HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >


Chinese soup stock

I've been meaning to experiment with Chinese clear broth soups for a while, but I get intimidated with the idea of making my own stock.

For western cooking, I sometimes make my own chicken stock, but when I'm in a hurry, I compromise on store-bought chicken stock sold in a package. I am wondering if there is an equivalent in Chinese cooking. I am assuming that using western chicken stock for Chinese soup wouldn't result in the right flavors...

So my questions:

- Is there a pre-packaged Chinese meat stock that I can use for Chinese soups? If so, do you have a favorite brand?

- Do you find that the pre-packaged version is a good compromise? Or do you think that it's so far inferior to home made stock that it's not even worth using?

Thanks in advance!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Actually many Chinese do just use the off-the-shelves chicken stock from supermarket. Sure, it is not as good as home made ones, but the point is that it is completely acceptable. If you ever go to a Chinese/Asian supermarket, you will see them sell these Campbell chicken broth, Swanson chicken broth... etc. In fact, you will see many chicken favor cubes like Maggi Chicken bouillon cubes. I don't like these cubes.

    I say it is a good compromise to use package chicken broth..

    1. I might be wrong, but I doubt that Chinese chickens or broth-making procedures are so very different from Western ones, but you could check at an Asian grocer.

      As for question 2: home-made broths/stocks are generally better, but commercial ones are good to have around and useful. Swanson's organic and low-sodium broths get good reviews, and also the "Better than Bullion" brand, which is a paste that you reconstitute into water to make a broth.

      1. Thanks for the replies! I usually use the Whole Foods packaged chicken broth, but I heard good things about the "better than bouillon" too. I've been meaning to give that a try. And it's good to know I can use it for Chinese cooking too! :)

        2 Replies
        1. re: ethnicchower

          There's absolutely NOTHING wrong with using packaged stock/broth. Just find one with a basic flavor you like. Then simmer it with some garlic, scallions, & a few slices of fresh ginger to give it that "Chinese/Asian" flavor.

          When I make Chinese chicken stock myself at home, I use the same flavorings. I put my raw chicken parts in water to cover (sometimes with some canned/packaged chicken broth for extra flavor), then add scallions, garlic, & sliced ginger. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, & about an hour later strain everything (saving the chicken for either salad for me or snacks for the pets), & reduce the broth at a simmer until it's at a strength I like.

          1. re: Breezychow

            This is exactly what I do when I want an Asian flavoured stock, but short on time.

        2. Whole Foods organic chicken broth is fine fine too.

          But if you have the time to make your own stock, you can always use a whole mature chicken, smoked ham hocks (some Chinese supermarkets might have Virginia Ham, although it is not the same as Chinese ham), lean pork (and/or pork bones). Bring to a boil and then simmer for at least 3 hours, strain the oil (and solids) and the resultant stock can be used for anything. This is more of a Cantonese approach.

          1. My stock only has chicken parts in it, feet and backs. No seasonings. That way I can take it any direction I want.

            3 Replies
            1. re: bobcam90

              That's an interesting approach. So you don't even add onion or carrot to it?

              1. re: bobcam90

                That's all well & good, & how I myself make basic chicken stock. But the OP is asking specifically for CHINESE CHICKEN STOCK, which does, authentically, add seasonings. Ask any Chinatown cook or consult any authentic Chinese cookbook.

                1. re: Breezychow

                  I make several gallons at a time and freeze in two cup portions. If I'm making an Asian dish I can add the seasonings then. A number of Asian CHs do the same. I just copied them.

              2. Hi ethnicchower, I don't consider myself a particularly accomplished cook but for quick Chinese soups on weeknights we end up using canned stock, usually whatever low sodium brand is on sales that day. The more expensive brands like Kitchen Basics, while very tasty, are not so good in this application because they have more "western" flavorings like thyme.

                Like others have said, start simmering some sliced ginger and peeled garlic cloves at the beginning of meal prep, and by the time dinner is served the aromatics will have had 1 - 2 hours to flavor the stock. If you have some bones, crack em and throw those in too, if not, don't worry about it.

                Out of curiousity, what clear soups are you thinking of making?

                22 Replies
                1. re: RealMenJulienne

                  "The more expensive brands like Kitchen Basics, while very tasty, are not so good in this application because they have more "western" flavorings like thyme."

                  I have to second RealMenJulienne on this one.

                  There are three basic Chinese stocks. I don't have time right now, but when I do, I will write them down.

                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                    Chemicalkinetics, very much looking forward to knowing about the 3 types of Chinese stocks!
                    Btw, you have been an invaluable source of knowledge - thank you!

                    1. re: ethnicchower

                      Hi Ethnicchower,

                      It took sometime to type everything up, but here it is:

                      There are three important Chinese broths serve as the basis of many Chinese dishes especially the noodle broth. They are called 毛湯, 白湯,上湯 which can be loosely translated into Hair Broth, White Broth and Supreme Broth, respectively.

