Sunday, 29 April 2012

"Old Fire" Watercress Soup


At the farmer's market, the poultry stall also sells small bunches of watercress, gathered from the river that runs near their farm. I like that somewhat romantic notion of cooking things that were growing around each other before they ended up in my kitchen. It's not an entirely new concept, and that's probably the way people used to cook and combine flavours. Just eating in season means you often end up putting together produce that grow at the same time; but considering "where" instead of "when" can be a fun, different way to search for inspiration. 

Since the weather has been just miserable these days, I picked up a chicken carcass for some good old chicken soup. I don't often buy a whole chicken, it just doesn't make sense when you're cooking for one, and a carcass is a perfect and super cheap option for making homemade stock, or bone broth. With the stock, you could probably add some watercress and blend it up with some potatoes and fancy creme fraiche for a creamy green soup a la Gordon Ramsay, but I thought of a simpler light soup that my mum often makes. My sisters and I fight over this soup, so it is pretty good stuff. Of course, my mum does it in a traditional black claypot, with a mix of pork ribs, letting the bones simmer slowly over a charcoal fire; I just do it in my trusty slow cooker, but the idea is the same-- a deceptively clear soup that's actually rich with flavour and nutrients. This kind of slow-cooked goodness is called 老火汤 , literally translated as "old fire soup". 


"OLD FIRE" WATERCRESS SOUP
serves 2-3
Ingredients
1 free-range chicken carcass (or about 350g of pork ribs, or a mix)
1 large bunch of watercress
1 large carrot, chopped into large chunks
3 tbsp of goji berries (yes those dried raisin-like things in your raw trail mix, we traditionally eat them cooked)
6 red jujube dates (NOT the black ones from turkey. If unavailable, use more goji and carrots, but you can easily find them, along with goji, for very cheap in an Asian supermarket.)
unrefined sea salt, to taste  
about 1 water (1.5l if not using slow-cooker)

Method
1. Blanch the carcass in boiling water for 5 min and drain along with any scum. This makes for clearer soup later, the hallmark of good old fire soup.
2. Add the carcass, carrot and dates into a pot, bring to a boil, and immediately reduce heat to very low and let simmer for 2 hours, or more. I just dump it all into the slow-cooker and leave it for 6 hours.
3. 45 min towards the end, remove the carcass, shredding any meat from it, and set aside. If you use pork ribs, no work needed. Add the goji berries and watercress to cook. 
4. That's it, season with unrefined sea salt if necessary, and scoop into a bowl with some chicken, and serve up with rice.

This is very light, no phwoar! of flashy flavours here, but there's something beautiful about how these delicate flavours all come together in a deliciously light broth. The watercress becomes meltingly soft, and the meat, tender and falling apart. The soup is incredibly nourishing, a perfect spring detox and antioxidant boost, and from the traditional chinese medicine point of view, blood-tonifying. A bowl or two is the Chinese mum's antibiotic to any sniffle or ache that might come with the spring showers.

30 comments:

  1. This looks absolutely delicious Shuhan! My mum used to made this too but she would used 'black chicken'. Great soup to warm the soul :)

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    1. my mum uses black chicken when she makes herbal soups too, supposedly very tonifying, but no idea where to get that here!

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    2. They are normally available frozen here. I bought mine from chinatown last but not very good though :(

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  2. Shuhan, it's so funny because a couple of days ago I was looking through all the weird stuff at the ASian shop where I buy Thai herbs and shiso and noodles (I don't know at least 90% of things they sell!) and I have found the dried dates you talk about! They were just next to the famous goji and I wondered what taste they had...
    The soup looks gorgeous. Filling, but light. Perfect for cold spring days.

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    1. they taste sweet too, but not in the turkish medjool dates way, very light sweetness, and it's usually used in soups, not eaten raw. haha even I get stumped at some of the ingredients in an asian store, but thankfully growing up eating most of them has helped quite a bit ;)

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    2. Thank you for the explanation. I will buy them maybe one day. I often feel completely lost there because the owners don't speak anything apart from Thai (well just a couple of words in French).

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  3. This looks fab! Never thought of watercress cooked! And I love the graphics. I responded to your comment. I am totally in agreement about the mental stress thing. And that's a reason I love your blog. So not stressful! And I really should have added another realization - that I am not going to cut out sugar completely. I just don't like sugar cravings :)

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    1. hey natali! hopped over to reply again heh. anyway, watercress is great cooked. it's quite a different taste to raw ones though, it's minus the peppery bite, but with a more intense flavour I feel. both ways are nice(:

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  4. I was going to say that you should advise your readers to visit a Chinese food store to get both the goji berries (rather than the overpriced ones from the organic shops) and the jujube dates. There are whole 'soup stock' mixes with the goji, jujube, ginseng, liquorice and other things. I actually never knew those things went into soup but my dad randomly picked up a pack of one such mixes in Bangkok. He didn't know what the ingredients were (only that it was to be used for soup), but I of course was like "Dad, that's liquorice root! And goji!" But I tried it and have been using those mixes ever since.

