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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.