                      Hair Broth (毛湯) uses chicken bones, pork bones, green onion, ginger, and of course water, the resulting broth is slightly opaque.

                      White Broth or Milky Broth (白湯 or 奶湯) uses pork bones, pork legs, chicken feet, fatty pork, green onion, ginger, and water. The fatty pork, such as pork belly, is what gives it white opaque color.

                      Supreme Broth or Clear Broth (上湯, 高湯, 清湯) uses chicken (not chicken bones), pork tenderloin, beef shank, Chinese ham (Virginia ham is good substitute), dried tangerine peel, black pepper or white pepper is ok, water. As you can see, it uses a lot of lean meats to help produces that clarity -- an opposite approach to the fatty pork in the White Soup. Needless to say the Supreme Broth uses more expensive ingredients. After making this broth, you can use the remainders and other scarps to repeat the procedure to make the so called Second Broth (二湯). This is analogous to what we talked about the first brewed Chinese soy sauce, second brew soy sauce… and also similar to first press olive oil…

                      I believe you said you want to learn to make Chinese Clear Broth. That will be same as Chinese Supreme Broth as mentioned above.

                      Here are the ingredients:
                      Half a chicken
                      1 pound of pork tenderloin
                      1 pound of beef shank
                      2-3 ounce of Chinese or Virginia ham
                      Trace of dried tangerine peel
                      Black pepper or white pepper powder add to taste
                      4 quarts of water to make broth

                      Step by step:
                      1) Wash the meats
                      2) Chopped chicken, pork and beef to pieces of dimension of an inch
                      3) Put them into boiling water to denature the blood. Once the meats lost the bloody color, remove them from the water and toss away the water.
                      4) Lightly wash and rinse the partially cooked meats
                      5) Add 4 quarts of water to a pot, put the meat in, bring it into boil
                      6) Reduce heat to low or low-medium
                      7) Add ham, tangerine peel, grounded peppercorn and cook for 2 hours
                      8) Cool and only extract the liquid, if necessary filter the broth with a cloth (e.g. cheesecloth).

                      Step 2-3 is to reduce the amount of cooked blood proteins, so to keep the broth clear.

                      Let me know if something is confusing -- afterall I did not do any spell check or grammar check.

                      1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                        Thank you so much for this. I've said it and look forward to trying them.

                        1. re: bobcam90

                          I thought enthnichower is the only one. I didn't know you are interested too. This is even better. Good luck and have fun.

                          1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                            I like to think of myself as a sponge when it comes to learning :)

                            1. re: bobcam90

                              A very good book about soups, written by Teresa M. Chen, A Tradition of Soup, Flavors from China's Pearl River Delta, has the most interesting backgrounds, and information about techniques for the making of Cantonese and Mandarin soups. Included are stories about the tradition and loaded with information on the culture and history. Although a bit complicated the first read through, I found it so very interesting and educational. She uses many sources for the recipes since she grew up where the style of the day was to keep your daughter out of the kitchen. The book is a history book with recipes and traditions probably rarely used in this country. But she sought out the few that know, and with their help put together something that can now be preserved. This book is a work of art if for nothing else than her documenting history, and the thought process of the people that relied on these many many soups.

                        2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                          Thanks for that Chemicalkinetics, I'd been pondering on the clear broth thing for some time :)

                          1. re: TheHuntress

                            Your welcome

                            Again, not to overlook the part about first boil the meat to discard the water. That water will be filled with cooked blood bits. Otherwise, the cooked blood and will be everywhere in the broth making it visually cloudy and give it a different taste.

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              I learned that first boil from Fuchsia Dunlop's pho recipe. I think it's a big tip.

                              1. re: bobcam90

                                Yes, if you have read Fuchsia Dunlop's pho recipe, then you would have known it for sure. I haven't read her Pho recipe, but I have read others, so I am confident that it contains the same step.

                                I just want to reiterate for others who may not have done this before.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  Agreed. It was something I'd never heard of before.

                          2. re: Chemicalkinetics


                            Absolutely priceless information! Thank you so much, once again, for the detailed answer! I feel like I've learned more about Chinese cooking from you in the last few days than in months experimenting on my own!

                            I am wondering what would be the uses of each broth you describe. I'm planning to make "crossing the bridge noodle soup" (a meat broth base with chicken and pork bits, veggies, quail eggs and rice noodles). It seems like the supreme broth would be the best for my purpose? What would be hair and white broth be used for then? Also, can we use the first and second clear broths for the same purposes? (In which case, the only difference between the two would be the quality of the finished product.)

                            Also, I am wondering if the meat used in supreme broth is still OK for consumption after making the broth. And if so, do you have any Chinese-style ideas for consuming the meat?

