On Chinese Superior Broth (高湯/上湯)

As I was growing up, I remember my mother feeding me her version of chicken soup with rice when I wasn’t feeling well. The soup was made with peeled seeded cucumber pieces cooked in chicken stock with shiitake mushhrooms. It was normally accompanied with cooked white rice on the side – to be added to the soup at my own discretion – a chicken soup with rice  ‘deconstructed’ in a manner of speaking. What I realized years later, while watching the Iron Chef Japan Jinhua Ham/Pork battle, was that the soup my mother had made for me was a variation of the classic winter melon in chinese superior broth. Back then jinhua ham wasn’t readily available state-side, so my mother substituted shiitake mushrooms as the umami component of the soup.

But how to make the broth?  As I mentioned, I saw it being made during the Jinhua Ham/Pork battle on Iron Chef Japan –

Here’s the preparation/use of the superior broth (aka “dingtang”)

(see time index: 0:59-1:28, 2:48-2:54)

Here’s the application of the superior broth to the winter melon “soup”

(see time index: 4:13-4:25)

But even though I could sort of see what was being done, I had no idea how much of each ingredient to use.  Fortunately, I got a birthday present of William Mark’s “The Chinese Gourmet” that had the recipe in it as reported in this URL:


Unfortunately, there was one more obstacle to making this broth.  Jinhua ham was not readily available state-side.  What to do?  After browsing about on the net, I settled on  Smithfield ham as the Jinhua ham substitute of choice because of its high brine/salt content.

So – here’s how I prepare my version of superior broth. To begin,  I try to get the shrink-wrapped pre-sliced smithfield ham from my local supermarket.
Sheung Tong Broth
1 lb chicken
1 lb smithfield ham
6 cups water
2 ounces ginger, lightly crushed
3 scallions
3 pieces dried orange peel (optional)

1. Bring the water to a boil in a deep pot.
2. Add the meats and all the remaining ingredients.
3. When the mixture returns to a boil, lower the heat and simmer uncovered for 5 hours.
4. Strain and save the liquid

Iron Chef Chen comments in his “Iron Chef Chen’s Knockout Chinese” that he uses 8 chicken wings (in my experience, that’s about 1 lb of drumettes) when he makes chicken broth.  I originally used boneless skinless thighs, but I found the use of skinless drumettes seemed to produce a richer flavored broth.

Iron Chef Morimoto comments that:
1. he cuts up the ham into 1 1/2″ pieces
2. adds 1 lb of beef shin in making his version of this broth
3. and also adds 8 peppercorns

So – I prepare the ham by cutting them into 1 1/2″ strips before putting them into the stock pot.

The funny thing about this recipe as it pertains to the Iron Chef Japan battle, the broth was made in under an hour (as opposed to the 5 hours quoted from Mark’s book.).  Based on the youtube related links for the battle,  Shimokawa started the broth at the very beginning of the battle. It appears it took Shimokawa about 30-35 minutes to make the broth before using it in his soup application.

The “quick” alternative version I use makes this broth in an indirect heating rice cooker/steamer that has a stainless steel inner pot (I have an old tatung rice cooker that’s similar to this – http://www.tatungusa.com/app/pageproduct.aspx?pid=196&cid=232)

a. Add all ingredients to the stainless steel inner pot, ginger and scallions on the bottom
b. place in rice cooker, cover the internal pot
c. Start the rice cooker (cooking time is about 30 to 40 minutes)

One other alternative cooking method I use is cooking all the ingredients in a pressure cooker (I use a Kuhn Rikon – http://kuhnrikon.com/products/pressure_cookers/pressure.php3?id=21 ).  I let the broth cook with this method for about 30 minutes on the first red ring.

SO – what do I use this broth for? I use it for the following dishes –

* puree of corn soup with  chicken and crab, cantonese-style
* red wine braised short ribs with parsnip, daikon, leek, carrot, celeriac, onion
* morimoto lobster soup
* morimoto ‘chicken noodle soup’
* winter melon or cucumber soup
* buckwheat groat risotto, ‘chinese flavor’
* chawanmushi, chinese flavor

Some recipes for superior broth suggest the ingredients can be used to make secondary broth (like japanese niban dashi). Unfortunately, I found that trying to make the secondary broth doesn’t really yield a tasty broth. So I usually discard the scallions, ginger and ham since I’ve pretty much extracted all the flavor I can out of them.  As for the chicken, I usually marinate it in equal parts rice wine/sake and the superior broth (just to cover), refridgerated for at least 24 hours – a variant of the classic chinese ‘drunk chicken’.

Update (12 Jan 2011)

In thinking about the red wine braised short ribs that I make, I remember how difficult it was to control the salt level in the dish. I decided to revisit this broth using a ham with a lower salt profile than the smithfield.  In fact , I recall that Morimoto’s version of the broth didn’t specify the smithfield (perhaps in light of the salt level in the ham?).  I selected the Niman Ranch Jambon Royale for this attempt.  I expect to use the broth very soon for the red wine braised short ribs. In addition, I expect to use the broth in an attempt to re-create the wonderful steam-poached snapper that  my wife and I had as part of  our Morimoto, NYC omakase meal we had on 29 Dec 2010 (thank you to Chef Ariki Omae@Morimoto NYC for confirming the broth as an element of the dish).

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