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Ancient Chinese Secret? Chicken Broth

I'm a devotee of chicken broth and stock. Love it in virtually all its forms. The best chicken broths/stocks, however, seem to reside in Chinese-American restaurants. Any clue as to why they're so delicious? I've heard that the Chinese use ginger in their broth/stock, but is that really all there is to it?

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  1. Soup base with MSG, or MSG-like ingredients that dont need to be labeled as such. Very few if any of these restaurants are making broth from scratch.

    6 Replies
      1. re: barryg

        Do you know of a brand of soup base to use when making a chinese chicken stock? I love the ultra-flavorful broth from chinese restaurants, and have not been able to duplicate it. I get sort of close, but it's not as rich as I want. I have access to a store with a huge amount of asian products, not just Chinese. Thanks!

        1. re: Lmrbest

          Give this one a try: http://www.amazon.com/Lee-Kum-Kee-Chi...

          They have it at most asian markets. There's other chicken powders as well, they're all pretty much the same. Knorr seems to be popular.

          1. re: Lmrbest

            At home I use Better Than Boullion in almost every soup and sauce I make, it's a great flavor enhancer. If you make plain, strong stock with it, I think it come pretty close to Chinese restaurant broth -- but not as clear. The other recs may be better for plain soup.

            1. re: barryg

              BTB recently scored 2nd place on Cook's Illustrated's chicken stock test - the only one that scored better was Swanson's chicken stock (not any of their broths). It's great stuff!

              1. re: barryg

                Love BTB. I have jars of the low (er) sodium beef and chicken at all times. I wish the mushroom kind could be low (er) sodium but, after emailing the company, I was told it didn't work with less salt. Bummer.

          2. I was at a local market and there was someone there from the Chinese place across the street buying up all the chicken feet the store had.

            Chicken feet are fabulous for a good stock/broth.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Violatp

              I use chicken feet as well as necks and backs.

            2. Yep, I think Viola has it right- it's the chicken feet. They're loaded with keratin and add not just good rich flavor but also a slight smooth silkiness to the texture.

              The best wonton soup I ever had was at a little place in Montreal; their broth was noticeably and deliciously infused with fresh ginger, and the wontons had enough toasted sesame oil in them that it would burst upon the palate with each new bite. Little taste explosions. That was over fifteen years ago and my mouth still waters at the memory.

              As an aside, there's one local Chinese place here in Albany with wonderfully tasty chicken broth in their soups, yet it always seemed to vary a bit with each visit. I finally realized that they were reheating it in their woks and it was picking up tiny traces of previous stir-fries. Now when I bring home Chinese soup, I usually add a drop of sesame oil and sometimes a bit of oyster sauce.

              1. Chicken feet, and ginger, and lots of garlic, and star anise.

                2 Replies
                1. re: coll

                  coll, that's exACTly what i was thinking- star anise.

                  1. re: opinionatedchef

                    Star anise is subtle but makes a big difference.

                2. Are chicken feet readily available? Never seen a Chicken Feet R Us down on the corner.

                  27 Replies
                  1. re: Perilagu Khan

                    I guess it depends on where you live. I'm in Chicago so I have access to pretty much anything. Of course, the standard markets still don't carry them. The market I mentioned carries quite an international range of foods and supplies.

                    Do you have access to an Asian market?

                    1. re: Perilagu Khan

                      I can get them at any of the smaller supermarket chains here. Those that cater to Hispanics especially. Those feet are creepy looking but oh so good!

                      1. re: coll

                        I'm not sure I could bring myself to buy 'em!

                        1. re: Perilagu Khan

                          After the first (or second) time it gets easier.

                            1. re: Perilagu Khan

                              The toenails still squick me out a little!

                                1. re: Violatp

                                  Yeah it's the toenails that put it over the top. Wish they could trim them first!

                                2. re: Perilagu Khan

                                  I've been eating chicken feet at dim sum places for a few years now and kick myself that I waited so long. They're delish. Truly.

                                    1. re: Chemicalkinetics

                                      Definitely the brown. May have had the best ever last Sunday in Seattle's ID

                                3. re: coll

                                  When I buy a whole chicken in Taiwan, it comes with the feet on. They'll trim the toenails if you want, though.

                                  You can buy packs of feet (or hearts, or testicles, or gibblets) as well.

                                  I do use the Chinese method for stock. Bring water to the boil, toss in your raw chicken piicesand cook for about 5 minutes Drain the chicken into a collander, wash the pot, rinse the pieces, and start with fresh cold water, heating it slowly.

                                  The initial blanching gets rid of the blood and stuff that makes the broth cloudy and scummy. The result is a nice clear stock without having to skim or clarify.

                                  1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                    I agree that the secret is in the blanching. Makes the broth clear and gets rid of impurities.

                                    1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                      Hmm.. thanks for the blanching tip. I'm definitely going to give that a try.
                                      Fortunately, I can get all sort of chicken bits and bobs from ethnic markets and I'd love to get a clearer result in my stock.

                                        1. re: tastesgoodwhatisit

                                          I do that with cows feet when making pho broth.

                                        2. re: coll

                                          Feet add texture in terms of cartilage, but no notable flavor.

                                          Super "chickeny" and very yellow colored stock from Chinese american restaurants is from MSG. They don't use feet, they use a plastic tub :)

                                            1. re: sedimental

                                              As I mentioned upthread, I use feet and necks and backs.

                                          1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                            Gimme a Chicken Foot and a Bottle of Tsing-Tao

                                            1. re: Tripeler

                                              Give me several of them and the beer.

                                              1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                I've purchased chicken feet at Asian grocery stores but was mildly surprised when I saw them at the local grocery store (owned by SuperValu). We have a lot of frozen chicken stock in the freezer so I didn't buy them. (I make a lot of stock in the winter time and never make it in the summer time. We had another day with the heat index at about 110 degrees, in Minnesota.)

                                                1. re: Perilagu Khan

                                                  The chicken and ducks that I buy whole here in Singapore come complete with feet. And their entire head.

                                                  1. re: LMAshton

                                                    OK the head would give me pause. Majorly!

                                                    1. re: coll

                                                      I think I've lived in Asia too long. I didn't even bat an eye. The toenails on the feet, though - that grosses me out. Can't even explain why. The husband freaked out over the beak, though. :D