When I need a home-cooked comfort-meal, there is no other go-to for me than arroz caldo.
Similar to congee, and other popular rice-based porridges you find in various cultures across the globe, this Filipino version of rice soup checks all the boxes. I grew up eating this dish so, yes, perhaps I’m bias. But even now, if I shed those nostalgic sentiments and judge entirely on taste and texture, it still satisfies all my “comfort” requirements.
The version from my childhood is one that I love because of its rustic, home-spun characteristics: errant bone-in, skin-on pieces of chicken with rough-cut chunks of ginger hugged by the porridge. During my childhood, it always filled a large pot atop the kitchen stove that we’d help ourselves to during the course of the day for lunch, and then again for dinner.
Back then, I’d navigate around the soft grains of rice with my spoon and cast the ginger to the outer limits of the bowl – the same with the bones and skin. Now that I am old enough to make this dish, and am a huge fan of ginger, I often find myself adding slightly more to the dish to up the zing and restorative qualities. Depending on your mood and liking, you can cut the ginger into matchsticks, smash a few knobs into the porridge, or toss imperfect chunks into the pot like my mom did. If you don’t have saffron on hand, don’t worry, the dish will still be delicious! If you do have saffron on hand, you’ll get that unmistakable earthy flavor and the swath of pale yellow color given off by the amber threads.
The main ingredients – rice, chicken, broth – are a tried and true classic comfort trifecta. If that combo wasn’t enough to get you there, consider the magic that happens when the rice cooks: those grains slowly break down, release their starch, transforming that soup all into a hearty porridge. Next step? Cue the flavorful additions like fresh ginger, fish sauce, and saffron. These key players spike the dish, adding depth while elevating the more basic ingredients (all without being overbearing). What is beautiful to me is that nothing here is difficult. Nothing here is new. There are no surprises and need for reinvention. Without any real fuss, what you hoped for and what you get shows up in a pot on the stove, a bowl in your lap, and at the end of your spoon. And isn’t that, after all, what we look for in comfort food? Surely a case can be made for the sheer comfort of simplicity.