Chicken Soup with American Ginseng（花旗参鸡汤 hua qi shen ji tang, “hwah tschee shun dzjee tong” literally “flower flag ginseng chicken soup”, “flower flag” means the American flag, also called: 西洋参鸡汤 xi yang shen ji tang, “see yahng shun dzjee tong” literally “west ocean ginseng chicken soup”, which is strange because American is towards the east ocean of China）is a popular restorative soup in China. Chinese people believe it is good for the body. American ginseng is also believed to relieve cold and flu symptoms (I have a cold now!) even though the FDA says there is no evidence for it. Anyways, my version of the soup is quite easy to make.
You need a few Chinese herbs to make this soup:
First, you need American ginseng (花旗参/西洋参). You can use fresh or dried. I recommend dried because it lasts longer and you probably can’t use up the entire bag of fresh ginseng. American ginseng has yin qualities in Chinese medicine. Meanwhile, Korean ginseng (高丽参) has yang qualities.
Some people combine Korean and American ginseng, half and half. This way, the yin and yang are balanced in the soup. You can also use only Korean ginseng. In that case, use only 10g instead of 20g because it is more powerful (and a LOT more expensive!).
The most famous brand for American ginseng is Hsu’s. Beware because some companies may sell lower quality ginseng, so most people buy from trusted companies.
Sliced ginseng costs less than whole roots, but they hide low quality ginseng tiny pieces under the beautiful slices! Also, there IS fake ginseng made from cheaper herb roots! And there is also fake Hsu’s Ginseng that is not really from Hsu’s. So I strongly recommend to buy from Hsu’s website (click English in the top right :)) which makes it so easy and guaranteed best quality. Don’t even buy from Amazon since their Hsu Ginseng might not be real! Ginseng has many sizes. Smaller ones are cheaper. My parents don’t like the too small ones so we buy the “Long Medium” size which is $50 for 4 oz. We prefer the long ginseng over short. Also, buy cultivated, not wild, because while the cultivated is $50, the wild is $525!! The wild is also a threatened species so it is best for the environment to buy cultivated too. I send the cultivated ginseng to my grandpa in China every year!
If you do not like bitter ginseng flavor (or if ginseng cost is an issue), you can make “herbal chicken soup” by skipping the ginseng. The rest of the herbs in the soup have a sweet or neutral flavor. It will also make the soup much less expensive. Ginseng is not cheap, so don’t buy it if you don’t like it or cannot afford.
The second herb is Chinese red dates (红枣). These are easy to find in any Chinese supermarket. They can also be found in Korean supermarkets.
The third herb is goji berries (枸杞). These are also easy to find. Don’t buy those fancy organic “raw” ones from health food stores, because they are way too expensive.
The next two are optional:
Dried Nagaimo (淮山) AKA Dried Chinese Yam
Dried Austragalus (北芪)
They can be found in Chinese dried herb stores or some Chinese supermarkets.
My version is adapted from Mom’s Chinese Kitchen
1 cornish hen (for extra restorative power, use the black “silkie” chicken) (prefer a free-range chicken, but I can’t find one small chicken here in USA, they are all 5 lb or more! I also can’t find free range cornish hens.)
(some people add pork. if you want, add 5 oz lean pork.)
2 liters water (Use Chinese chicken broth for more chicken restorative powers, or half broth half water. DO NOT USE WESTERN STYLE CHICKEN BROTH!!!!!!)
54g fresh American ginseng, sliced into rounds, or 20g dried American ginseng, rinsed (you can also use 10g Korean ginseng instead or 10g Korean ginseng plus 10g American ginseng)
8 dried red dates (traditionally, they are soaked and the pit is removed, but this takes too long so I don’t do it), rinsed
1 tbsp goji berries, rinsed
2-3 slices ginger (each slice about 1/2 cm thick)
2 slices dried austragalus (optional), rinsed
4-5 slices dried nagaimo (optional)
2-4 tbsp Shaoxing wine (optional)
1. Traditionally, blanch the chicken: Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chicken (pork if using). Bring back to a boil. Boil a few minutes (some people don’t boil extra). Then drain well and rinse the chicken. Cut off the “tail” part. This part releases a lot of oil. Some people cut off wing tips, but I don’t find any need in this.
2. Put chicken (pork if using) in a pot with 2 liters water. I use an enameled small cocotte. You can also use stainless steel, but metal surface is not preferred by Chinese cooks. Traditionally, it uses a clay sand pot. If using the sand pot, start heating over low heat for 10 minutes, then gradually bring up to medium. Depending on stove power, the highest you can ever go can be medium-high on my super weak stove. If it cracks, the soup and ingredients and pot go all over the stove top and is terrible to clean. As a result, I recommend other pots for beginners.
3. Bring to a boil, removing foam. This is a laborious process. You need a foam remover, which you can buy for a cheap price and is definitely a must for Asian soups. If it reached a rolling boil, then all the foam enteres the soup and it becomes murky. To fix, put over lowest heat or no heat until no more bubbles. You can also add 1/2 cup cold water. Then bring back to a boil over medium high, removing foam. Do not let it reach a rolling boil, so when it boils more you can remove foam on medium. When no more foam comes up, bring to a rolling boil, removing the rest of the foam. The soup should be very clear.
4. Add all of the other ingredients. Some people do not add goji berries yet and wait until the last 15 minutes of cooking. I add at the beginning so I don’t forget them. Sometimes there is more foam that rises. While removing this foam, be careful to not remove any of the ingredients.
5. Finally, cover and simmer over low heat for 3-4 hours (recommended) or at least 1.5 hours (fast version, less restorative but still good and the ginseng should still be soft by then).
6. At the end, try to remove most of the oil with the foam skimmer. This is optional if it is too much work but it is better to have less fat in the soup.
7. Ladle soup into bowls. All of the herbs are edible, but the ginseng is strongly flavored. It is believed to be more effective if eaten. Actually, there is almost no ginseng flavor in the soup itself if you use whole dried roots. So not eating the ginseng is basically a waste. However, I don’t like it. I only like a little ginseng flavor in my soup. After boiling, the ginseng becomes soft so I cut a tiny piece with a spoon and mash it on the bottom of my bowl of soup to release its flavor. So, my parents eat most of the ginseng and I don’t. Definitely the goji berries and red dates should be eaten. Following the Sichuanese tradition, my family drinks soup after eating dinner. In Cantonese households, the soup is drunk during dinnertime. Either is good.
These are the herbs I used today. I do not have dried austragulus so I did not use it. The white colored slices are the dried nagaimo.