Black Silkie Chicken Soup

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

After totally discrediting my mother's stir fried liver in a previous post, I thought I should salvage her reputation by featuring something else from her repertoire. Something that has curative powers instead of making someone sick or dead.

The immediate dish that came to mind was a soup made with black chicken, aka Silkie chicken or 乌鸡.
My mother, like millions of other Chinese mothers, made it with ginseng when it was exam time, or dang gui (当归) when it was 'that time of the month' for girls.

Before I post a recipe, I usually read up about the dish and ingredients used. So, I googled 'black chicken' . . . and . . . wow, it looks like there's some scientific basis for Silkie's curative powers. It might not be just an old wives' tale that black is better than white after all. In fact, good old Silkie is a superfood like blueberries and pomegranates!

My mother didn't know what superfood was. To her, black chicken was just '补'.

Long before the word 'superfood' became popular, the Chinese knew that some foods were better than others or 补. These foods with superpowers have been used, for thousands of years, to improve energy levels . . . and whatever else that need improving. You know, important things like virility, fertility, intelligence, hair colour, hair quantity, complexion, wound healing, hormonal balance, stamina, eyesight and ultimately, life expectancy!

Whoa, life expectancy?

Surely that's stretching it a bit too far?

Well, maybe not, if you read the research on carnosine, the antioxidant found in abundance in black chicken.

Carnosine is a protein found in animal products such as chicken, pork, beef, milk and eggs. It's a powerful antioxidant which prolongs cell life span by slowing down the damage that cellular proteins suffer over time. As a result of this effect, which has been demonstrated in rats and cultured cells, health supplement peddlers claim that carnosine is good for anything from cataracts to Alzheimer's disease, autism, diabetes, wrinkles, building muscles, etc. Heheh, they would, wouldn't they?

Some doctors are using carnosine for cataract patients. As for treating other ailments, the research isn't conclusive yet. However, we do know that black chicken has twice as much carnosine as regular chicken. Animal brains are also packed with carnosine. Does double-boiled pork brain soup with ginseng – which my mother also made me drink! – really help get good exam grades because it's loaded with carnosine? Maybe the Chinese are right about brains being a superfood?

I have more faith in Silkie's curative powers now that I know it has lots of antioxidants. Hah! I'm sure my mother would be most happy to hear that. I have one last question though: is black chicken white or red meat?

(For 2 persons)

5 g snow ears (雪耳)
1 black chicken (乌鸡) (about 400 g)
600 ml water
20 g sliced dang gui (Angelica sinensis, 当归), rinsed
5 Chinese dried red dates (jujubes, 红枣), rinsed
5 g goji berries (枸杞), rinsed
¼ tsp salt or to taste

Soak snow ears in water till soft, about 20 minutes. Trim dirty, tough ends and discard. Rinse thoroughly and break into bite size pieces.

Remove any remaining feathers on chicken. Chop into two pieces, lengthwise. Rinse thoroughly. Place all ingredients in a pot, slow cooker or double-boiler. Bring to a boil and simmer gently for 1½ hours. Discard dang gui. Serve hot. Add salt to taste if you like but traditionally, tonics are drunk without seasoning.


Julia said...

I have seen black chicken at the Asian markets near my house... though I've never cooked one. Do you know if they have to be boiled (as this recipe) or could you roast it?

KT said...

Hi Julia

I don't see why not. I would roast it like regular chicken wings or drumsticks 'cause the meat's quite thin. And add some fat or oil since it's quite lean. The good thing is, even if it's burnt, no one can see it!

Most people (in Asia) wouldn't roast blackies, though, 'cause they're too expensive to be 'regular' food. They're eaten mainly when one needs a 'boost', like after a surgery or giving birth, or before exams.

Mary said...

Hi, KT.

Would like your expert opinion if it is ok/recommended to use the pre-packaged herbs from supermarkets?

Thanks alot,

KT said...

Hi Mary

Oh gosh, I'm not an expert. But I think pre-packaged herbs from supermarkets are generally ok in that they're meant to be used without prescription. Having said that, he shou wu (何首乌) is sold in supermarts, and it has caused severe liver damage in some people! I would suggest using only very commonly used herbs, for their 'heating', 'cooling' or tonic functions. Observe the body's reaction – if there's none, don't waste your money! – to the herbs and adjust the dosage accordingly. As for more serious stuff like improving liver or kidney functions, I would consult a good TCM doctor.

I guess the other issue is that TCM herbs are all from China, the motherland of food and pollution scandals. Herbs may be contaminated by polluted soil and water. They may be fake. Also, they may not be processed safely. Anything that's white is bleached, e.g. Chinese yam (淮山), cloud's ears, lotus seeds and dang gui should be slightly yellowish, not white like they usually are in the shops! Anything that's not bone dry probably has lots of preservatives. So, examine the products carefully, and buy only from reputable places.

Mary said...

Wow, KT.

Thanks for the reply, it's really informative.

I was actually just thinking of the end product - drinking the soup, and not so much the herbs' properties, etc. haha

Will keep in mind and last but not least, need to wait for the black chicken at my shopNsave, it's kinda rare...
Appreciate your advice, have yourself a great and cooking weekend! :)

Anonymous said...

You suck. Eating a Silkie chicken. They are like kittens.

KT said...

Whereas regular chickens don't go meow, so it's ok to eat them.

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