Slow Food Sunday: Chinese Chicken Soup with Wontons and Greens
Sundays are slower. At least they should feel slower. Sundays were made for sleeping in, a leisurely breakfast with the paper, hanging out with those you love, and puttering around the kitchen. There should be slow simmering pots, and enticing scents wafting throughout the house. There should be integral tactile activities — like stirring or kneading or rolling — that get your hands into things, and take your mind off other things.
Sunday food is slow food. If you are hurried in the kitchen on Sunday, you might not be doing it right. Think about it — grandma never threw something together for Sunday dinner. Even when we stopped by unannounced, and Gramma Jo set out a spread that seemed effortless and quick, it consisted of things already made the slow way, by hand, from scratch — leftover casseroles, chilled meats, buttery bread, relishes, pickles and jams she put up.
Chinese Chicken Soup with Wontons is my new favorite, slow-Sunday one-pot dish.
The broth is basically created from a chicken, water, and a handful of simple things strewn about. It seems almost too simplistic to create a worthwhile soup. But, the finished broth is the pure, focused essence of chicken, ever so delicately perfumed with Chinese dates, mushrooms, ginger and onion. And it’s slightly richer than expected, thanks to the fattened skin. It might be the best chicken broth you’ve ever made.
When the chicken is done, it is set aside, and the broth is strained. Eileen Yin-Fei Lo suggests combining the broth, wontons, mushrooms and greens for the soup, and serve the chicken on the side. But, you can easily add the chicken to the soup, if you prefer.
Peddling back a step: the method for prepping the greens was an epiphany for me. When greens are quickly blanched in simmering water and baking soda, then refreshed in very cold water, before being added to the soup, they will not leach their liquid and dilute the broth. That’s pure genius.
Usually, when trying a new dish, I don’t always know what I’m in for. I just love it when something turns out more interesting than I thought. Dishes like this, long-steeped in tradition, teach both restraint and respect for the food. They also help me slow down, breathe deep, and enjoy the pleasure of Sunday.
Chinese Chicken Soup with Wontons
Mastering the Art of Chinese Cooking by Eileen Yin-Fei Lo
- 1 whole chicken, 4-1/2 lbs. with neck and giblets
- 4 Tbs. kosher salt, divided
- 2 quarts plus 1/2 cup water
- 1-1/2 Tbs. kosher salt
- 2-inch-long piece of ginger, peeled and lightly smashed
- 1 lb. onions, quartered
- 6 celery stalks, cut crosswise into thirds
- 24 small dried black mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, drained and squeezed dry, stems removed
- 18 dried red dates, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes and drained
- 6 cups water
- 1/2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and lightly smashed
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 3/4 tsp. baking soda, optional
- 2 lbs. Tianjin bok choy, stalks and leaves separated, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
- 24 of your favorite filled wontons, cooked
Clean the chicken: Rinse chicken thoroughly, inside and out, with cold running water. Place in clean sink or on plate. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of salt on the breast side, and rub it thoroughly into the skin of the breast, thighs, legs and wings. Turn the chicken over, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of salt over entire back, and rub it thoroughly into the skin. Run cold water over the chicken to rinse away the salt and wash the chicken. Drain for several minutes in a colander, and thoroughly sanitize the sink.
Chicken and Broth: Pour 2 quarts and 1/2 cup of water into a large pot. Add 1-1/2 Tablespoons of salt and stir. Add the 2-inch piece of ginger, onions, celery, mushrooms and dates. Place chicken, breast side up, on top, add the neck and giblets, cover the pot, and bring to boil over medium heat. Lower heat to a gentle boil, just a bit higher than a simmer, and leave the lid slightly cracked. Allow to cook for 30 minutes. Then turn the chicken over and cook for 45 minutes longer, or until the chicken is cooked through and tender. To test for doneness, cut into the meat near the bone to check for redness. (The thickest part of the thigh is the best place to test.) If the chicken is not ready, cook it for 10 minutes more. Turn off the heat, turn the chicken breast side up, cover the pot, and let rest for 20 minutes.
While the chicken rests, water blanch the Tianjin bok choy: In a pot, bring 6 cups of water to a boil over high heat. Add the 1/2-inch piece of ginger, 1 tsp. of salt, and baking soda, if using. When the water returns to a boil, add the bok choy stalks and cook for 45 seconds. Then add the bok choy leaves and cook for 30 seconds longer. Transfer pot to sink and run cold water into the pot; then drain off the water. Run cold water into the pot again, drain well, reserve the bok choy and discard the ginger. (It is necessary to water-blanch the bok choy, or the water it naturally contains will dilute the soup.)
Transfer the whole chicken from the pot to a heated platter. Remove the neck and giblets from the pot and reserve. Separate the chicken meat from its frame in 2-inch pieces and reserve. Remove the mushrooms from the pot and reserve. Drain the contents of the pot through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. There should be about 7 cups of liquid.
Return the liquid to the pot, add the reserved mushrooms and bring to boil over high heat. Add the wontons, sir and allow the soup to return to a boil. Add the bok choy, stir to mix, and allow the soup to return to a boil again. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt, if needed.
Turn off the heat, transfer the soup to a heated tureen, and serve in individual bowls. Place the platter of chicken, with the neck and giblets, in the center of the table. Invite diners to help themselves to the chicken, adding it to the bowls of soup.