Carlo Lamagna Shares a Favorite Filipino Christmas Recipe

It's time for stockings, Santa, and arroz caldo.

By Benjamin Tepler November 20, 2018 Published in the December 2018 issue of Portland Monthly

Image: Michael Novak

Christmas is a big deal in the Philippines. “When September rolls around, holiday music starts playing. The decorations come out,” says Carlo Lamagna, chef-owner of Cully’s upcoming Filipino restaurant, Magna. By the time December hits? “It’s 24 nights of going to midnight mass until Christmas Eve. It. Is. Brutal.”

Lamagna’s food memories are a mash-up of a childhood spent between Manila and the American Midwest. “We had steak and potatoes, but there was also adobo confit. Living in Detroit, my uncle would buy a live goat from the farm and bring it to the garage. He would close the door, and next thing you know, dinner is ready.”

But Christmas looms largest when he talks about the food he grew up with: “That late-night Noche Buena spread was always something that stuck with me. We would get a giant lechon (spit-roasted pig), queso de bola (Edam) cheese balls, and some kind of noodle.”

His Proustian dish? Arroz caldo, which falls between congee and chicken soup with rice. Lamagna plans to give the holiday family staple top billing when his restaurant opens later this winter. It’s next-level cold-weather comfort: a chicken stew rich in ginger, garlic, a glug of fish sauce, and, if you’re game, chicken offal. “It’s a tradition I don’t ever want to lose,” says Lamagna. “It’s one I’ll share with my kids.” 

Arroz Caldo

Serves 4–6

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 skin-on chicken thighs
  • 2 skin-on chicken drumsticks
  • 2 tbsp minced ginger
  • 2 tbsp minced garlic
  • ½ cup small-diced onion
  • 2 cups “sweet” or “glutinous” rice, available at most Asian markets, or arborio rice
  • 3 quarts chicken stock
  • 1 cup chicken offal (heart, gizzard, liver), available at most butcher shops and some Asian markets (optional)
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ cup sliced scallions
  • 2 tbsp fried garlic (store-bought or homemade)
  • 1 lemon, cut into slices

1. Heat a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat, add oil, and sear chicken, skin side down, until browned, around 10 minutes. Remove chicken and set aside for later. In the same pot, cook onions, ginger, and garlic until onions are translucent, around 8 minutes longer. Season with salt and pepper.

2. Add rice and stir until well incorporated. Add 2 quarts broth, bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Cook, uncovered, until rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Return chicken to pot and add just enough broth to reach a soupy porridge consistency. Cook until chicken’s internal temperature reaches 165 degrees and juices run clear, about 30 minutes, adding the chicken offal (if using) after 15 minutes. Season with fish sauce.

3. Ladle arroz caldo into bowls, using tongs to place a piece of chicken in each. Top with scallions and fried garlic, and serve with lemon wedges.

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