    @Natali, guessing from blog, you don't seem to live in London, otherwise I would have suggested you should give Mouthfull's watercress soup at one of our farmers' markets a try (I'm a fellow market manager of Shu Han's). I don't remember all the ingredients now, but it's pureed watercress with some spices, herbs and broth mostly.

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    1. good point, just added it to the post. I don't buy the whole soup stock mixes just because my mum shoves me packs of herbs, individual ones. I cook chinese soups a lot actually, at least twice a week, so I've learnt to recognise even the more obscure ones and the ones to mix to form combinations like "eight treasures" or "four deities" etc. can imagine people here being stumped by the wide variety of weird herbs we chinese use though!

      re watercress soup, western style i linked up the gordon ramsay recipe up there, looks super easy and yum.

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  5. A childhood favourite but it should always be with pork ribs, not chicken imho!

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    1. Some people swear by pork, but I have a friend's mum who uses chicken. my mum does it with a mix of chicken AND pork, and dried scallops in fact. I make do with what I get (:

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  6. Some of the ingredients are new to me ..like the goji berries and jujubi dates...that you have used..Is there any substitute for them..maybe I can try making without them.

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    1. Hmm I don't think there are any replacements for them, they're quite easily found at any asian store though! If not you could always use more carrots for the sweetness, but it'd be a totally different soup!

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  7. I have always wanted to try this soup. It looks amazing!! I think it's so important to cook with local and in season produce. It is why I like to go to the farmers market. Plus isn't it fun when you get a surprise like this watercress? :) I have some Chinese herbs that I picked up just waiting to make a soup, goji berries included.

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    1. So great to see someone who loves cooking with what's in season, and who loves going to the farmer's market too (: Great, I hope you got some dates too, then you're set!

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  8. Wow you made that look so pretty, well done! Looks so healthy and yummy

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  9. Hello
    ThanX for dropping by .... the watercress soup looks refreshing and soothing!! Love the combinations you've used!

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  10. I've heard lots of great things about goji berries but haven't cook anything these for my family...Ops! I need to be a "good mum or wife" and need to cook this soup too for my family :D - Just kidding!

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  11. Yet another wonderful dish. I often make soups like these and feel so much better when I do. Would love to try out using pork also.
    Loved your entries into Simpleandinseason this month too!

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  12. This is my favourite soup! I do it from time to time but a really quick and simple one without using chicken stock. :)

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  13. Jujube dates? Heh, I've never heard of them - I must look look them up... I can't imagine what they must be like inside a soup. It looks really warming and nourishing though - love the idea of the watercress inside!

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  14. raymund: thanks!

    malli: thanks!

    zoe: haha I'm sure your kids find you a great mum with all your yummy baked goodies (:

    laura: chinese mums usually prefer pork bones for makign soup, it's funny because here in the west, people almost always use chicken or beef, but hardly anyone has heard of pork broths.

    mycookinghut: oooh, won't it be too plain if its just watercress and carrots and goji and dates? I think the chicken adds the savouriness, or any meat on bones.

    charles: they're really quite common in asian cooking, not just chinese but korean etc. too! try it!

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  15. Hi Shu Han! This kind of soup is like something I want to drink everyday. It's light, full of nutrition, and taste good. It's like make yourself feel good kinda soup. I can alternate miso soup and this for dinner. =) Thanks for inspiration! Your drawing is beautiful, too!

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  16. I am bookmarking this for later use. We're pretty much past hot soup season. How do you think watercress would be if prepared somewhat like spinach as a side dish? As usual I probably won't see your answer unless you take the trouble to write to scrout1944@msn.com. All best, SC

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  17. My mom used to cook this soup when we were young but not with carrot . Only simple watercress , goyi berries & chicken carcass, I think! LOL Don't remember but I cook my soup in slow cooker too. It's so convenient & handy! Would love to try this version of yours, my sons love soup too & they'll be trilled! :)

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  18. Love, love watercress soup. This is pretty similar to how my mum makes it!

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  19. I love watercress soup. I often cook it with pork ribs only because I can't find chicken carcass here. Where do you get them from?

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  20. Thanks Shu Han for this recipe. Was wondering how watercress soup will turn out with chicken rather than the usual pork ribs. And to my surprise, i love it! For its light sweet taste. Very good and irresistible. :)

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    1. That's great Yixi! I think pork is.. sweeter and chicken gives a lighter savoury taste. Both good :)

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