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Techniques

Making Chinese soups is easy with most soups requiring the basic “boil” and “simmer” techniques.    However, some soups do require special attention, equipment and/or techniques for the best results.   Here are some basic and advanced techniques and tips you may find useful when creating your own tasty and nurtritious Chinese soups.

Blanch / Parboil / Pre-boil

Blanching means to plunge ingredients into boiling water for a brief period of time.  This technique is used on soup ingredients prior to putting them into soups for a variety of reasons, including to help remove the skin or peels from fruits and vegetables (for example, tomatoes) and/or to “clean” ingredients (perhaps ingredients with a foul taste, poison, or excess dirt and fat).

Often when creating soups with a meat base, especially when using pork bones, we recommend pre-boiling the bones for about 10 minutes to help remove excess dirt, broken bone pieces, and undesired fat.   This technique often improves the taste and texture of your soups.

Boil  

This is the most basic technique.   Simply place your soup pot on high heat and leave it there.  You may need to stir often or adjust the flame so it doesn’t boil over.

Browning

Browning refers to lightly frying ingredients in oil before putting them into your soups.    This is occasionally necessary to enhance the flavour and/or color of your soups.   For example, we recommend browning fish before putting them into your soups to remove the “fishy” taste.   Also, browning meats before boiling will enhance the flavour and deepen the color of your soups.

Cover / Uncover

These are also very basic techniques.   Covering your soup will help to trap in the heat and moisture and prevent reduction of your soup stock.   Uncovering your soup will allow it to reduce or “boil down”.

Double-boil

Chinese-style double boiling, also known as double steaming, is used when making soups that require delicate ingredients (such as shark’s fin or bird’s nest) that may break apart or melt when directly boiled in the water.     This technique also helps to ensure there is no liquid loss from the food being cooked and also to ensure ingredients maintain their value (essense).

To double-boil your soup, place your soups and ingredients inside a chinese ceramic pot (the pot may have two lids for a tighter seal to prevent reduction).    Then steam the entire ceramic pot inside a bigger pot for several hours.

Oil Removal

Even if you blanch the meat before boiling, it is still possible to have too much undesired oil in your soup after it is finished cooking.    To remove the excess oil, when your soup is finished cooking, open the lid and let the soup sit briefly.   In a few minutes, the excess oil will float to the top where it can be easily scooped out with a spoon.   

Tip: We highly recommend using an oil scooper.  It is a spoon that looks like a strainer (with very small holes, almost as small as a flour sifter) to scoop out oil and excess particles that may float on the surface of your soup.   

Reduce (a.k.a. Boil Down)

Certain soups may be reduced or boiled down to either thicken the soup (if gelatinous ingredients are used) or to condense it in order to maximize the flavour or nutrition.   To reduce a soup, simply simmer uncovered until you have achieved the desired result.

Tip:  If your soup has been reduced too much and you want to add more water, remember to add hot water and NOT cold water to your soup.  This will ensure you don’t bring down the temperature of your soup too much, thereby briefly pausing the cooking process.

Simmer

Simmering your soup means leaving it to bubble slowly over low heat for a period of time.

Thicken

Thickening a soup can be done in one of two ways.   For gelatinous soups, it may be possible to reduce the soup down to a thicker consistency.    Alternatively, it is possible to dissolve 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 1/2 cup of warm water (this must be done separately) and adding the entire mixture into the soup.   If using the corn starch method, do not put the cornstarch (dry) directly into the soup as this may cause gelatinous lumps to form in your soup.

25 Comments »

  • Jessica says:

    Hi Lady Tong,

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful recipes. I have a question regarding the cooking method. Is it advisable to use a slow cooker/ crockpot to cook the soup? If yes, how long should soup be cooked on the slow cooker? If left for too long, will it diminish the nutritional value?

