Sinigang is a sour soup. A good “sinigang” results in the correct blend of saltiness and sourness of the soup. Its main ingredient can either be meat or seafood. Its soup base is either tamarind (usually when using meat) or guava (for fish or shrimp).
Although sinigang has always been associated with pork, beef, fish and shrimp, I discovered that chicken is an equally good main ingredient. It is important, however, to use stewing chicken — the kind you need to boil longer — to come up with a good broth. Fryers yield an unsatisfactory bland stock.
The vegetables traditionally used with sinigang are kangkong, talbos ng kamote, sitaw or sitao (yard-long beans) taro, eggplant, okra and green chili. Kangkong is a green leafy vegetable that grows in swampy areas. An important vegetable in Southeast Asian cooking, kangkong is also known as water spinach. Talbos ng kamote refers to the tender leaves of the sweet potato. Taro is an edible rootcrop with white flesh. Where kangkong and talbos ng kamote are not available, spinach or mustard leaves are good substitutes. I said OR because I have never tried using both at the same time.
Sinigang has also been traditionally prepared using rice washing, instead of plain water, to start the soup. Unless you are very sure about the sanitary conditions under which your rice was packed and bought, I really won’t recommend this, especially if you bought your rice in the wet market where it has been openly displayed and been subjected to dust. Since the purpose of using rice washing is mainly to thicken the soup and to give it a cloudy appearance, the same results can be achieved by including taro among the ingredients.
When making sinigang, cook just enough for one meal. It never tastes good after it has been refrigerated and reheated.
If using eggplants, slice just before adding them to the soup; otherwise they will discolor. Some people soak sliced eggplant in salted water purportedly to get rid of its “bitterness”. I have never done that since I find no “bitter” taste to get rid of — Asian eggplants are sweetish.
Sinigang na manok (chicken and vegetables soup with tamarind extract)
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 1 onion diced
- 2 tomatoes diced
- 8 cloves garlic crushed
- 1 to 2 finger chilies (slice or leave whole)
- patis (fish sauce) or salt, to taste
- 1 stewing chicken chopped through the bone into serving-size pieces
- tamarind extract (how much depends on how concentrated your extract is and how sour you want your soup)
Any, some or all of the following vegetables, in proportions that you prefer
- taro peeled and cut into 2×2-inch cubes
- sitaw cut into 2-inch lengths
- kangkong (leaves and upper stalks only), cut into 2-inch lengths
- kamote tops (leaves only)
- eggplants sliced into half-inch rings
- okra sliced into 2 to 3 pieces
Heat the cooking oil in a casserole. Saute the garlic, onions, chilies and tomatoes. Cook until onion pieces are transparent and the tomatoes start to crumble. Season with patis or salt.
Add the chicken pieces. Cook until the chicken meat turns opaque. Pour in enough water to cover. Bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover tightly and simmer slowly for about an hour, adding more patis or salt, as needed.
If using a crockpot, do the sautéing in the saucepan then transfer everything to the crockpot afterwards. Check the liquid occasionally for too much evaporation; add more, if needed. You’re making a soup and you want a generous amount of liquid in the pot.
When the chicken is tender, turn up the heat to medium-high. Pour in the tamarind extract. Add the vegetables, at intervals, starting with the one that needs the longest cooking time. Obviously, leaves will need to go in last.
Taste the broth one last time and adjust the seasonings.
Serve the chicken sinigang immediately.