Almost everyone I know cooks pinatisang manok with sili leaves. I did, too, but my kids are not fans of sili leaves. Cooking sili leaves can be tricky overcook it a minute longer than necessary and the bitterness will become very pronounced. That’s why sili leaves are never boiled; they are added to a dish after it is cooked. With tinola, for instance, the sili leaves are added to the cooked dish while still in the cooking pot. The cooking pot is covered and the heat from the broth, plus the steam, cooks the sili leaves.
So, my kids have had some bad experiences with sili leaves. Not from overcooking but from reheating. Reheat leftover tinola or pinatisang manok and the broth turns bitter. But despite the dislike for sili leaves, my kids love the basic pinatisang manok. I experimented with substitutes for the unpopular sili leaves and came up with a winner.
A few tips for a flavorful chicken soup. First, use parts of the chicken that have lots of bones. The flavor, and the body of the broth, come from the bones. That’s why it is never a good idea to use fillets when making soup. I must admit that there were times when I did that but that was more out of desperation than anything else as when there’s nothing else on hand.
My personal choice is the thigh and back. When you buy cut-up chicken, those labeled as soup packs usually contain only the backs of the chicken. While they are perfect for the broth, they have too little meat. In Filipino cooking, a lot of soup dishes are main dishes. And if all you have in your main soup dish are backs of chickens, well, you won’t get much meat. So, try to look for the pack of choice cuts that say “thighs and backs”. This doesn’t mean that there are thigh pieces and back pieces, respectively, in the pack. It means that the chicken pieces are so chopped that each piece contains a whole thigh and a part of the back. You get the bones from the backs; you get the meat from the thighs. In the alternative, you can always chop up one whole chicken.
Now, how does the broth acquire that golden color? Two things. One is the patis. But unless you drown your broth with patis which will make your soup dish inedible, the broth will still look a little pale even after adding patis. So, what’s the secret? The secret is unpeeled onions. Not only are whole onions great for flavoring your broth the golden color of the skin of white onions will help the broth to acquire a deep golden color.