Broth seems to be the new kid on the block these days. You can find broth in coffee cups on the lower east side, and personally, I applaud the trend. Who wouldn’t want a cup of comforting, healthy goodness to sip on a wintry day AND feel fashionably trendy at the same time? I’ll take my trendy broth and drink it too, thank you very much.
Yet even with its recent growing fame and health claims, broths have been around for as long as anyone can remember. My father-in-law has been making it ever since he watched his mom prepare it while growing up in China. Rumor has it that when he first immigrated to the US and found work at a Chinese restaurant, he drew the attention of his future wife with his smooth broth-making skills. I’ll have to ask him more about that next time.
Amber-hued, with a warm round-bodied savoriness, my father-in-law’s broths are some of the best. I watched him make a broth recently and discovered that one of the secrets of its heartiness comes from being cooked inside an enclosed metal container. No water enters during cooking, and no water escapes. The result is concentrated flavor in a broth that is translucent and clear of grease (more about how that’s done in a bit).
This simple recipe is flexible and expandable. When my father-in-law made it, he added a motley of Chinese herbs, but you can make it as simple or complex as you like.
The recipe’s star player is a quality piece of chicken breast, preferably organic. But its support team is not to be scoffed at. Dried baby sea scallops and dried shiitake mushrooms both have an umami complexity that lends a rich mouthfeel and depth to simple meat broths. You can find both items at your local Asian grocery store. A small amount adds a volume of flavor.
If you’re wondering what the twigs are, they are the small tag-along roots of the American ginseng root. Bitter, and slightly floral in flavor, these nubbly roots are fantastic for nourishing the lungs and generating moisture in the body (to help keep our bodies supple, inside and out). Winter can be a dry time of year, especially when we’re indoors with the radiators on full-blast, and the lungs, a “delicate organ” according to Chinese medicine, can get taxed from taking in so much dry air. These all-stars add an extra boost to strengthen the lungs and keep things hydrated. Just note that they will add a bitter edge to your broth. Start with a small amount first and see how it goes.
Another secret to chicken broth-making is to ensure that water seeps into as much of the meat as possible. My father-in-law taught me this nifty trick of slicing the breast like a mango to get maximum surface area and flavor.
To make sure the broth is translucent and clear of grease, place the cut chicken breast into a pot of boiling water for 2-3 minutes. Fat and blood in the form of foamy crud will seep into the water and ensure that it’s not in the chicken and in your broth.
The next step is to gather the ingredients into your chosen vessel. I used a metal lunch container with a lid and latch. There’s no need to soak the mushrooms, scallops or ginseng. Give them a quick rinse, then add them to the container with the chicken and 2 1/4 cups of water to make this pretty (and edible) potpourri. Add water to the larger pot to begin the double steam.
With lids on, bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for an hour.
Lift up the lid and breathe in that aroma of goodness. Go on.
Pour the steaming liquid into a mug or bowl and sip to your content. The mushrooms, scallops and chicken, by the way, are edible (and delicious) after this one hour cooking point. Husband and I snacked away on it, alongside a bowl of rice.
If desired, however, the ingredients can go for a second round of broth-making in a regular pot filled with water. Simply shred the now-cooked chicken and boil it again, along with the other ingredients, directly in the pot with 2-3 cups of water. After simmering for an hour, you can run the broth through a sieve or cheesecloth and enjoy a second round. Discard the ingredients at this point, since all the flavor will have imparted into the broth.
Double Steamed Chicken Broth
1 6-8 ounce chicken breast, preferably organic
1/4 cup of dried baby scallops, rinsed
1/4 cup of dried shiitake mushrooms, rinsed
1 teaspoon of American ginseng roots (or 1 knob of American ginseng), rinsed – optional*
2 1/4 cups of water
Medium sized pot
Metal trivet for double boiling
Large soup pot with lid
Metal container or a small glass mixing bowl
- Fill the medium sized pot with water and set it to boil.
- Wash and pat dry the chicken breast. Score the meat as you would a mango, making shallow cuts in a criss-cross pattern, about half an inch apart.
- Place the chicken in the boiling water for 2-3 minutes to clear off any foamy crud, then pull out and rinse off.
- Place the trivet inside the large soup pot. You’ll be using this pot to cook your broth.
- Put the chicken, dried scallops, mushrooms and ginseng roots into the metal container or glass bowl. Pour in the water until it reaches 2/3rds of the way up. If your container has a lid, secure it on. Place the container on top of the trivet, then pour water into the pot, along the sides of the container. The water should reach about half way up the pot.
- Place the lid on and bring the soup pot to a boil. When it’s bubbling nicely, reduce the heat to medium low and simmer for an hour.
- Remove the pot from heat, and carefully open the inner container. Pour out the steaming broth into mugs or bowls.
*Instead of ginseng, you can substitute a few slices of ginger root for a more warming broth.