RESTORATIVE ASIAN SOUP
I don’t quite know how it happened, but somehow I got a cold in the middle of August. While San Francisco isn’t exactly known for it’s sweltering summers, I found myself craving something that would warm me to the core and nourish me at the same time. Recalling the virtues of chicken noodle soup, I figured I would try my hand at creating a chinese-style broth infused with the healing qualities of garlic and ginger. So, with a batch of homemade chicken stock in the freezer and a handful of asian ingredients and cooking techniques, I set out to create a soup that would have me feeling healthy again in no time.
Drawing inspiration from Barbara Tropp’s iconic, China Moon Cookbook, I began by making a simple “infusion” that would serve as the backbone of my soup. The long, slow simmering of copious amounts of roasted garlic and other aromatics imbue the broth with a rich and savory quality while the basil stems thrown in during the last fifteen minutes of simmering add a beautiful floral finish. Once infused, the broth is good enough to eat by itself, but I was feeling a bit adventurous, and wanted to add some protein and vitamins. Using a technique called “velveting,” the marinated chicken breast is only partially cooked in simmering water before it is drained and finished in the soup. The pieces end up being juicy, extremely tender and pleasantly salty. Finished with some shiitake mushrooms, baby bok choy, spinach and a good pinch of Szechwan pepper-salt, I had a soup that is as delicious as it is healthy.
Restorative Asian Soup
Recipe and techniques adapted from Barbara Tropp’s, China Moon Cookbook
As suggested by Ms. Tropp, be patient while infusing the oil with the aromatics before adding the chicken stock. It is during this step that the bulk of the flavor for the broth is developed; it should not be rushed. When velveting the chicken, have another pot of water on the stove bubbling away at a strong simmer before water blanching the pieces. Marinating the chicken for a couple of hours is great, but overnight will yield especially flavorful and tender results.
For the Broth Infusion
- 1 1/2 large, rock-hard heads of garlic, wrapped in tin foil and roasted at 375°F for 30-40 minutes
- 1 tablespoon corn or peanut oil
- 1/2 a small onion, thinly sliced
- 1/2 small green serrano chili
- 4 quarter-size coins of fresh ginger, smashed
- 6 cups of unsalted chicken broth, preferably homemade
- 1/2 stalk fresh lemongrass or small handful of basil stems
- Kosher salt
- Roasted Szechwan pepper-salt (recipe follows)
- 2 small baby bok choy, sliced in quarters
- 3/4 cup shitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1 large handful of baby spinach leaves
For the Velvet Marinated Chicken
- 1 large egg white
- 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 3/4 lb. fresh chicken breast, skinned, boned and cut into strips 1 x 1/4 inch thick slices
- Prepare the chicken: Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and toss to coat the chicken. Allow at least two hours or overnight to marinate.
- Prepare the infusion: Add the oil to the bottom of a non-aluminum, heavy stockpot and swirl to glaze the bottom of the pot. Heat over low heat until a slice of onion sizzles gently upon contact with the oil. Add the onion slices, chili, ginger and roasted garlic, stirring to combine. Cover the pot and, keeping the heat very low, sweat the vegetables until the onion turns translucent and the mixture is soupy, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the vegetables from sticking to the bottom of the pot. This sweating step is crucial to the success of the flavors, so don’t rush it.
- Add the chicken stock, cover the pot, and raise the heat to moderate. Bring the mixture to a near boil and adjust the heat to maintain a steady simmer for 1 hour. Add the lemongrass or basil stems during the last 15 minutes.
- Remove the pot from heat. Let the infusion steep, uncovered and undisturbed, for 1 hour.
- Strain the infusion through a fine-mesh sieve lined with layers of dampened cheesecloth and spoon off any excess oil lingering on the surface.
- Season the infusion with enough kosher salt to bring out the garlic flavor, then end with roasted pepper-salt to taste.
- Just prior to serving, place a small saucepan of water to simmer. Add the chicken pieces stir until the outside is white, about 30 to 40 seconds. Remove the chicken with a slotted spoon and set aside.
- Meanwhile, add the vegetables to the hot broth. Allow to simmer until vegetables are tender. Add the partially cooked chicken and cook through, about five minutes.
Makes two large bowls
- Combine two tablespoons szechwan peppercorns with 1/4 cup kosher salt in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Stir continuously for five minutes or until the peppercorns are toasted and the salt has taken on an off-white color.
- Remove from heat and grind the mixture in a spice grinder or mortar until finely ground.