                            Thank you!

                            1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                              After I refrigerate western stock overnight, a layer of fat is accumulated on the surface, which I remove and discard.

                              I am wondering if the same will happen with supreme broth (I assume so). And if so, should I discard it, leave it there or remove and save for other Chinese uses?

                              1. re: ethnicchower

                                Hi Ethnicchower,

                                When making these broth, you can either skimmed away the fat at the end of the cooking or you can skimmed it after refrigeration. Yes, I discard the fat especially for the Supreme/Clear Broth, but you don't have to skim away every single drop of fat. Leaving some fat can be tasty.

                                You are too kind with your praise. You asked a very good question about when to use which broth. To be honest, I don't have a great answer. The Supreme/Clear Broth tends to be used for simpler and yet refined dish, like wonton noodle soup, dumpling noodle soup, vegetable oriented noodle soup. It can also be used for the base for shank fin soup as KK has mentioned about. It is sometime used for braising meat... It is tasty, but not overpowering and complex.

                                The so called Hair Broth (probably a bad translation on my part) is used for 80-90% of the noodle soup.

                                The White/Milky Broth is rarely used as a standalone. It is often used a combination to the Hair Broth. You mix it in like 10% White Broth 90% Hair Broth, or 20% White Broth, 80% Hair Broth.

                                You can technically consume the meat after using them for the Supreme Broth, but they don't usually have much taste left in them anymore, so many people just toss them away. My mother loves them or maybe she finds it wasteful to throw perfectly fine meat away. To consume them, she usually gives them a few drops of soy sauce.

                                Yes, you are correct. The cookbook I am referring from are written in Chinese, which you can tell because I made up some phrase like "Hair Broth". Although I quiet proud that I translated "Supreme Broth" in which other websites also agree with that term -- I did not double check at the time for its accepted translation.


                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  Great info! With this, I have all the information I need to make my soup. I can't wait! :)

                              2. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                Not much on supreme stock when I googled.
                                Just wanted to add my .2 cents.
                                For supreme stock:
                                Old hen for richness
                                Pork tenderloin for sweetness
                                Chinese ham for flavor and taste
                                Chicken feet to thicken
                                Beef shank, optional
                                Tangerine peel
                                white peppercorn
                                Fried scallions

                                1. re: betterthanbourdain

                                  Your recipe is similar to the one I used. Not exactly the same, but similar enough.

                              3. re: ethnicchower

                                Continue from above.

                                This is the photo I took of my cookbook. Top photo is the Hair Broth. Bottom left is the White Broth or Milky Broth. Bottom right is the Supreme Broth or Clear Broth.

                                1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                  ChemicalKinetics - Which cookbook did you use for this information?
                                  (I have a feeling you'll tell me you're using some book that has not been translated to English, but I thought the question was worth a shot...)
                                  :) :)

                                  1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                    This is a rather late update, but I figure late is better than never. Here are some photos of my Chinese Supreme broth. A fairly expensive stock to make as mentioned above. It includes: "Half a chicken, 1 pound of pork tenderloin, 1 pound of beef shank, 2-3 ounce of Chinese or Virginia ham"

                                    Photo 1 is the 4 quarts stock. Photo 2 is the color and clarity level of the stock.

                              4. re: RealMenJulienne

                                I see, then I'll stay away from Kitchen Basics for Chinese cooking. Maybe I'll try the "Better than bouillon" stuff that was mentioned above. For those of you who have tried this brand, does that have a pretty neutral flavor?

                                I am thinking of making crossing the bridge noodles (or guo qiao mi xian, excuse the lack of tones and Chinese characters), my favorite Chinese soup. It's been a bit hard to find a good recipe for it, so any recommendations on this one are very much appreciated. I haven't seen it in any cookbook, so I will likely end up relying on recipes I find on the internet.

                              5. Worth using? Sure it is, but if I have the time I will make my own chicken stock to use in a chosen soup. I really love the broth that comes from chicken wings, and feet. Ginger root, celery, and garlic, an onion quartered, The feet and wings really give a lot of flavor.

                                But here's one of my favorite things to do when I don't have time. I make dumplings (won tons) ahead, freeze them on a cookie sheet then package up. Use either frozen homemade or canned stock, add my veggies and I have a wonderful Won Ton soup in minutes. Or you can use the broth for Hot and Sour soup, which comes together very quickly.

                                If I am going to use canned stock or broth, I use the best quality and low or no sodium. Pour it into a glass container or measuring cup (large one)chill it and then skim the fat. I like to add my own char siu to some of the soups for flavor, and there's enough fat in that or in the dumplings.

                                1. Most old school Chinese cooks do not make (or use) stock in the same way that Western cooks do.

                                  Generally, they'll make chicken soup (with a black bird) and then simply discard the bird and just consume the resulting soup as soup; whereas, most Western cooks would consider that stock and use it as a base for soup or other dishes. Not so in most Chinese cooking.

