Chicken Nilaga
Chicken Filipino Lunch Meats and Seafoods Philippines

How to Cook the Best Chicken Nilaga

Nilaga is a basic Filipino food. It literally means “stew,” and we add the term with the name of the meat simply for identification, like nilagang manok (chicken), nilagang baka (beef). We have nilagang this and that, nilagang everything. Nilaga also means soup, so this becomes then “chicken soup,” and again “chicken stew,” or in our terms “sabaw.”

The use of the words “nilagang” instead of “nilaga” is primarily grammatical, but they are one and the same. That would be a different tutorial on our language Tagalog. You are welcome, we can go there as well. That is basically adding “ng” at the end of the adjective if its last letter is a vowel, and if the adjective is preceding the noun. Aha! Anyway.

What is chicken nilaga?

It is nilagang manok or stewed chicken, translated literally. You would find out, however, that it is boiled, I mean to be more specific. Boiling the chicken or any meat for that matter, spiced, complemented with vegetables, and presto!

Beef is most popular for this dish, but chicken being faster to cook, a healthier choice, and cheaper as well, became a convenient choice. Chicken takes less than half the cooking time compared to beef. In fairness to nilagang manok, it has its own distinct taste. It goes to tell you that not all nilaga are created equal: the taste of its soup (sabaw) will take from the meat.

Soup and vegetables

Most Filipino dishes are known for their “sabaw” or broth or soup. Nilaga is the most familiar, easy, and simple recipe with sabaw. Nilaga is a comfort food for many Filipinos, myself included. 

Sinigang is another one, and tinola as well. In addition to the choice of meat, nilaga basically has potatoes, green/string beans (green beans as they are also called), and cabbage. With onions, salt, and a good amount of black pepper corns, the soup gets its identity.

Begging to be different, nilaga versions have additional vegetables for which they become another identifying title – chicken nilaga with squash, with sweet potato, with corn, with carrots, with Bok choy, with carrot, and the list goes on. I may have a bit of bias here, but any green leafy vegetables would be best for this recipe.

Isn’t that inviting?

I prefer my beef or chicken nilaga with potatoes, green or string beans, and cabbage – that is all! Very basic, am I not? Naïve, probably. Actually, when it has the sweet stuff, like corn, sweet potatoes, bananas etc., my taste buds get a few seconds of confusion before accepting the invasion of that something sweet. Not that I do not like it, but my tongue is happier with the salty counterpart, therefore the presence of fish sauce in my version – is a little more than normal. Ouch! You don’t need to follow me, friends, in my salty preference. 

Where is your nilaga from?

Still begging to be different or let’s call it authentic, some nilaga versions are called by the place the dish hailed from by adding the name of the place at the end of its title as in “nilagang manok,” becoming “nilagang manok Ilocos,” “nilagang manok Bicol,” etc. Actually, this is true with most Filipino recipes, especially adobo . We have adobo everywhere.

Any time of the year

Chicken nilaga, or any other nilaga for that matter, is best during the cooler months, although popular anytime of the year. “It’s never cold in the Philippines!” – my husband’s perennial declaration, to which I remind him of Saudi Arabia’s consumption of hot coffee! Whoa! The reason for nilaga being good during the cooler months is that is provides heat – just like chicken tinola, pesang manok, sinigang, and chicken lugaw. And for that, such recipes become good for the medicinal value they provide: headache and upset stomach. This works with me all the time, all the time!

“Pag may tiyaga, may nilaga”

That is an old adage in the Philippines, which literally translates to “ where there is perseverance, there is stew .” It is a figure of speech, of course, and this saying is used to inspire and/or remind us that “ nothing is impossible if we persevere .” And it is truly a good saying to live by. When I was in grade school, and we talked about this saying in the classroom, my raw mind was wondering whether nilaga is truly that delicious compared with other dishes. Such a young mind, LOL! Half a century later, I know so well, that if “you don’t need to persevere cooking nilaga because it is so easy!” Just kidding. I am sure you would remember that saying. It has gone a long way in making Filipinos the way we are – diligent and persevering!

“Pag may tiyaga, may nilaga.”

How to eat chicken nilaga

This must be the most basic Filipino recipe you would find, but very much identified as Pinoy. Its sabaw, by itself would make you want more. You can eat nilaga as it is; the meat and vegetables will fill you in, and the soup is light. Or you can have this with hot, plain steamed rice. Plain steamed white rice is best because it will not alter the taste of the broth. Hot because if the rice is cold, the broth or the whole dish will be cold. We want it hot, right? During the summer months? Try that, it’s awesome!

Oh, before I forget, I suggest you visit Mr. Green Eyes’ version of this dish. Apart from the version being wildly interesting, its origin is sweet – a different kind of sweet. Romantic? Ah, just find out! I will give you a peek right here at how it looks.

Tips for cooking nilaga:

  • Meat straight from the market (rather than pre-frozen) are incredibly tasty in nilaga.
  • Chicken thighs, legs, and other bony parts are good choices. 
  • Wash meat repeatedly before putting them in the pot to avoid build-ups on top of the dish at boiling point. For any build-up, however, you can scoop them out.
  • Add an inch of fresh ginger from the first step of cooking to create a mildly hot version of this dish.
  • Yellow onion or white onion tends to be better with chicken nilaga.
  • An addition of chicken bouillon or chicken cube reinforces the taste of meat in the broth.
  • Do not blanch your vegetables and mix them in the latter part of cooking because the taste of your veggies in the broth makes the dish more appetizing.
  • Add your vegetables to the pot near the end of cooking – estimate the time when they will be soft to your preference, unless you prefer your vegetables overdone. In both cases, though, it is best to set the fire on medium heat and set your cooking time.
  • It is best to eat nilaga on the day of cooking. Though we still eat leftovers the following day, cabbage tends to have its dual personality coming out when left behind for hours! The solution is to separate the cabbage from the dish before keeping them (refrigerate).
  • About two cups chicken broth from nilaga served in bowls is a yummy appetizer!
  • Though optional, a couple of tablespoons fish sauce will create wonders in the taste of nilaga.

Enjoy and would love for you to share your experience.


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Chicken Nilaga

Chicken Nilaga

  • Author: Magida
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 45 minutes
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 4 1x


  • 1 whole chicken (about 1200g cut into 8 pieces)
  • 12 pcs. chicken liver
  • whole black peppercorns
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 1 medium onion (quartered)
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes (quartered)
  • ½ k string or green beans (cut into 3” length)
  • ½ head cabbage (quartered)
  • 1 bunch Bok Choy (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. patis (fish sauce) (fish sauce)


  1. Bring water to boil with peppercorns, salt and onion.
  2. Add chicken pieces including liver, cover and cook until chicken parts are tender. Add potatoes halfway through followed by string/green beans and simmer for about 2 minutes.
  3. Add the cabbage, Bok CHoy (if using), and patis.  Simmer for another 2 minutes.
  4. Serve hot.

Chicken Nilaga from My Mothers’ Kitchens


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