With everyone at home (including myself) feeling under the weather, I decided to make the ultimate comfort food – chicken soup! In my family, this particular version is always eaten with mee suah (a thin, delicate noodle made from rice flour which signifies “long life” for the Chinese) during special occasions such as birthdays and Chinese New Year. It is eaten at other times as well but then, it’s usually just served with rice. I’m not sure if it’s the nutritional value of the dish or the good memories associated with it, eating this soup always makes me feel better :-) Note: For times when we’re really sick and can only stomach bland food, I would make a different chicken soup, one with just water, ginger, chicken, and a bit of salt.
Armed with only approximations of the ingredients (as usual), it took me some time to finally get the flavor of the soup just right. For a while, in order to get a flavorful chicken broth but not use too much chicken, I went through the extra step of preparing a pot of stock first using chicken backs – way too bothersome! Omitting that additional step, I focused on using chicken livers to give the soup an extra boost of flavor. The livers work perfectly (and they are so yummy) but not everyone likes chicken livers, I know – back to square one. In the end, I got the water and chicken ratio just right by reducing the amount of water much more than I would have considered doing at the beginning. From there, it was just the matter of getting the correct balance between the sherry, mushrooms, and the broth to produce the taste I had been trying to replicate from memory. In addition, I’ve also streamlined the preparation method, making it simpler and less messy. The way my mom and grandmother make it, the chicken is always stir-fried in a wok first with some of the ingredients before being transferred into a pot of boiling water. This always results in a huge mess of splattered oil everywhere around the stove – on the wall, fridge, floor…UGH! One day, not wanting to deal with the mess anymore, I added all the ingredients into the water without stir-frying them first. However, the soup came out less flavorful – lacking the usual intensified fragrance/taste of ginger. This made me realize that all I needed to stir-fry to continue getting the taste I’m looking for is just the ginger, which also means that I can reduce the amount of oil used in the recipe by more than half! To further prevent excessive oiliness, I make sure I use only skinless chicken. Now, I have a delicious, nutritious soup that tastes just like how I remember it but without the fat and the mess! Yippee!!!
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2″-2½” chunk fresh ginger, sliced
½ cup cream sherry
18 whole shiitake mushrooms
12-14 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or 10-12 boneless, skinless chicken breast)
8-10 whole chicken livers (optional)
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
- Place the water in a large pot (at least 6-qt), and bring to a boil.
- In the meantime, heat the sesame oil in a small frying pan. Stir-fry ginger until golden brown and fragrant. Turn off the heat and transfer the ginger and oil into the pot of water. Note: Water does not have to be boiling before you add the ingredients.
- Add the sherry, mushrooms, and chicken (I generally use individually frozen chicken pieces purchased in big bags from Costco or Sam’s Club. Don’t bother defrosting – just add them straight into the pot).
- Bring to a boil. Then lower the heat and simmer until chicken is cooked and tender. If using chicken livers, add them towards the end and cook for approximately 10 more minutes (over-cooking the livers will result in a hard and grainy texture as opposed to soft and creamy).
- Add salt to taste. Serve.