Making Chinese soups is easy with most soups requiring the basic “boil” and “simmer” techniques. However, some soups do require special attention, equipment and/or techniques for the best results. Here are some basic and advanced techniques and tips you may find useful when creating your own tasty and nurtritious Chinese soups.
Blanch / Parboil / Pre-boil
Blanching means to plunge ingredients into boiling water for a brief period of time. This technique is used on soup ingredients prior to putting them into soups for a variety of reasons, including to help remove the skin or peels from fruits and vegetables (for example, tomatoes) and/or to “clean” ingredients (perhaps ingredients with a foul taste, poison, or excess dirt and fat).
Often when creating soups with a meat base, especially when using pork bones, we recommend pre-boiling the bones for about 10 minutes to help remove excess dirt, broken bone pieces, and undesired fat. This technique often improves the taste and texture of your soups.
This is the most basic technique. Simply place your soup pot on high heat and leave it there. You may need to stir often or adjust the flame so it doesn’t boil over.
Browning refers to lightly frying ingredients in oil before putting them into your soups. This is occasionally necessary to enhance the flavour and/or color of your soups. For example, we recommend browning fish before putting them into your soups to remove the “fishy” taste. Also, browning meats before boiling will enhance the flavour and deepen the color of your soups.
Cover / Uncover
These are also very basic techniques. Covering your soup will help to trap in the heat and moisture and prevent reduction of your soup stock. Uncovering your soup will allow it to reduce or “boil down”.
Chinese-style double boiling, also known as double steaming, is used when making soups that require delicate ingredients (such as shark’s fin or bird’s nest) that may break apart or melt when directly boiled in the water. This technique also helps to ensure there is no liquid loss from the food being cooked and also to ensure ingredients maintain their value (essense).
To double-boil your soup, place your soups and ingredients inside a chinese ceramic pot (the pot may have two lids for a tighter seal to prevent reduction). Then steam the entire ceramic pot inside a bigger pot for several hours.
Even if you blanch the meat before boiling, it is still possible to have too much undesired oil in your soup after it is finished cooking. To remove the excess oil, when your soup is finished cooking, open the lid and let the soup sit briefly. In a few minutes, the excess oil will float to the top where it can be easily scooped out with a spoon.
Tip: We highly recommend using an oil scooper. It is a spoon that looks like a strainer (with very small holes, almost as small as a flour sifter) to scoop out oil and excess particles that may float on the surface of your soup.
Reduce (a.k.a. Boil Down)
Certain soups may be reduced or boiled down to either thicken the soup (if gelatinous ingredients are used) or to condense it in order to maximize the flavour or nutrition. To reduce a soup, simply simmer uncovered until you have achieved the desired result.
Tip: If your soup has been reduced too much and you want to add more water, remember to add hot water and NOT cold water to your soup. This will ensure you don’t bring down the temperature of your soup too much, thereby briefly pausing the cooking process.
Simmering your soup means leaving it to bubble slowly over low heat for a period of time.
Thickening a soup can be done in one of two ways. For gelatinous soups, it may be possible to reduce the soup down to a thicker consistency. Alternatively, it is possible to dissolve 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 1/2 cup of warm water (this must be done separately) and adding the entire mixture into the soup. If using the corn starch method, do not put the cornstarch (dry) directly into the soup as this may cause gelatinous lumps to form in your soup.