A Westerner first experiencing chicken tinola would call it a soup. And it is. But, in the Philippines, there are soups that are served as a main course rather than as a starter. Chicken tinola is one of them. The chicken and vegetables are eaten with rice while the broth is sipped just like any soup.
Chicken tinola is a chunky soup with three main ingredients -- chicken, green papaya and chili leaves (most often, the leaves of the bird's eye chili plant). The main flavor comes from the ginger. To cook tinola, chicken pieces are browned in sauteed ginger, garlic and shallots then simmered in broth. Wedges of green papaya are added during the last 15 minutes of cooking. The chili leaves, added after the heat has been turned off, complete the soup.
- Chop the chicken through the bone into 12 to 16 pieces.
- Peel the ginger and julienne.
- Smash the garlic cloves and discard the skins.
- Peel and thinly slice the shallots.
- Heat the cooking oil in a thick-bottomed pot. Add the ginger, garlic and shallots. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until fragrant, limp and very lightly browned.
- Turn up the heat to medium-high. Add the chicken pieces and cook, stirring often until lightly browned.
- Season with about a tablespoonful of fish sauce and continue cooking. The chicken will expel liquid at this stage. Continue cooking, uncovered, until there is very little liquid in the pot.
- Pour in the chicken broth. Bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot and simmer the chicken for 40 to 45 minutes.
- While the chicken cooks, prepare the vegetables.
- Split the green papaya vertically. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut off the skin with a small sharp knife. Cut the green papaya flesh into wedges.
- Separate the chili leaves from any stalks that they might be attached to. Discard all the stalks.
- After the chicken has simmered for half an hour, taste the broth and add more fish sauce, if needed. Add the green papaya wedges.
- Turn up the heat until the broth is boiling vigorously once more. Turn down the heat to low, cover the pot and continue simmering for 15 minutes or until the papaya wedges are tender. Taste the broth once more and adjust the seasonings, if necessary.
- Turn off the heat. Sprinkle the chili leaves over the chicken and green papaya wedges.
- Cover the pot and leave to allow the chili leaves to cook in the residual heat for five to 10 minutes depending on how large they are. Do not be tempted to add the chili leaves while the soup is still simmering. Chili leaves turn bitter when overcooked so cook them only in the residual heat.