This easy Chinese Black Chicken Soup, also known as Silkie Chicken, is a traditional Chinese soup recipe that is delicious, nutritious AND only calls for 5 ingredients! I've made this Black Chicken soup recipe non-herbal, as many younger Asians find it hard to accept the strong flavours of herbal soup, but it's still very good for you!
Why make Black Chicken Soup?
- This black chicken soup is delicious: It's traditionally made with Chinese herbs which can give the chicken broth a bitter taste, so I've modified the recipe to make it more inclusive. (No more herbs.) If you're looking for a traditional herbal Chinese soup, try this ginseng chicken soup instead.
- And healthy: Traditional Chinese Medicine has promoted these black chickens as having a curative effect since as early as the 7th century (I couldn't find scientific studies to back this up but I'm sure we all know free-range meat is better for you!) Moreover, it has less fat than "normal" chickens.
- And super easy to cook: you basically bring the ingredients to the boil, lower the fire, then leave it to simmer (occasionally checking if you need to top up the water level) If you use a gas fire, please keep an eye on the fire!
What is Black Chicken?
Black chicken, also known as Silkie chicken, is often used in Chinese cooking to make soups, especially herbal ones. These are not black feathered chickens by the way. In fact, ironically, they have white, very fluffy feathers.
To be honest, every time I see a photo of them, I feel bad to eat black chicken as they look so cute and cuddly. (and supposedly are quite mild-mannered and make good pets.)
Instead of black feathers, Silkie chickens are black all the way down to their bones: they have pure black skin and the meat as well as bones a grey-dish black. (The earlobes are blue though!)
Although we're not 100% sure where they originated, most ancient documents indicate China- the earliest Western record is by Marco Polo, who mentioned a "furry chicken" that he saw on his travels.
Fun Fact: the name "silkie chicken" comes from the fact that the plumage is supposed to feel very silky and nice to the touch!
Note: silkie chicken is different from the Ayam cemani chicken, which is common in Indonesia.
vs Regular Chickens
Black chicken tends to be much smaller than regular chicken. It is more like French poussin. (They weigh 1.4-1.8 kg on average, but the American Standard of perfection prefers silkie chicken to be 900g-1kg.)
They don't have much meat, so they're usually not used for chicken dishes but in Chinese soups instead. To be honest, I could probably eat an entire Silkie black chicken by myself!
Unlike regular chicken, this breed of chicken is typically not factory-farmed on an industrial scale, so most tend to be free-range (and better for your health!)
As a result, although the meat still tastes very much like regular chicken, the flavour is a little more intense, which makes it perfect for stewing in soups! (Regular chicken is often so bland and tasteless because of intensive farming practices.)
Trivia: Silkie chicken have 5 toes whilst regular ones have 4.
As mentioned, as black chicken is usually free-range and not a product of intensive farming, it's :
- better for your health
- for one, it has ½ the amount of fat regular chicken does!
- good for your immune system
- has more flavour
Besides Chinese food, black chicken is also used in Japanese, Korean and some other Asian cuisines. In fact, in Vietnam, black chicken soup is known as "ga ac tiem thuoc bac" or evil chicken of Chinese medicine!
I assure you, this soup tastes good and not like medicine at all!
Ingredients & Substitutes
This easy Chinese soup recipe only requires 5 main ingredients:
- Black chicken (Silkie chicken): I've never seen black chicken in a mainstream supermarket outside of Asia, but you can find it in some Asian markets. Try to go to a Chinese grocery store if you can. If not, substitute with a regular chicken but note the taste will be slightly different.
- Dried Scallops: this gives the soup a savouriness as well as salt it. You can substitute with other dried seafood such as dried conch or dried squid. (For more dried scallop replacements, click here)
- Dried Shiitake Mushrooms: soak them in hot water. After soaking, remove the stem but don't throw it away! Add the stem back into the soup, along with the soaking water, as they add to the flavour. (If you're a fan of mushrooms, you may be keen on these easy Asian recipes which use mushrooms.)
- Chinese Red dates (Jujubes): These give the soup a sweet taste. Make sure you remove the seeds, as red dates are supposedly very heaty when cooked with the seeds in them. (I have to confess I don't always do so though!) The warming effects of red dates is why it's added to longan tea, and great for women during their periods. (If you can't get dried longans, you can make simple jujube tea instead. Perfect for winter months!) You can get red dates and wolfberries online or from the Chinese Medical Hall. Substitute: 2 honey dates (has a seed in the middle FYI) OR a handful of dried longans
- Goji berries (Wolfberries): These red berries are very common in Chinese cuisine. Asian grandmothers will tell you how good they are for your eyes, something that has recently been confirmed by a University of California, Davis study according to SCMP. Use them in osmanthus tea, osmanthus jelly, steamed Chinese bird's nest or woflberry tea.
- Water & Salt: I start with 11 cups of water (10 cups + the 1 cup of hot water that was used to soak the shiitake, scallops and goji berries) then top up towards the end if necessary. (Don't add too much or the flavour will be overly diluted. You should end up with only enough soup for around 3 Chinese soup bowls.)
