This Chinese Ginseng Chicken Soup is really easy to make but so delicious that you can't tell it only uses 4 ingredients! Plus, it's made in 1 pot and mostly passive cooking.
⭐ Why This Recipe is a Star
- Chinese Chicken Ginseng Soup is delicious but simple: made in 1 pot with only 4 ingredients, this soup is so warming and nourishing. Moreover, the ginseng adds depth to the flavor but the soup doesn't taste overwhelmingly herbal!
- Passive cooking: apart from the first 10 and last few minutes, the chicken is left to simmer on its own for most of the time, leaving you free to busy yourself with other dishes or chores!
- Nutritious: the health benefits of ginseng have been documented and revered by the Chinese for centuries, which is why the price can be pretty steep! (See more below.) This homemade soup is also a gluten-free and dairy-free recipe.
What is Ginseng?
Ginseng, along with other dried herbs such as goji berries, swallow bird's nest and red dates, has been an important part of Traditional Chinese medicine since ancient times (5000 years ago).
In Chinese food therapy, it is important to pair ingredients which complement each other to nourish the body, so serve this winter soup recipe with some longan tea, dried jujube tea or Chinese wolf berry tea!
There are actually many types of ginseng, all of which have slightly different properties: some are cooling whilst others are warming and energising.
Tip: Make sure you know which one you're using- I was once unable to sleep for 36 hours due to eating too much of the wrong type of ginseng!
You can also buy whole ginseng (more expensive) or sliced ginseng. I use ginseng slices in my homemade soup recipe to save money but feel free to use the ginseng root if you have 1! (Cut it first to make it more efficacious- you may need to steam it to soften it to cut.)
Note: American ginseng is different from Asian ginseng (Korean ginseng and Chinese ginseng.)
Note: please consult a qualified medical or health professional. The info below if FYI only. Do note that some experts advise infants, people on medication and breastfeeding/ pregnant women to abstain from ginseng! (For example, my Father cannot take ginseng due to existing health conditions.)
American ginseng has been shown to have antioxidant properties which improve glucose metabolism and reduce blood sugar levels.
Korean red ginseng, or Korean ginseng that has been steamed then dried, is warming, promotes blood circulation and the immune system as well as fights fatigue. It is also the ginseng with the most varieties of ginsenosides.
Vs Korean Samgyetang
- Korean Chicken Ginseng Soup (삼계탕 Samgyetang) uses fresh ginseng, which is much less powerful and cheaper than the dried ginseng the Chinese soup uses. (Hence you can drink the Korean soup more often than the Chinese one!)
- The cavity of the Korean Ginseng Chicken is stuffed with glutinous rice (sweet rice or sticky rice) and jujubes whilst the Chinese one usually is not.
- The Korean version also uses garlic cloves, green onion and sometimes black pepper, which this Chinese soup does not.
For this authentic Chinese soup recipe, you will need:
- 1 whole small chicken: ideally fresh but I've been known to use frozen (if so, please thaw before cooking.) If you can't get a whole chicken, feel free to use chicken parts that make up the same weight (900g or 31.7 oz), but use more chicken wings if possible (to add a gelatinous feel and thus body to the soup.) I leave the skin on as it has so much flavor but you can always skim the oil off using a fine mesh strainer if you want a clearer soup.
- Chinese red dates 红枣: remember to remove the seeds or the soup will be heaty. This, along with the goji berries, gives the soup a sweeter flavor to balance the bitterness of the ginseng. It will also turn the soup a little darker in color. These last a long time so you can buy a big batch for jujube tea etc
- Ginseng 人参 or 人参须: ginseng can be quite bitter, so if you can't get red dates, please add something else like dried longan or honey dates to sweeten the soup naturally. I have used a minimal amount to give the soup just the right amount of depth as I am not a fan of bitter foods, but you can increase the amount used. (I strongly recommend not using more than 3 Tablespoons, because it becomes super bitter!) You can even soak the dried ginseng in hot water to make ginseng tea. I've used American ginseng but you can use Korean or Chinese ginseng too.
