Chinese Chicken Soup for the (Body and) Soul

This is an unusual Chinese dish to the American palate, a bit on the sweet side (sometimes very sweet!) and often served as a tonic in China, but since it’s close to “turkey day” with its festive bird, it seemed like a logical inclusion. If you omit the browing step, it’s also very easy to put together although it requires about an hour to actually cook. It’s a great winter meal, a sort of Chinese chicken soup for the body and soul. You can use a variety of poultry – duck, chicken, squab, cornish hens, quail all work. Don’t be put off by the ingredients that would require you to go to the Asian market – you can also vary these according to what you have on hand, the logical route to take being dried fruits. The original recipe calls for “5 spheres” – red Chinese dates (hongzao), longan or dragon-eye (longyan), lotus seeds (lianzi), wolfberries (gouqi), and lychees.


  • 1 chicken, cut up (or approximately 3 lbs of another type of poultry – regardless of what you use, look for humanely, sustainably raised – your body, your taste buds and the environment will all thank you!)
  • 1/2 c Shaoxing cooking wine or dry sherry
  • 2 T oil (optional – only if you prefer to brown the chicken)
  • 2 T brown sugar or honey or to taste
  • 10 slices fresh ginger root, approximately 1/8″ thick
  • 3 scallions, cut into 2″ lengths
  • 5 types of dried fruit: you can go with a handful each of red Chinese dates, longan or dragon-eye, lotus seeds, and wolfberries plus 1 small can of lychees (look for those in light syrup, and regardless of the liquid, rinse and drain well) or 12 fresh lychees; or you can look for 5 types of dried fruit, such as apricots, jujubes, raisins, cranberries, cherries – whatever you like or have on hand.
  • chicken broth or water as needed
  • salt and white pepper to taste


  1. You can choose to braise this dish in the oven or steam it. If you are going to use the oven, preheat it to 325 F.
  2. Rinse and pat the chicken pieces dry. If you prefer to brown the chicken, heat the oil in a skillet and brown the pieces on all sides. If you prefer, you can skip this step.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients, using enough liquid to cover the chicken pieces at least 1/2 way – you can add more if you prefer more soup.
  4. Bring to a boil, immediately remove from heat, then transfer to a dutch oven (if you’re going to use the oven) or a heatproof bowl (if you’re going to steam).
  5. Braise or steam 45 m – 1 h, turning once, until the chicken is tender and slips easily from the bone.
  6. Adjust seasoning and serve.

nutritional data:

Because the ingredients will vary widely based on the cook, I have not included the calculations for the “5 spheres.” In these figures I have used chicken for the poultry, honey for the sweetener, water for the liquid, 1 tsp salt, and omitted the oil. This dish serves 6 as part of a larger meal, and numbers given are per serving.

  • Total calories 378, calories from fat 210
  • Total fat 23 g, saturated fat 7 g
  • Cholesterol 115 mg
  • Sodium 620 mg
  • Total carbs 11 g, dieetary fiber 1 g, sugars 7 g
  • Protein 29 g

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