Note: including the 1 bowl of water I add at the end, I use a total of 12 bowls of water to 1 small black Silkie chicken.
For more Asian recipes which can be made with 5 ingredients (or fewer), click this link.
- Herbal: you can add Chinese herbs like Dang Gui or Dang Shen for food therapy. (Black chicken is often paired with herbs that are good for women's heath.)
🔪 Step-by-step instructions
- 30 minutes before cooking, soak the shiitake mushrooms and scallops.
- After they've finished soaking, add them to the jujubes and black chicken in a large pot of water. (Remember to add the mushroom and scallop soaking water too.)
- Bring to the boil then simmer for 2-3 hours over medium-low to medium heat. (The longer the better really.) You may need to add some water during the cooking process- you want to end up with 3 bowls of soup.
- 10 minutes before you want to switch off the fire, add the goji berries. Salt to taste.
Note: you can boil for more flavor but I simmer to keep the chicken meat as tender as possible.
🥡 How to Store
Keep any leftover Silkie Chicken Soup in an airtight container in the fridge (or freezer).
To be honest, as you only end up with about 3 bowls of soup, there really shouldn't be any leftovers!
Tip #1: You can also make black chicken & red dates soup in a slow cooker or double boiler.
Tip #2: If you're hardworking, blanch the chicken first, then wash it, before bringing it to the boil with the rest of the ingredients. If you're lazy like me, just boil the chicken with the ingredients directly and use a scoop to spoon off the scum that surfaces later. You will have to skim 3-4 times during the simmering process to get a clear broth at the end.
Tip #3: This recipe is only good for 2-3 people. It makes 2-3 Chinese bowls of soup after all the simmering which, to be honest, I can finish all by myself! If you want to make it for more people, please increase the number of black chickens and water accordingly- if you just add more water, the taste will be too diluted.
Other Chinese Soup Recipes
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Easy Chinese Black Chicken Soup (Silkie Chicken)
- Pot/ Dutch oven
- Spoon or ladle to skim the scum
- Bowls (Heat-proof) To soak the dried scallops and dried mushrooms
- 1 Black chicken (Silkie Chicken) Asians usually like to give their chicken a salt rub before washing it off. The USDA however advises against washing meat before cooking. (See notes about blanching.) You can use a scissors to cut the neck and feet off the chicken carcass. Add these to the soup to boil too. (Cutting them exposes the bone which helps to make the soup a little more gelatinous (gives it a better texture.))
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms Soaked for 30 minutes in hot water before cooking. After soaking, remove the stems but add them & the mushroom caps to the pot of soup along with the soaking water.
- 5 dried scallops Soak for 30 minutes in hot water first- add to pot of soup along with the soaking water. Substitute: dried conch or dried squid, or 1 of these conpoy substitutes
- 3 jujubes Seeds removed. Substitute: 2 honey dates
- 2-3 Tablespoons goji berries Also known as wolf berries .Rinsed then soaked for 5 minutes.
- 10 + 1 Cups Water
- Salt, to taste Add it towards the end of the boiling process, if not the soup will become too salty after the liquid evaporates off. I added about ¼teaspoon but add as per your tastebuds. (Note that the dried scallops also add sodium to the soup.)
- Optional, 30 minutes before you want to make soup: rinse then soak the scallops and shiitake mushrooms. Whilst waiting for them to soak, remove the seeds from the jujubes. (If not, you can do this whilst the chicken is simmering later.)
- Add the black chicken, red dates (deseeded), soaked scallops, soaked shiitake mushrooms and 10 cups of water to the pot and bring to the boil on high.Note: remember to pour in the soaking water too. If you didn't soak the scallops/ mushrooms earlier, no worries, just add them 30 minutes later, after soaking.
- Once the soup has started boiling, lower the heat to medium. (I turn it down from 9, which is the max on a Bosch induction stove, to 6.) The water should now be simmering and not boiling. Note: Whilst boiling extracts more flavour from the soup, I prefer to simmer the chicken to keep the meat tender as I find it wasteful to throw it away after stewing!
- Keep simmering for the next 2-3 hours. (The longer the better, but after 2 hours the soup is already quite tasty.) Note: DO NOT ADD SALT TILL THE END or the salty taste may become super concentrated later.
- After 45 minutes or so have passed, check that the soup is not at a full boil (as the water evaporates, the simmer may turn into a boil- in that case, either turn down the heat or add more water.) Note: How quickly the water evaporates depends on the width of the pot (I used a le Creuset standard Dutch oven), the heat of your stove etc, so if you find the water level going very low, please add some more. Using a fire of 5-6, I only needed to add 1 extra bowl of water to the pot, at the end of the boil (i.e. in total I used 12 cups of water to 1 black chicken) but, as mentioned, this may vary for you.
- 10 minutes before you want to serve the soup, add the goji berries.
- Add a bit of salt to the soup, then taste. Note: The scallops are naturally salty so start with a sprinkle and, if not sufficient, add a bit more.
- Once to your taste, scoop and serve. You should have enough to fill 2-3 Chinese bowls.
Note: the nutritional information is an estimate automatically calculated using the WPRM recipe maker and I am not responsible for its veracity.
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