A Basic Chinese Chicken Stock, or 雞湯, made at home is better than canned. It makes great soups, sauces, and a really terrific noodle broth.
A good quality Chicken Stock is as indispensable in the Chinese kitchen as it is in the west. Not only is it the starting point for many sorts of soup, it is even more widely used as the broth for noodle dishes, and as the base for a wide range of sauces for stir-fried dishes, and more complex preparations.
The Basic Ingredients for Basic Chinese Chicken Stock
The ingredients for a Basic Chinese Chicken Stock are very simple and include just chicken parts and water, plus a little ginger, scallion, peppercorns and just a little rice wine as aromatics. These additional aromatics are common in Chinese Chicken Stock preparations, but you could easily produce a more western-style stock by simply omitting the ginger. The rice wine, by the way, is very similar to a Dry Sherry, which is fine in a western stock, but a little white wine could be substituted instead.
You can make a decent rough stock using just bones and leftover scraps of meat, but, for a good, rich stock suitable for high-end dishes, you need to use the whole flesh and bone together. You can use a good-sized whole chicken cut up for this, or else a collection of parts purchased separately.
The darker meat tends to render more flavor, hence the thighs and legs you see above, but a good proportion of wings also helps to add the gelatinous quality that make a full-bodied stock (especially favored for Noodle Broth). Here, I am using a little over 4 pounds of chicken pieces and about a third of the weight is wings.
There are no hard and fast proportions of water to chicken, but a pretty good ratio is 3 cups of water for every pound of chicken.
How to make Basic 雞湯
A fundamental step in preparing a good quality 雞湯 is blanching the chicken pieces. This is especially true in Chinese cookery, as it helps to remove any hint of a ‘bloody’ taste, but it also makes it far easier to produce a good, clear stock for use in light soups.
To do this, you just need to bring a large pot of water to the boil. It doesn’t matter how much water you use; just make sure there is enough to more than cover all the meat and then add a good pinch of salt for every quart or so.
When the water is boiling, add the chicken parts and leave them to parboil for several minutes until they are completely white with no pink visible. They will still be raw in the middle at this point, but just make sure the outsides are free of any pinkish color.
After blanching drain the chicken pieces into a colander and rinse them well. It is a good practice to actually wash the pieces individually to make sure that each is free of any of the scum and ‘bits’ released into the water during cooking.
Also, if you are going to re-use the blanching pot to make the stock, make sure you clean it well and scrub away the scum ring from the sides and any bits and pieces clinging to the bottom.
When you are ready, put your scallions into the bottom of the pot, arrange the chicken parts on top and then add the water along with the ginger, wine and peppercorns. Put the pot on low heat and then as the water warms, gradually increase the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer.
In contrary to most recipe instructions, you don’t need to bring everything to a boil and, in fact, it is preferable to avoid that and make sure to go no higher than a moderate simmer during the entire process.
The optimum simmering time is around about four hours, but a bit longer is fine. In either event, start counting the time from the point that the stock reaches a decent simmer, rather than when you first put it on the heat. During the simmering, you will need to skim any additional detritus that arises, but if you have blanched and rinsed properly, this will be minimal.
Some liquid will evaporate, of course, and it is a good idea to taste the stock periodically. Essentially, by the end of the cooking time, you should have a good, rich tasting 雞湯 that is full of flavor, yet still delicate.
At the end of the simmering time allow the stock to cool a little and then carefully remove the chicken pieces with tongs or a slotted spoon, being careful not to disturb or break up the pieces too much. Afterwards, pour the stock into a fresh container through a strainer to remove any bits.
If you really want to improve the clarity of the finished product, you can line your strainer with a few layers of cheesecloth. For using the stock as a base for very clear soups, this is a good idea but for most uses, such as for sauces or Noodle Broth, it is not really necessary.
If your stock is still a little weaker than you like, you can reduce it somewhat by cooking down for a little longer. In this event, avoid boiling and let it simmer a second time until the volume reduces and it tastes right. Avoid adding any seasonings, or salt, until it has reached the desired concentration.
What to with the remaining Chicken…
As for the leftover chicken pieces, you have a few options: First, you can eat them as is (although, after a long simmering much of their flavor will be gone), or you can use the meat for pet-food, if you have cats or dogs. The best use, however, is to to make a second round of stock, especially to use as Noodle Broth.
If you do this, you will want to use a little less water this time and add a few more flavorings in addition to the ginger and scallion. Some dried mushrooms, garlic, and a little more rice would all be good, in that event. A better result, however, will be had by combining the remaining pieces with other chicken bones and trimmings from your freezer, along with pork bones and scraps to make a ‘combination stock’.
Storing and Using a Basic Chinese Chicken Stock
Once the 雞湯 is cooled in the refrigerator, you will see some fat congeal on the surface. You can remove this if you wish, but a little fat won’t hurt and it adds to the flavor and texture once reheated.
The stock will keep in the fridge for about four days, although you can extend its life a little if you bring it to a boil and then cool down again every three to four days or so.
Far better, however, is to freeze it for later use. If you wish to use small amounts for stir-fry sauces and the like, it is a good idea to freeze some of the batch in ice-cube trays so that you can easily take what you need for a given recipe.
Your Recipe Card for 雞湯 :
Basic Chinese Chicken Stock
- 4 lbs Chicken parts;
- 12 cups cold water;
- 1 bunch scallions white and light green part only;
- 6 thick slices of Ginger;
- ¼ cup Rice Wine (you can substitute dry sherry);
- 1 tsp. White Peppercorns.
- Blanch the chicken parts well in boiling salted water for about 3 or 4 minutes until no pink color is visible.
- Drain the chicken and wash each piece individually under cold running water to remove any remaining scum, or detritus.
- Put the chicken pieces in a large pot with the remaining solid ingredients and pour over the 12 cups of cold water.
- Turn the heat to a low medium and let the pot come to a gentle simmer. Do not allow the pot to boil and adjust the heat, as necessary, to maintain the same gentle simmer throughout.
- Continue to cook, skimming away any detritus or scum that arises, for about 3 – 4 hours. If necessary, add water periodically to ensure that the chicken remains covered.
- Remove the chicken from the pot very carefully with a slotted spoon, or tongs, and then strain the soup to remove any remaining bits.
- If a very clear stock is desired, pass it through several layers of cheesecloth.
- Refrigerate for up to 4 days, or freeze, until needed.