In Singapore, Chinese chicken soup generally refers to clear broths simmered with the whole chicken combined with any variety of mushrooms or root vegetables like carrot, potato, celery and etc., and Chinese herbs.
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 <i>ayam kampung</i>. 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.
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.
Various chicken parts can be used for soups in smaller portions. 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. Other more exotic parts like the necks and feet have also been used in Chinese soups.
Ground chicken, although not very common, can be made into meatballs and served in soups or as wonton filling.
There are a couple of ingredients that go extremely well with chicken. First, Chinese herbs. Those frequently paired with chicken are solomon's seal, ginseng, danggui, red dates, Chinese yam and goji berries.
Here's a recipe with honey dates.
It goes well with mushrooms, Chinese fungus and ginger.