What’s so good about the broth anyway? Perhaps, the better way to phrase the question is how is the broth cooked that makes it so special? Four things.
- Lightly browning the shallots and ginger instead of just throwing them into the pot.
- Browning the chicken because the Maillard reaction is real.
- Seasoning with fish sauce because its rich umami flavor cannot be replaced by plain salt.
- Sufficient cooking time to allow the heat to squeeze out the flavors and aromas of the shallots, ginger, chicken and fish sauce, and get all that goodness into the cooking liquid.
I didn’t mention a lot of ingredients, did I? That’s because there aren’t many. This soup is one of those cases where what counts most is not the number of ingredients but, rather, the patience in carrying out the four items in the list above. That’s how you’ll get an exceptional broth.
The chicken and vegetable dish is inspired by the Vietnamese soup called canh cai dau hu which, according to the cooking tips of Andrea Nguyen, seems to be very customizable. Her recipe includes tofu but does not list ginger among the ingredients. I decided to add ginger because mustard greens in the Philippines are more bitter than their Vietnamese siblings and I wanted another strong flavor to balance the bitterness.
Chicken soup with mustard greens (leaves)
- If using chicken backs, chop each into two to three pieces. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Peel and thinly slice the shallots.
- Peel and slice the ginger.
- Heat the cooking oil in a pot.
- Saute the shallots and ginger until softened and lightly browned, about five minutes over medium-low heat. Push to the sides of the pot.
- Spread the chicken pieces on the bottom of the pot and turn up the heat to medium-high. Leave the chicken for a minute to allow the undersides to brown. Flip to brown the opposite sides.
- Drizzle in two tablespoons of fish sauce. Continue cooking until the fish sauce has been absorbed by the chicken.
- Pour in about six cups of water and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover the pot and let the chicken simmer for 20 minutes or so.
- While the chicken simmers, rinse the mustard greens and shake off excess water. Cut off the root ends and discard. If the leaves are rather large, cut them into halves.
- Taste the broth and add more fish sauce, if needed.
- Drop the mustard greens into the pot. Press them down into the broth to soften. Continue simmering the chicken with the mustard greens for another five to seven minutes.
- Give the broth a final taste and stir in more fish sauce if still rather bland before serving the chicken and mustard greens soup.