药炖乌骨鸡 Herbal Silkie Black Chicken
My parents, being really traditional chinese folks, are firm believers of the effects of traditional chinese medicine (TCM). That meant an assortment of remedies in the form of brews and stews to shelf-available medication for minor ailments, like 川贝枇杷膏 chuan bei pi pa gao for coughs and sore throats, 银翘解毒片 yin qiao jie du pian when we are feeling slightly feverish, or 保济丸 po chai pills when one’s having the runs. Some of these concoctions are really quite pleasant, like 炖燕窝 bird’s nest soup and 三雪湯, a sweet soup made with hasma (雪蛤), snow fungus (雪耳) and chinese pear (雪梨）which not only nourishes the body, but taste good too! I really didn’t mind when asked if I want seconds. But some are quite dreadful, like 苦茶 ku cha, which literally translates to “bitter tea”, owing to a mélange of chinese herbs used, building up to that ultimate palate experience of extremity, and 羚羊露 leng yeung luk, essentially made from water double boiled with antelope horn shavings, in my opinion is another epitome of disgust. Now these are the things that ought to be featured on “Fear Factor”! But as the classic Chinese saying goes, 良药苦口利于病, most of these awful-tasting TCM are downed amidst all that whining, wailing, coaxing and even bribery for sweet treats later on.
One of the most common TCM herbal soups we enjoyed at home is 药炖乌骨鸡 Herbal Silkie Black Chicken, especially during this time of the year when the weather turns slightly chilly accompanied by lots of moisture from the monsoons. Older folks believe that it is important to prepare the body for such “changes in season” and strength one’s constitution so as to prevent ourselves from falling sick，and hence the practice of 立冬进补. I hadn’t been sleeping well of late and as I was getting ready for a holiday to Taiwan, I wanted to make sure that my body was ready to brace all that walking, shopping and eating. Hence, a little “treat” for myself and my family with this familiar soup which hadn’t been made for quite some time at home.
Silkie Black Chicken is a popular choice for many traditional chinese soups for its curative properties in 食疗 chinese food therapy. It is a curious looking bird as the melanism is not only skin-deep, but perpetuates down to its flesh and bone, giving rise to its chinese name 乌骨鸡, literally to mean “black bone chicken” . Traditionally, this soup is “double-boiled”, which means to house all the soup ingredients in a ceramic urn-like vessel, which is in turn placed into a pot of simmering water. But we use an electric slow cooker at home, same effect for lesser effort!
药炖乌骨鸡 Herbal Silkie Black Chicken (for 4 rice bowls servings)
1 Silkie Black Chicken
A handful of 玉竹 Rhizoma Polygonati Odorati
4-6 sliced pieces of 淮山 dried chinese yam aka nagaimo Dioscorea opposita
4-6 rhizomes of 党参 Codonopsis pilosula
4-6 sliced pieces of 北芪 aka 黄芪 Astragalus propinquus
4 large dried red dates 大枣/红枣 jujube Ziziphus zizyphus
1 handful of 枸杞 goji berries aka wolfberries Lycium sp.
6-8 bowls of just boiled water (approx.)
salt to taste
Boil a kettle of water.
While waiting for the water to come to a boil, rinse all the herbal ingredients quickly and set aside.
Clean the chicken, plucking any remnant feathers, especially under the wing joints. Chop into 4 large pieces.
Place the chicken pieces in a large bowl and pour boiling water over it carefully. Drain away the cloudy/bloody water and set aside.
To a slow cooker, add the chicken pieces, and all the ingredients (except goji berries) followed by just boiled water. The chicken should be completely submerged with at least one inch depth of water above it. Some of the ingredients e.g. red dates may stay afloat. That is normal as they will sink subsequently when properly reconstituted through boiling.
Turn the cooker to “High Heat” and wait for the ingredients to come to a boil again. After which, turn down to “Low Heat” and allow the soup contents to slowly simmer for 4-6 hours.
10 mins before serving, add salt to taste and goji berries.
At the end, I’ll like to share some pointers one has to note in the making of this soup.
During the preparation of the chicken, the chopped pieces are first quickly blanched with just boiled water. This allows any blood clots and remnants of internal organs, especially around the rib cage to cook and easily removed subsequently. These would make the soup cloudy and impart a slight bitter taste to the soup subsequently if not removed.
Water must be hot when it is poured into the cooker. If normal tap water was used, a much longer cooking time is required as it takes quite a while for water to come to a boil using a slow cooker.
Goji berries are not added at the beginning with the other ingredients as they will impart of sourish taste from prolonged cooking. Gently steeeping them at the very end is enough for them to become sufficiently soft to be eaten.
For a slightly sweeter edge, 金丝蜜枣 candied dates can be added in place of red dates, either as partial replacement or full substitution.
Do not attempt to hasten the cooking process by cooking the soup in a pot directly over the stove or leaving the soup to cook under “High Heat” on the slow cooker. TCM believes in the differing effects of 武火 and 文火 during the preparatory stages of food therapy. A very gentle simmering 文火 is deemed as the best way to preserve the beneficial qualities of these curative foods. So patience is really a key in making many TCM soups like this one.