In the old days, when my mom wanted to boil herbal soup, she would have to go to those Chinese medicine shop to buy the herbs. And she would need to mix and match the type of herbs that she needed. Each types of soup require their own specific herbs.
It is much more lazy man friendly nowadays. You just need to head to the nearest supermarket and locate the Herbs & Spices section. There would be a wide array of pre-packaged soup herbs. In fact, even the medicine shops have to keep up and sell some of their herbs in packaged soup mix.
And they’re relatively cheap. A packet of these could cost between RM 5 to RM 8 depending on the type of herbs in the mix, and it would be good enough to make a pot of soup enough to feed a family of a few people.
Any cook worth his/her salt would tell you, to make a proper pot of Chinese soup, you would need bones. Pork bones ideally, but chicken bones would be an alright substitute. Since I don’t go to the wet markets in Penang due to my non-existent Hokkien speaking capability, I always do my grocery shopping in Jusco. Sorry, I know they are now called AEON, but I’m used to the old name, just let me take my own sweet time to adjust okay?
You won’t be able to find pork bones in Jusco, so I always make do with a couple of these.
I always get rid of the skin and those embedded fat. To make it easier, I will cut the legs up into thighs and drumsticks. This is probably simple common sense, but believe me, many novice cooks do not know how to perform this cut. They would take the knife and hack at leg randomly, usually using brute force to cut through solid bones. I know, because I used to be one of these people.
It does not have to be that difficult. You just need to cut through the joints. Refer to my picture above. The joints are usually there. Just slice through the meat section until you hit the bone, then search left and right for a bit. Once you located the joint, cutting through it will require next to no effort.
The only tedious effort is the chicken cutting part. In fact if you buy the bones from the wet market, you won’t even have to bother. The butcher will take care of it for you.
All that is left then is to bring a pot of water to boil,
If you ask different people, you will probably get different answers as to how long to boil the soup. Some would even talk about those [3碗水煲成1碗水 3 portions of water boil till 1 portion of water is left] method. I will tell you my version.
Set to medium low heat, let the soup cook for one and a half hours, and then remove the chicken from the soup. Try to separate the meat from the bones with a spoon. If the meat come off easily, we’re good, peel off all the meat. Otherwise put the chicken back in and cook for another half an hour. Unless you are using some weird species of chicken, it should not take more than 2 hours, max.
Set the meat aside, and throw all the bones back into the soup. Set to high heat and let the soup boil for another 10 minutes. The initial slow cooking allows the ingredients to slowly release their essence and flavor into the soup, this high heat procedure is to force every last ounce of flavor out of the herbs and bones into the soup. Or at least that is what I imagine it to do.
Some people prefer to keep the meat in the soup for the entire process. Not me. I want to eat the meat, so it is pointless to overcook the meat too much.
I have also seen some people who will discard the meat together with the herbs and bones when the soup is done, claiming that all the nutrients has been transferred to the soup so eating the meat is meaningless. For me, this logic is flawed. The chicken meat is food, food that can fill your stomach. Why throw them away?
If you think this soup is very tedious to make because of the many number of words I wrote, it really is not. Here’s the simplified version:
- Skin the chicken
- Boil water
- Throw herbs and chicken in
- Cook on medium low heat for 1.5 to 2 hours
- Peel off chicken meat from bones
- Put the bones back in and cook on high heat for another 10 minutes
Some people, especially aunties, would keep some of those herbs in the soup to chew on. Since I am not an auntie, and neither is my guest, all those herbs go to the bin together with the bones. What’s left is the soup itself, with some of those wolfberries and the chicken meat.
Actually I cheated a little from what I usually do. Since only 2 of us are drinking the soup, I cooked the soup on high heat for 20 minutes. The soup became thicker and the flavor more concentrated a.k.a more yummy 😀
We had this and some grapes for lunch. I think this should be the healthiest meal she had throughout her entire traveling. Good way to end her backpacking vacation before flying home in the evening, I reckon 😉