- Goji berries 枸杞: although they're nutritious, goji berries (also known as wolf berries) are quite sweet so don't overdo them.
📖 Variations & Substitutes
I wanted a basic soup with simple ingredients but you can certainly add other things such as:
- ginger (a very common ingredient in Chinese cooking and soup, which goes particularly well with chicken.)
- more Chinese herbs e.g. Huai Shan (Chinese yam), lotus seeds, cordyceps, ba zhen etc
- dried seafood: dried scallops or conpoy will give the soup a deeper taste but I wanted to focus on the pure chicken flavor so I omitted them.
- dried shiitake mushrooms: I soak them in hot water to soften them before adding them to the soup to cook.
🔪 Step-by-Step Instructions
- Optional: Blanch the chicken. For pork, this step is essential but it's optional for chicken as there isn't as much dirt and scum. You could technically just skim off the scum produced instead of blanching first.
Note: If you choose to blanch first, place the chicken in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil then throw away the water. Rinse the chicken in cold water to remove the dirt then it's ready to be made into soup!
2. Place the chicken in the pot with the water, ginseng and jujubes then bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer over low heat for a minimum of 2.5- 3 hours. (Do check in from time to time to see if more water is needed. I didn't need to add any, but your "low heat" may be different from mine!)
10 minutes before you want to turn off the fire, add the goji berries. Season right before turning off the heat (if you salt too early, the soup may become too salty after the water evaporates off.)
Note: if you simmer for more than 2.5 hours, please check the water levels to see if you need to add extra water!
🥡 How to Store
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the fridge for 2-3 days.
After simmering for 2.5 hours, the meat is still flavorful and juicy. However, if you cook for longer or reheat it the next day, it may become dry and tasteless. If so, dip it in a soy and sesame oil dipping sauce for more flavor!
👩🏻🍳 Expert Tips
Tip #1: It's easier to cut the chicken into parts once it's been softened after all the simmering so I tend to cook the whole chicken before cutting. Some recipes call for cutting first, which can help to release more gelatinous into the soup as more bone is exposed. (Plus a whole chicken recipe is traditional for Chinese New Year!)
Tip #2: If you can get it, use black-skinned Silkie chicken or Cornish hens instead of the regular chicken. To see what the darker meat looks like, click here.
🥗 Other Chinese Recipes
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Chinese Ginseng Chicken Soup (4-ingredients)
- Large pot
- 8 Cups water
- 1 whole chicken (900g or 31.7 oz) ideally fresh not frozen, cleaned. If the neck and feet are attached, leave them on as they have a lot of collagen to give the soup body. Don't fret if your chicken is bigger- your soup will have more flavor! You can also substitute with chicken parts that make up the same weight if you can't get an entire chicken- just make sure there are lots of wings to provide gelatin for the soup.
- 8 jujubes soaked for 5 minutes to soften and remove dust. also known as Chinese red dates, seeds removed
- 2 Tablespoons sliced American ginseng about 7g/ 0.25 oz
- 3 Tablespoons goji berries briefly soaked for 5 minutes to soften and remove dust.
- 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
Optional: blanching the chicken
- For pork, this step is essential but it's optional for chicken as there isn't as much dirt and scum. You could technically just skim off the scum produced instead of blanching first.
- If you choose to blanch first, place the chicken in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil then throw away the water. Rinse the chicken in cold water to remove the dirt then it's ready to be made into soup!
Cooking the soup
- Place the chicken in the pot with the water, ginseng and jujubes then bring to the boil. Once boiling, reduce to a simmer over low heat for a minimum of 2.5- 3 hours. (Do check in from time to time to see if more water is needed. I didn't need to add any, but your "low heat" may be different from mine!)
- 10 minutes before you want to turn off the fire, add the goji berries.
- Season right before turning off the heat (if you salt too early, the soup may become too salty after the water evaporates off.)Note: if you simmer for more than 2.5 hours, please check the water levels to see if you need to add extra water!
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