Chinese Herbal Chicken Soup
Let me confess how bad a cook I can be. In the past, I used to just simmer a whole chicken to death with random ingredients and wonder why it’d turn out both good, but also a bit meh. The stock would taste fantastic… thick, flavoursome and full of goodness. But the chicken itself would become quite stringy, lustreless and dry. (Yes, we Asians will still eat that chicken).
I know I should consult a recipe and learn how to make chicken soup properly. But I have this penchant for approaching things naively. In this way, I’ve recently made two independent discoveries that may or may not be common cooking knowledge. The first is that you can double boil chicken soup for a very long time and the chicken won’t turn dry and stringy. And the second, thanks to fake father-in-law, is how you can poach a chicken briefly in a good herbal stock and that dish will also come out marvellous!
Both methods of cooking will use the same amount and proportion of ingredients. But I will be showing photos of the double-boiling method only because it is the more fiddly method of the two. The key thing here is to get the correct combination of Chinese herbs that will make a pleasant tasting stock. That’s why this recipe is more pedantically quantified than my other soup recipes.
As illustrated above, I’d just chuck the herbs into the double-boiling jar with the chicken. Before serving, I’d pick out the woodier herbs that I don’t want to eat and leave the rest in. Technically, you can pretty much eat any of those herbs, although I think astragalus is abit too barky to be eaten unless you’re a herbivore.
And what about this double-boiling method of cooking?
It’s basically a gentler way of cooking soups in a ‘water bath’, like a bain marie. The soup does not evaporate, all the ingredients’ goodness is sealed in, water level is maintained and the soup remains clear.
I suppose slow cookers and some rice cookers can perform similar to a double-boiler in that the temperature of cooking is maintained below a certain maximum. On that note, pressure cookers will need a separate discussion at a later date. I just acquired one and can’t wait to start using it!
I improvised here, using a normal Chinese tureen instead of a proper double-boiling jar. I placed it inside a bigger pot that will completely cover the tureen. The reason why I have muslin cloth around my tureen is because it’s the only way I can safely lift the bowl out of the pot (like a stork holding a baby) when the soup’s ready to be served. My pot was too narrow.
Double-boiling jars can be bought at Asian kitchenware shops. You can spot them because they have two lids to give a better seal and prevent reduction. One good thing about these jars is you can serve them directly after cooking, so they double up as tableware.
Dried Red Date, Angelica Sinesis (Dang Gui), Ligusticum, Codonopsis
Goji Berry, Chinese Yam, Astragalus Bark
These are the Chinese herbs that goes well with this chicken soup, I got the proportions and a few handy tips from fake father-in-law. If you want to know more about the properties of each herb and how to use it to good effect, check out my recently blogged post Traditional Chinese Herbs for Dummies.
Optional Ingredients: Ginseng Root, Polygonatum, Dried Fig, Pearl Barley
Here are a few optional ingredients that you can use as well. Ginseng will impart a more herbal character to the soup, use sparingly. Polygonatum and dried figs sweetens the soup, while pearl barley will make the soup thicker and with more ‘body’.
And this is how I use up a whole chicken, ala lazyboo style. I’d first get the butcher to halve them, then at home I’d use kitchen scissors and snip along the border of the breast so that I get quarters of almost equal weight. For medium sized chickens in Australia, the quarters will end up around 350-400g. Snip off the buttocks and throw that away. Freeze.
I think for soups, the breast portion (right) will suit poaching more, while the thigh portion (left) will suit double boiling better.
I really like this recipe because the balance of Chinese herbs really gives a delicious, nourishing soup that isn’t overpoweringly herby. And if you’re feeling rich, you can also make black chicken soup with this recipe. Black chicken is sold in Melbourne at around $20 a tiny (frozen) bird.
Double-Boiled Herbal Chicken Soup
Adapted recipe from Fake father-in-law
Add the following ingredients into a double-boiling vessel:
350-400g (quarter) Chicken
2 sticks Codonopsis
3-5 slices Angelica (Dang Gui)
2pcs Diosolorea (Chinese Yam)
1 strip Astragalus Bark
5 Dried Red Dates (halved, deseeded)
Small three finger pinch of Ginseng
1-2 Dried Figs
1tbsp Pearl Barley
(Ref: Traditional Chinese Herbs, The Basics)
Place the double-boiling jar into a pot half-filled with water. Cover.
Bring the pot to a boil, then allow to simmer under low-medium heat for 3-4 hours (or more).
Ensure water level in the pot is adequate, top up with hot water if needed (cold water may crack the jar).
Ensure the water in the pot does not boil over and enter the double-boiling jar.
Before serving, remove unwanted pieces of herbs, season to taste with salt.
Poached Herbal Chicken Soup
What I like about fake father-in-law’s poached herbal chicken is you really get to taste all the freshness still inside the chicken. And at the same time, you’re letting the herbs speak for themselves within the soup. Use good quality organic or free range chicken to really taste the difference.
With this poached version, you don’t need the double-boiling jar. Just simmer all of the herbs in a pot for two hours, and then lower the chicken into the soup, bring to a bubble, then simmer for 15 mins. Serve. Use a bit more water for this version to account for evaporation. Also, the chicken needs to be at room temperature, if it’s still a bit refrigerated, then poach the chicken for 20 mins or more.
For more comforting home recipes, check out my Recipes Section.