Chinese chicken soup generally refers to broths simmered with chicken combined with any variety of dried goods, vegetables and Chinese herbs. But there are so many ways to use chicken in soups.
It is a common belief that Chinese chicken soup relieves coughs and sore throats because the gentle heat from the soup improves blood circulation near the throat and windpipe.
Most importantly, the chicken and complementary ingredients used provide much needed nutrients to boost the immunity system and nourish the body. For example, chicken is a good source of carnosine, an anti-oxidant. Carnosine is already been taken in the form of health supplements in some countries.
Isn’t taking it in the form of a yummy chicken soup way more enjoyable than popping pills?
I strongly recommend choosing organically grown chicken for simmering soups. In Singapore, we used to have what we call ayam kampung. Kampung is the Malay word for a rural village and ayam means chicken. In the past, villagers rear their own chickens. These birds are free to roam around their owners’ compound, peeking for food and sleeping under the houses.
With modernisation and industralization, villages in Singapore are all but gone. Now, chickens come from farms in neighbouring countries and are mostly reared in batteries and fed with growth hormones and antibiotics to hasten their growth. Ayam kampong are still available in Malaysia and Indonesia but I think are reared mostly for domestic consumption.
Kampung chicken is a little leaner and yellower. The meat has a fuller flavour than the battery-raised ones.
In recent years, kampong chickens are making a comeback. I have seen the smaller birds with a mellow yellow tinge in their skin being sold in the local supermarkets. They are slightly more expensive but I like to think that these birds had a happy life before becoming food on my table.
The concern with using battery chicken in simmered soups is the fear that the growth hormones and antibiotics had left traces in the flesh and bones. These are then leached out into the soup together with the nutrients.
The black chicken
Another recommendation I would like to make is for you to try the black chicken. It is also known as the silkie and the black-boned chicken. It is used almost exclusively in Chinese herbal soups as it has high medicinal value. Click for more information and recipes.
As mentioned, many Chinese chicken soups use the whole chicken. Many people do not chop the chicken up. They may remove the head, neck, feet, the innards and backside but that’s about it.
But what if you only need a smaller portion? Your family is small or you are only cooking for yourself. There are recipes using different chicken parts.
I personally like using chicken thighs for simmered soups. There is more fat and flavour in the thigh meat.
Slices of chicken breasts or fillet are used to make quick soups where cooking time is just enough to cook the meat. To keep the fillet moist, many cooks will marinate and use a little cornstarch to coat the fillet.
Other more exotic parts like the necks, chicken feet, gizzards have also been used in Chinese soups.
Ground chicken, although not very common in Chinese cooking, can be made into meatballs and served in soups or as wonton filling.
Famous pairing 1: Chicken and Chinese herbs
Chinese herbs frequently paired with chicken are solomon's seal, ginseng, danggui, red dates, Chinese yam and goji berries.
Different Chinese herbs in these herbal chicken soups address different medical needs. Most are general tonics to boost immunity so that we don't fall sick too easily or we will recover faster.
Famous Pairing 2: Chicken and Mushrooms / Fungus
Chicken also goes well with all types of mushrooms. The most common one is shiitake mushrooms.
Enoki mushrooms come in a close second. In fact, most of the Japanese varieties are popular in quick boiled chicken soups.
There are 2 types of dried fungus popular in the Chinese kitchen. The black or wood ear fungus and the white or cloud fungus. Both pair well with chicken in soup. Come to think of it, almost exclusively.
They don't have much flavour but are good for health. Black fungus is supposed to be good for digestion. The cloud fungus for the lungs and skin. Below is a Chinese chicken recipe with cloud fungus.
Recipe 1: Chinese chicken soup with white fungus and carrot
1 chicken, skin removed
19g white fungus
3 honey dates
2 slices ginger
2.5 litre water
Soak the white fungus in water until soft, tear into small pieces, cook in boiling water for 3 minutes
Parboil the chicken for 2 minutes
Peel and cut the carrot into chunks
Bring the water to a boil in the inner pot
Add the chicken, carrot, honey dates, and ginger into the inner pot and cook for 30 minutes
Add the white fungus and bring back to a boil
Remove from heat and place into outer pot
Close the outer pot and seal tightly
Let it cook for 3 hours or more
Remove the inner pot and place back on heat for 20 minutes
Add salt to taste before serving
Famous Pairing 3: Chicken and Ginger
Ginger can be found in many recipes. It is used in small quantities to give the dish a little kick or to balance the flavour. However, there are some Chinese dishes featuring ginger and chicken where the portion of ginger is considerably large.
Ginger is considered a warming ingredient. If our immunity is compromised, it is important to strengthen the body with some warming dishes. This is why confinement recipes feature a lot of ginger. Most Chinese believe that a woman that has just given birth has a weak constitution and is cold. So, she has to ward off the cold by consuming a lot of warm food.
Famous Pairing 4: Chicken and Congee
Rice congee with shredded chicken is a go-to food when one is feeling under the weather or recovering from an illness. Commonly known as 鸡丝粥 (ji si zhou). There are several variations. Try this one.
Besides rice, other types of grains can be used to make chicken porridge. Below is a recipe using sago.
Recipe 2. Chinese chicken soup with sago
Add the sago into boiling stock to prevent the sago pearls from sticking together. Sago pearls expand quite a bit. Do not add too much at one time.
3 tbsp pearl sago
100g chicken breast
1 tbsp snow peas
1 stalk spring onion
Sesame seed oil and pepper
1 chicken stock cube
Bring the 800ml water to a boil and add the chicken stock cube and stir to dissolve
Cook the chicken breast and snow peas into the chicken stock
When the breast is done, remove to cool, then shred
Meanwhile add the pearl sago to the stock and cook till the pearls turn translucent
Wash and julienne the spring onion
Spoon the pearl sago and chicken stock into serving bowls, add the shredded chicken and spring onion
Sprinkle the sesame seed oil and pepper before serving
How else is chicken used in Chinese cooking?
Roast chicken and steamed chicken are famous Chinese food. The way we enjoy this meat cut is either with rice or noodle; soup or dry. We have also tried to add chicken to egg drop soup and thickened soup.
It is used as a filing in wontons, although this is not as popular as pork.
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