  • LadyTong says:

    Hi Jessica,
    Slow cookers and crockpots are excellent tools for cooking soups. I use slow cookers for dense chicken soup (especially for confinement) and crockpots and those internal cooking pots to save energy. In truth, soups don’t need to be constantly “boiled” – I find with crockpots and internal cookers, I boil it on high for about 30-45 minutes and then let it sit for a good 3-4 hours and the results are the same. As for leaving it too long and the diminishing of nutritional value, most ingredients have a good soup life of 24-48 hours. You can even freeze soup bases in the freezer for later usage and those keep for up to 3 months even. Hope this helps!
    Lisa

  • Amelia Chong says:

    Hi Lady Tong,

    I love how you have pictures of every herb that makes easier for me to pick them. My mother in law always brings bags of herbs but when she leaves to HK, I have no idea what is what. Even though I have recipes, I don’t know the names of lot of the herbs. Now thanks to you it is going to be easier for me to make soup.

  • Cammie says:

    Hi,

    Just love your site. The pictures are very helpful and I appreciate all the explanation as I am one of those who needs to understand all the details.

    i suffer from allergies, especially in the spring and fall. THere is sneezing, running nose, itchy eyes and post nasal drip which leads to a dry cough constantly. The cough doesn’t have much phlegm. Do you have any soup recipes that might help with allergies???

    thanks

  • Min says:

    Hi,
    Do you have recipe for soups that help with arthritis pain?
    I have arthritis in knees and would like to strengthen or help with cartilage preservation.
    Thanks,

    Min

  • dragonboy says:

    Dear Lady Tong
    Thanks so much for the precious recipes.
    I have a pressure cooker, can I use it for cooking soup recipes?
    Thank you.

  • dragonboy says:

    Dear Lady Tong

    I have high blood sugar, what soup can I make to lower the
    blood sugar and cholesterol?

  • LadyTong says:

    Dear dragonboy, a pressure cooker is ideal for cooking “old fire soups”. For quick boils, I wouldn’t recommend it. But, I do use cooker pressures when I want it to sit overnight or have the flavors come out even more. So that’s a definite YES! Enjoy! Lisa

  • Ms. Pang says:

    Hi Lady Tong,

    I’m really glad to have come across your site! I grew up in a traditional Chinese household where soups were made fairly frequently. Most other sits I’ve come across just give you generic broth or stokc recipes but never the soups used for maintaining and restoring health.

    I look forward to trying out some of the soups here and for new ones in the future.

    thanks,

    Iris

  • beth says:

    Love the site, just discovered it and can’t wait to try out some recipes! Looking forward to receiving your blog by email. Thanks! :) Beth

  • Vanessa says:

    Hi I really like this site. it is such a useful tool for me !!!

    I’m 5 months pregnant and with this being my first child i have no idea what sorts of Chinese soups i should boil for myslelf.

    Can you recommend a few?

    Thanks!

  • LadyTong says:

    Hi Vanessa – second trimester is the best! You can almost drink anything really – but it also depends on the baseline of your body. Ie: some people are more heaty than others vs cooler than others. Heatier people can’t take heaty soups (or else they’ll break out in pimples, cold sores and sweat). Some neutral ones to try are the fish based soups – very healthy, low in fat and a variety of choices to suit any diet and craving. I hope this helps, but let me know if you have any more questions! Lisa

  • Lam says:

    Hey I love your site! its so informational and directions are so clear! But I am still having trouble :( My soup always comes out with so little water so I put more water in the middle of boiling and in the end it comes out bland :( What time of pot should I use and what could I do so I could have the most soup at the end? HELP PLEASE!

  • Lam says:

    Hey I love your site! its so informational and directions are so clear! But I am still having trouble :( My soup always comes out with so little water so I put more water in the middle of boiling and in the end it comes out bland :( What type of pot should I use and what could I do so I could have the most soup at the end? HELP PLEASE!

  • Teresa says:

    Hi! Your site is wonderful! I have a “technique” question. When reading “how to make stock” recipes, it says to pre-boil or blanch bones using “cold” water. But for many Chinese soup recipes (including my mom’s), it says to blanch in boiling water for 5-10 minutes. Which is right? Does it make a difference in terms of nutritional value??

