When battling a cold whilst growing up in Hong Kong, the remedy was always to boil up a large pot of soup, or else go down to the local Chinese turtle jelly store and be served up a sweet, gloopy black substance called "龜苓膏” (prounounced "gwuilinggou"), which was made by boiling a turtle shell for up to 12 hours and infusing it with Chinese herbs. Well, here in New Zealand we don't have the luxury of turtle-derived concoctions, so chicken will have to suffice as our winter solution for building up our immune system!
It is a common belief that chicken soup relieves coughs and sore throats because the gentle heat from the soup improves blood circulation from the throat down to the chest. The ingredients used provide much-needed nutrients such as selenium, vitamins A and C, and various antioxidants to boost the immune system, fight diseases, and nourish the body. The chicken in the soup is also rich in protein, which facilitates tissue formation and recovery.
Most Chinese chicken soups use the whole chicken, however for those who only need a smaller portion for 1-2 people, we recommend simmering soups with chicken thighs as these contain more flavour; chicken breast slices or fillets are used to make quick soups where cooking time is just enough to cook the meat. To keep the fillet moist, we recommend marinating the chicken pieces with a tablespoon or so of cornstarch beforehand.
As children, we recall black chicken being used in soup: It is also known as the silkie, or black-boned chicken. It is used almost exclusively in Chinese herbal soups because of its perceived medicinal value. A free range, organic chicken is recommended for the recipes listed below.
Chicken Soup for Beginners
Ginger, sesame seed oil and chicken form a common trio when it comes to Chinese cooking. This recipe emanates warmth, and heats up your extremities (as we are prone to cold noses, fingers and toes in winter!). Recommended as a nutritious lunch for new mums too.
- 2 free range chicken thighs, cleaned and sliced all over to enable faster cooking
- 3 finger-sized pieces of ginger, sliced thinly
- 1 bulb of garlic, separated into cloves with skins on
- Sesame seed oil
- Spring onion to garnish
- Optional additions to add to the pot: ginseng, baby yams (peeled), red dates, goji berries, black or cloud ear fungus (pre-soaked in boiling water 1 hour beforehand if dry), frozen dumplings (add these to the saucepan 12 minutes before serving)
- Place chicken, ginger, garlic and optional additions into a saucepan.
- Add sufficient water to cover the ingredients.
- Bring water to a boil, removing floating bits with a sieve as you go.
- Lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes.
- Add a dash of sesame seed oil and salt to taste.
- Garnish with spring onion and serve.
White Fungus and Carrot Chicken Soup
White fungus is often praised for its anti-inflammatory benefits, and is often used to calm down a ferocious dry cough. It is high in collagen too, and is known as the "poor man's birds nest" because pound for pound it holds the same amount of collagen as the traditional dessert favourite, bird's nest soup.
- 1 chicken, skin removed
- 20g white fungus (pre-soaked in boiling water for 1 hour beforehand)
- 3 carrots, peeled and cut into 4cm chunks
- 4 finger-sized pieces of ginger, sliced thinly
- 3 honey dates
- 3 litres water
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil.
- Add the chicken, carrots, ginger and honey dates, lower the fire to a simmer, and cook for 1.5 hours.
- Add the white fungus and simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours.
- Add salt to taste before serving.
Fragrant Drunk Chicken
Another warming dish that is good for strengthening the immune system and is delicious to snack on, this "Fragrant Drunk Chicken" recipe which involves a whole bottle of cooking wine is a go-to on cold nights.
- 2 chicken thighs and 2 chicken breasts, sliced into chunks
- 5 finger-sized pieces of ginger, sliced thinly
- Rice bran oil
- 4 tablespoons sesame seed oil
- 1 bottle cooking wine
- 1 tsp brown sugar
- Heat up the rice bran oil in a wok on medium heat and fry the ginger slices until they turn golden brown.
- Add the chicken pieces to the pan and fry until they have just cooked through.
- Add the cooking wine sufficiently to cover the chicken pieces and bring to a boil.
- Lower the heat and simmer the chicken for another 30 minutes, topping up with water if the liquid is drying up.
- Add the brown sugar and sesame oil at the end and serve.