Best Chicken Tinola Recipe: Clear, Flavorful, Gingery Chicken Soup
Though it is a Filipino household staple, there are people who don’t like chicken tinola. To them, it’s flavorless, watery chicken soup. Well, these people have obviously not had good tinola. The simple soup should be clean and gingery, with a detectable savoriness that you get from chicken broth.
That said we get why people end up with lifeless tinola. Although it is a simple recipe, there are mistakes that you can make that will end you up with tasteless, scrummy soup. So we’ve developed this recipe to get you the best chicken tinola—one that has a clear soup and a clean but well-balanced flavor, where you can taste the chicken and all the other ingredients that make up the soup.
What is Chicken Tinola?
Chicken tinola (tinolang manok) is a simple Filipino chicken soup flavored with aromatics. It’s very straightforward to make; most of it is hands-off. You just boil the chicken and the aromatics, add the papaya, sayote, or malunggay, then serve once everything’s cooked. Unless already added while cooking, tinola is often served with a sauce made with patis. You can eat it as is, but most households enjoy it with rice.
Using a Whole Chicken in Tinola
The first mistake you can make while making tinola is using only a specific part of a chicken. Using all breasts gives it little flavor while using all thighs gives it a one-dimensional taste. So we recommend using a whole chicken—cut into individual pieces—to make this recipe. This gives the broth a more wholesome, savory chicken flavor that is more pronounced in the soup.
When at the supermarket, go to the poultry section and ask for a whole chicken. Give it to the butcher, then ask them to cut it for tinola, aka tinola cut. This will give you good-sized pieces that you can later on just throw into the pot to cook.
Making a Clear Tinola Soup
A trick to make your chicken tinola soup clear is to cut your aromatics into big chunks. We normally slice or mince them into tiny pieces. But the smaller your aromatics are, the faster it turns your soup cloudy.
You don’t have to—and shouldn’t—put the aromatics whole because doing so won’t let the flavors out. Just cut them into larger pieces so there is still enough surface area to release flavor. They are going to boil in the liquid for a long time, anyway; enough for the taste of the aromatics to really infuse into the soup.
Papaya vs. Sayote: Which is Better in Chicken Tinola?
There is a debate between which one’s better for tinola: papaya or sayote. So we tested both to see which one worked best for our criteria of the best chicken tinola.
Papaya is what most households use, likely because it is way easier to prepare than sayote. It also has a sweetness to it that transforms the soup—though we take this as a bad thing. You want to detect all the different flavors present in chicken tinola; adding papaya overpowers the dish. The sweetness is so strong that you start losing the flavor of the chicken and the aromatics. All you can really taste is papaya.
It can be a pain to prepare sayote. It’s a lot of work, especially if you are using it for this tinola recipe. (TL;DR you need to milk it, otherwise you’ll end up with cloudy soup.) But it works better in this recipe because it provides almost the same experience as having papaya minus the overwhelming sweetness. Sayote doesn’t affect the flavor of the soup so you can still taste the chicken and the aromatics. But eaten all together, you can still detect the sayote as an individual ingredient.
How to Make Pepper’s Best Chicken Tinola
Start by placing the chicken, red onion, garlic, and ginger in a pot with two liters of water.
It is crucial to do this off the heat because you want to poach the chicken as the water comes to a boil. This cooks the chicken more gently, giving you evenly-cooked and juicier chicken.
The aromatics go into the water with the chicken because this gives it enough time to infuse its flavors into the broth and marry into the chicken taste.
Bring everything up to a boil. Inevitably, there will be scum from the impurities of the chicken floating on the liquid. You’ll want to remove this to keep the broth clear. The best way to do it is with a skimmer of a spoon. But a good hack is to use a thick paper towel. Fold it into four, then swipe it across the top of the soup. The scum will stick to the tissue; the rest you can scoop out with a spoon.
When the chicken is almost cooked (about 30 minutes), add the sayote and continue boiling until their fork-tender but not yet falling apart. This should only take about 10 minutes.
At this point, season your soup. The chicken tinola already has an aromatic, chicken-y flavor so you can just add salt. But we prefer adding a whole chicken cube for a deeper flavor. (Don’t be afraid of the cube!) You can also add fish sauce, if you prefer.
Once the cube is dissolved (if using), take the pot off the heat then stir in the dahon ng sili. These don’t really need to cook and should wilt after a quick stir.
The goal of our best chicken tinola recipe is to get you a clear soup with clean flavor. It works on its own, but it can also be just a base that you can play around with. You can add other vegetables like malunggay. And you can serve it alongside a sauce; one that has patis works best.
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