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Tinola is a Filipino soup made from chicken, vegetables and a few spices. It has a relatively simple preparation and uses common ingredients. Some of the more unique parts are papaya, chili leaves and fermented fish sauce. Variations of the recipe include the use of fish or pork instead of chicken, and the addition of a large amount of a spinach-like green known as mallunggay leaves. The completed tinola is usually served with a large pile of steamed rice.
The main ingredient in most tinola is chicken. The chickens that are used are usually hand-raised native chickens. This type of chicken in the Philippines is different from commercially produced chicken in the United States. Philippine chickens have a stronger taste and tougher meat, meaning they have to be cooked for a longer time. Commercially produced chickens, in many cases, have softer meat and have been injected with water or salt water, meaning they do not need to be cooked for as long of a time, but might provide less chicken flavor.
The first part of making tinola is to prepare the base of the soup. This usually involves frying diced onions, garlic and ginger in oil in a large pot until they have become tender. The pot is then filled with water, rice water, or even half water and half chicken stock. The water is taken to a boil and the chicken is added. The chicken is usually cut either into simple parts such as legs or thighs, or into pieces that are more manageable, although the skin is left on regardless of how it is cut.
The meat is allowed to simmer until it has cooked all the way through. During this process, different elements of the chicken, including fat and undesirable materials, could float to the surface of the pot, creating a thick, foam-like substance that will stay on top of the water during the cooking process. Removing the white foam and other particles from the top of the water, an act called skimming, is generally performed periodically to help keep the soup clean and the broth clear.
When the chicken is just about to finish cooking, the last ingredients are added to the tinola. This includes diced, unripe papaya that is then allowed to cook until it is tender, and the fermented fish sauce. At the last moment, the heat is turned off and the chili pepper leaves are added to the soup and allowed to wilt for a few minutes. The finished tinola is served very hot with steamed rice in the same dish or on the side.
Actually, Tinola is used with boiled rice, or at least when the water dries from the rice grains it is already cooked. We rarely use steamed rice. In some parts of the Philippines we do include the fermented fish sauce, or "patis" as we call it, but the traditional recipe calls for adding it after cooking, as a sauce garnish of sorts. And the traditional recipe also does not necessitate the use of unripe papaya, but it is optional. The ginger is the key to every tinola recipe.