It is funny how your palate changes as you get older. When I was younger my mother would make various Chinese soups which I never really appreciated at that time, not because she wasn’t a great cook (she was) but because while she was creating delicious home made Chinese meals I was craving McDonald’s and all types of other unhealthy fast food dishes. As I got older I realized what good food really was, which brought me back to my roots of desiring home made Chinese food. One of the most basic Chinese soups is a simple Chinese Vegetable Soup, it is easy to make and very fulfilling. The main difference between western soup and Chinese soup is that western soups are typically thick and hardy (i.e. Chowder, Minestrone, Cheddar and Broccoli, etc…) whereas Chinese soups are more clear and broth based. I’ve grown up enjoying both types of soup but I feel they each have their place. Western soups can be eaten as an entire meal because they are filling whereas Chinese soup is more about the simple/pure flavors. Chinese soup is usually served in the beginning of the meal and it is just enough to enjoy the taste the wet your appetite.
The base of the soup is pork and chicken broth, so you will need a pork shoulder (bone in) and either four chicken legs or a whole chicken. I usually just pick the chicken that is less expensive that day, but for today I am actually making some of the chicken for my dog (Bubba) so I actually used three additional chicken legs (not in the picture) but I remove them before I add in the onion (since onion isn’t good for dogs).
Clean your meat, then add it into a large pot with cold water. You want to start the water cold because there are flavor compounds within the bone that cannot be extracted if you add the meat into boiling water. By starting off with cold water you draw out more of the flavor from the meat. The only thing you have to remember to do is skim away the protein foam that forms at the top of the water once it starts to boil. That protein is a mixture of protein fluids and blood that is coming out of the bones. So just skim it off as you see it form so it doesn’t mess with the flavor of the soup.
While the water heats into a boil focus on your vegetables. You will need six roma tomatoes, two yellow onions, a bag of carrots, a stock of celery and one head of cabbage.
Start off by making a Mirepoix (two parts onion, one part celery and carrot) by cutting your carrots, celery and onion into similar sized pieces. Set the Mirepoix aside until the water boils and you’ve skimmed off the protein foam.
Cut your roma tomatoes in half and de-seed them. I usually just use a spoon but a grapefruit spoon would make the job easier. The center (seed area) is the most bitter part of the tomato which is why you want to remove it.
If you only use four chicken legs or a whole chicken than make sure the water only goes up 2/3 of the pot. My water went all the way to 4/5 of the way up because I had the extra three chicken legs. At this points I’ve skimmed off the foam and removed the three chicken legs for my dog. So in the picture below, this is what your broth base should look like before you add in your vegetables. Add in the Mirepoix (Onion, Carrot and Celery) but leave the Tomato and Cabbage out until the last hour of cooking. Drop the heat to low and make sure to cover your soup while it cooks during the first 2 – 3 hours.
Cook your soup for at least 3 hours (4 would be ideal) and add in the tomato and cabbage at the last hour of cooking. During that last hour you will want to remove the lid and turn the heat back up to medium to let the soup reduce.
After the last hour the soup should be ready for seasoning. I usually add in about 2 Tbsp of kosher salt but add it in slowly and keep tasting. The idea is the soup should be simple and clean, not extra salty. just add enough salt to bring out the natural flavor of the soup, it shouldn’t taste salty.
Once your soup is done remove the pork shoulder and chicken. Use a tong and just break the pork apart into pulled pork. You can serve the pork back in the soup if you wish but I usually serve it along side some fried rice as Chinese style pulled pork. Instead of adding American style BBQ sauce I usually either throw together a Chinese style BBQ sauce that uses Hoisin Sauce as the base or I just add some Maggi sauce. For the chicken I usually break it apart into bite size piece like you would see in Chicken noodle soup but instead of chicken breast it is dark meat chicken. If you drink the soup the same day than just let it cool down and enjoy. If you save the soup for the next day just remove the layer of fat that will form at the top of the soup. This is a great soup that you can use as a base so feel free to play around by adding or changing various ingredients. Just remember to keep the flavors simple and pure…. enjoy!