                                  In fact, off the top of my head (and admittedly after a long day at work), I can't really think of many (or any?) Chinese recipes that call for stock -- chicken or otherwise.

                                  Soups like egg drop, hot and sour, etc. are started with water.

                                  And if we're talking things like chicken soup, then the soup is started with water and chicken and then cooked down to make soup. Same with things like pork bone based soups, as well as fish soup (i.e. where the head or fish remains as part of the soup and not removed).

                                  1. In the wiki entry for asian soups:

                                    There are three basic traditional soup stocks in Chinese cuisine:
                                    Superior broth/stock (T: 上湯, S: 上汤): A dark tan broth made from Jinhua ham and chicken. This rich and umami broth is used in the creation of many expensive soups such as shark fin soup or wonton soup.

                                    A bowl of wonton noodle soup Chicken (T: 雞湯, S: 鸡汤): The basic broth used in creating most Chinese soups. The basic broth is sometimes fortified with licorice root, wolfberry, and other Chinese herbs.
                                    Pork broth (T: 瘦肉湯, S: 瘦肉汤): Lean pork is used most often as the soup base for long-simmered Chinese soups, called 老火湯 in Cantonese. This soup base is often simmered over low heat for several hours with other roots, dried herbs, vegetables, and edible fungi like shiitake mushroom, white fungus, or wood ear[1]. The Cantonese are especially known for their long-simmered Chinese soups, as they often pair ingredients under Chinese Medicine concepts to enhance health-benefiting functions of the soup.
                                    White broth (T: 白湯, S: 白汤): Made from lightly blanched pork bones that have been vigorously boiled for several hours, creating a white milky broth. This broth has a rich mouthfeel, and is often used in ramen soups.
                                    Fish broth (T: 魚湯, S: 鱼汤): Made from fish that have been fried and boiled for several hours, creating a white milky broth. This broth has a rich mouthfeel, and sweet umami taste.

                                    Ingredients used in making Chinese stocks can be recooked again to produce a thinner broth with less intense flavours, known as ertang(二湯, Pinyin:èr tāng, lit. second soup).

                                    So similar to what CK already posted.

                                    By "Chinese broths", these definitions are more Southern Chinese and Cantonese (e.g. Guangzhou, Hong Kong) in nature. Some purists might argue that traditional wonton noodle soup stock should not rely entirely on or even have any mature chicken in it, but that's another topic in itself.

                                    1. I live in Taiwan and I find that the stock in the grocery store is very similar to the Western version.

                                      Oddly enough, though, the grocery store only sells canned chicken stock, and home-made soups often use pork broth or a mixture of pork and chicken. When I make Chinese style broth, I use a combination of chicken and pork bones and meat, blanch the meat for ten minutes, drain, rinse the meat and pot, and start it cooking normally. This technique gives a nice, clear stock without clarifying at the end.

                                      If you want a more Chinese flavour to the stock, try adding ginger and green onions near the end of cooking. And I find that Chinese broth based soups tend to leave a bit more of the fat in than Western cooks do, so you can see some melted fat floating on the surface.

                                      1. I have seen cans of 'Asian flavored chicken stock' in groceries like 99Ranch, but I've never tried them, or even looked at the ingredients. I wouldn't be surprised if they have spices like ginger. I've also see bullion cubes by Knorr and Magi with some sort of Asian lettering, but I'm more familiar with the Mexican versions (especially a tomato-chicken flavor).

                                        In some countries, dried fish is common soup base, for example shaved bonito in Japanese, and some form of anchovy in Korean (and fish sauce in SE Asia).

                                        Think about what you want from stock:
                                        - salt - soy sauce and fish sauce provide these
                                        - umami - a well made Western stock has this, but soy sauce, fish sauce, seaweed (kombu), dried mushrooms are common sources in east Asian cooking
                                        - body (gelatin) - again a well made Western has this. In Asian cooking this likely comes from pigs feet or other parts with lots of skin, chicken feet and duck feet. In Chinese restaurants soups, corn starch thickening provides this sense of body. However I think a well made pho stock should have a lot of body that comes parts like tendon. I've also had a traditional style ramen with a rich pork stock.

                                        1. Interesting question & answers here!

                                          My mom makes Chinese clear soups all the time. However, her soups are the "simmer on low for 4-6 hours" type and she always starts with plain water, never a pre-made broth. Other things I've observed:

                                          - she uses lean "soup pork" for all soups (except the chicken ones, she uses bone-in chicken breast or feet)
                                          - she always drops the meat in another pot of boiling water for 30s to get all the grey "foam" off the meat
                                          - mostly dried Chinese herbs and vegetables go in her soup
                                          - she will add more water during the simmer if it cooks down