Chinese Superior Stock – 上湯
A good Basic Chicken Stock is essential in the Chinese kitchen, but for very special soups or other dishes suitable for the banquet table, a very rich broth known as ‘Superior Stock’, or 上湯 (pronounced shàng tāng), is required.
Basically, a traditional Chinese Superior Stock is prepared using chicken, pork and ham, the latter very often the prized Chinese ham known as ‘Jinhua Ham’. A select few other ingredients are used, ginger and scallion usually, but not much else in the way of vegetables are added. It is a very rich and complex preparation and a good stock can make all the difference between a mediocre dish and one that is truly special.
Choosing Ingredients for a Chinese Superior Stock
When choosing the Chicken and Pork, select good quality meat and cuts that are on the bone and have some skin, cartilage, and fat as well. Chicken wings are expensive, but they give a nice gelatinous texture to just a plain chicken stock and are excellent for use here. Pork ribs with a good quantity of meat on the bone are also an excellent addition, but pork hocks and trotters with the skin still attached are especially good for producing a thick, rich body to the finished stock.
As for the Ham, if the traditional Jinhua Ham is not available, you can substitute some other variety, but pick the best quality you can find. Many recipes you find on-line suggest using Smithfield Ham as an alternative but many of those that I have tried had a pretty strong smoky taste, which may be fine if you want that, but is not my preference for this sort of stock. Prosciutto, or Serrano Ham would be decent choices which are commonly available, and not smoky. They are expensive of course, but likely not more so than Jinhua Ham is likely to be for North American cooks.
Finally, beyond Ginger, Scallion, and some White Peppercorns, other additions may include Dried Black Mushrooms and Dried Scallops (Conpoy), both of which are used in the recipe below, and Dried Shrimp, or Dried Abalone, occasionally appear in some versions as well.
How to Make a 上湯
You first need to blanch the fresh meats in boiling, salted water. This removes any bloody or raw-meat tastes (which is disliked by most Chinese, and, more importantly, it assists in keeping the stock clear later. This is a good practice for most stocks but it is almost critical here. About 1 – 2 minutes is needed for smaller pieces (chicken wings, for example), but 3 or 4 minutes or so will be necessary for larger pieces like pork hocks.
After blanching, rinse the individual pieces very thoroughly, making sure to remove all scum, or ‘bits’ from the surfaces.
The ham, by the way does not need to be blanched, although you may wish to rinse it briefly.
The ingredients for the stock need to be completely covered with the water (and make sure it is cold water, not hot). The exact amount of water is not critical but we are aiming for about 4 quarts of finished stock. If the level should fall below this amount you can replenish it as you go.
Put the pot on a low heat and slowly warm the water, increasing the temperature bit by bit until the surface barely begins to ripple. It is important that you do not boil the stock at any point so keep a weather eye on it and keep it at a gentle simmer.
During the process, and especially in the early stages, you will see a little foam, and maybe some small fragments, appear on the surface. This will be minimal if you have properly blanched and rinsed the meats and you can skim what does arise away with a ladle or other suitable implement.
The ‘brewing’ time will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 – 5 hours but start tasting after 3 hours or so to see how things are going. Once the flavor of the 上湯 is to your liking, add salt to taste.
Once finished, remove the solids from the liquid. Discard the ginger and vegetable pieces, keeping the meat for the time being, and then strain the broth through a cheese-cloth, or the like, and pour it into storage containers.
As for the meats, it is still possible to derive further goodness from them in a ‘second-run’. Simply put them bits back in a clean pot and cover with water (about 4 quarts, or so), and then re-simmer as before. The result will not be quite as rich as the first run but you can add a few more other flavoring ingredients, such as more mushrooms, or even a bit of celery, onion, or a carrot or two. If you reduce it sufficiently, the result can be used as a regular, everyday sort of stock, or the basis for a much richer one using additional fresh meat.
Storing and Using a Chinese Superior Stock
Here is a little of a finished 上湯 after it has been cooled. As you can see, it is beautifully clear and has a jelly-like consistency that will translate to a lovely silky mouth-feel when heated and eaten as soup.
This particular sort of stock is usually prepared for very special soups and banquet-quality dishes (often involving expensive ingredients like Shark’s-fin or Abalone, etc.), but you can, of course, use it in any non-vegetarian dish where a good stock is called for. This may be a soup, but the broth can also be used for braising, or forming the base for fine-quality sauces and the like.
For storage, you can keep the stock in the fridge for three or four days, or freeze it for upwards of three months. If mostly plan to use the stock in small amounts, such as for braising, or in stir-fried dishes, you can freeze some, or all of it in ice-cube trays and then just take a few pieces as needed.
Your Recipe Card:
Chinese Superior Stock – 上湯
- 2 lb. Chicken parts
- 2 lb. Pork on the bone ribs plus pork hocks is great
- 3/4 lb. good quality Ham
- 4 slices fresh Ginger
- 2 -3 Scallions
- 1 Dried Black Mushroom Shiitake
- 1 tsp. White Peppercorns
- ¼ cup Rice Wine
- 1 small handful Dried Scallop optional
- 5 liters quarts of Cold Water
- Salt to taste
- Separately blanch the chicken and pork pieces in hot boiling water for several minutes and the rinse and wash well in cold water.
- Place all the ingredients, except the salt, into a suitable pot and pour over the water, ensuring everything is submerged.
- Put the pot on a low-medium flame and slowly let the pot come to a gentle simmer.
- Continue to let the pot simmer at the same gentle rate, adjusting the heat if necessary, and skim away any impurities as they rise to the surface.
- Allow the stock to ‘brew’ for 4 to 5 hours, adding water as needed to keep the solids fully covered.
- When the stock is simmered to completion, remove the solids with a slotted spoon or mesh ladle (reserving the meat for a second use, if desired), and add a little salt to taste. There should be approximately 4 liters/quarts of stock in the pot at this point.
- Finally, strain the finished stock through cheese-cloth, or the like, and store in the fridge for up to a few days, or in the freezer it for up to three months.