inch length strips
- 2 whole Chinese sausages (lap cheong) sliced (from Asian markets)
- 1 1/2 cups green beans edges trimmed, sliced in 2-inch length pieces
- 1 bunch bok choy (Chinese cabbage) sliced in shreds, about 2 cups
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
- for serving: boiled rice
- Prepare whole or cut up chicken by washing the pieces well and pat dry with paper towels. Place chicken in a pre-greased roasting pan that fits the pieces. In a pre-heated oven of 375 F degrees, roast the chicken for about 15 to 18 minutes till the skin is crisp and light brown. Remove the chicken from the oven and set aside.
- In a large stock pot, over medium high heat, add the vegetable oil. Add the garlic, onions, scallions and fish sauce or Filipino patis. Let this cook for 2 to 3 minutes till onions soften and fish sauce flavor sets in.
- Add the chicken, the rice wash and broth, making sure the liquid covers the chicken. Season with whole pepper corns, salt and black pepper powder. Let the broth boil at high heat, then lower to medium. Cover and cook till the chicken is soft and tender for about 55 minutes.
- At the last 20 minutes, add the ham slices, Chinese sausages, potatoes and carrots. Add the green beans and bok choy at the last 10 minutes. Serve hot with boiled jasmine white rice.
- Cook’s comments: To make life easy, cook this Chicken Nilaga in a slow cooker or crock pot. I use my slow cooker measuring about 4 ½ quarts for this amount of chicken and ingredients, on a High setting, for 6 hours. If cooking in a slow cooker, I add the potatoes and carrots at the last hour, the green beans at the last 30 minutes. For a pressure cooker, cook this chicken stew (with bone-in) for 40 minutes.
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Notes on Nutrition: The nutrition information provided is an estimate and will vary based on cooking methods and specific brands of ingredients used.
Did you like this recipe? I have more classic recipes inspired by my late mother’s cooking in my popular cookbook: My Mother’s Philippine Recipes. If you’re learning how to cook Filipino food or a fan of Philippine cuisine, buy my cookbooks and books on Amazon.com sold worldwide in paperback and Kindle format.