    Thanks again!

  • Lynn says:

    Hi, I’m so glad I came across your website here.
    I’m having problem of number of hours boiling soup using slow cooker. I have a 22mo baby, been boiling soup using slow cooker, worried I’m overly boil the soup too long that can caused too heaty for him or nutriention deminishing. He had a problem with his nose, bleed at least twice a month. Doctor said the bleed is due to his blood vessel too soft in his nostril. Normal. Bleeding seems coming back on and off making me worried. Should I stop boiling soup for him. Just making ABC soup with red dates for him. Pls help…thx

  • Yanru says:

    I am like 6 weeks and two days pregnant what type of soup do you think I should drink or make. This is m first pregnancy, I have lost appetite in everything an now only drinks water and taken in blended fruits as these are the two that does not make me feel nausea. And also I am having a lot of pain and headache and it is really not enjoying.. What type of soup would be best for me to let me have some energy to do my daily works.

  • LadyTong says:

    Dear Yanru, here’s a pregnancy page: http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/pregnancy-soups/. If you have no appetite, soups with “Sour vegetable” or HAM SHEUN CHOY in Cantonese is awesome for this! It’s tart, tangy and really brings some appetite back. Have it with tofu or fish is best! Congrats and all the best! Lisa

  • Susan Chan says:

    Hi,
    I could really use advice on how to ‘prepare chicken’ for those wonderful soup recipes you have. Perhaps add this under techniques?

    Thank you kindly,
    Susan Chan

  • LadyTong says:

    Dear Susan, that’s an excellent suggestion and will take photos to post for later. The easiest way though, is to cut off as much fat as possible. If you’re starting with a whole chicken, I’d suggest googling a technique for chopping a whole chicken into quarters first. Let me give this some thought, and I think it’s a great idea! Another thing though, blanching is almost key for soups (for both pork and chicken). This means putting the meat into boiling hot water, completed submerged for about 5 minutes. You’ll see some of the fat, blood, impurities come up to the top. Remove from the water and then add to your soup. This helps keep to the soup cleaner. This is particularly important for pork bones. Hope this help! Lisa

  • April says:

    Hi, is there any brand of double boiler is good ? anyone experience or experimented it ?

  • Annie says:

    Dear Lady Tong,
    Thank you so much for your website! I have been looking for soup recipes and love that you are so thorough with ingredients and tools, which include pictures. I am a 1st generation Chinese American and am taking care of my elderly mother. I like to surprise her with healthy soups that would help her with joints and arthritis. Would you recommend neutral soups that one can use for children? Also what is a soup bag? I wanted to make your fish soups, and read that a soup bag is recommended. Thanks again for such a treasure of recipes!!!

  • LadyTong says:

    Hi Annie! So glad I can be of help! I’m the same – first generation Canadian Chinese, but haven’t a clue how to remake my mother’s wonderful Chinese soups until I actually moved to Hong Kong! There are so many that are great for children, you can check out this specific post: http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/children-soups/ – or this one: http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/category/soups/children/

    A soup bag is a very thin, meshed bag (almost a giant tea bag) that will keep any disintegrated parts in it. The idea is to keep all the fish bones together so it doesn’t get into the soup in all its tiny parts.

    This is a soup bag: http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/soup-bag/

    See if you can find it in the states – or any type of straining bag people use for cooking is suitable. Hope this helps!

    Lisa

  • LadyTong says:

    Dear April, I’m using the very traditional stove top double-boiler. I’ve attached the link here: http://www.thechinesesouplady.com/double-boiled-apple-and-pear-chinese-herbal-soup/ which shows me putting the double-boiler into a large pot. This is an affordable option and easy to use. You can also consider a slow cooker which can be used in place of a double-boiler. Hope this helps! Lisa

  • giuseppe vitale says:

    Thank you for getting to know ancient Chinese culture
    regards from Italy

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