Hello all! Qufu life is settling in pretty well after a month and a half (or is it more?).
Lately my life has seen a lot of cooking. As teachers, we were asked to host “free talks” every week, where students can come and talk with us outside of the classroom environment (a “low-stress opportunity to practice English” kind of thing), so to make life more interesting for me, I’ve started hosting culture activity free talks, the most recent of which have been focused on cooking Western food (you can see pictures of us making zucchini bread at the end of this entry).
Despite our furnished kitchens, as teachers, we tend to go out for meals a lot in Qufu. Part of that is because its easy, part of it is because it’s very affordable, and part of it is because when someone else decides to go out to eat, saying no to the invitation just seems antisocial. Still, I really love cooking, and I was excited last week to host our second foreign teacher potluck at my apartment.
Potluck’s are always lots of fun, and this on was no exception! (If a little crazy — figuring out how to fit 20 people around a table in an apartment is never easy). It involved TONS of delicious food, struggling to fit tables through doors, locking myself out of my apartment with the stove on (long story), and other fun adventures; BUT, I think the most exciting adventure of them all was making my contribution to the potluck: chicken soup (story and recipe below).
“Chinese” (but not 中国式 — that is, not “Chinese style”) Chicken Soup
1 blue chicken
2 red onions
3 large carrots
6 stalks celery
1 clove garlic
whatever Western-seeming seasonings you can find – in this case:
salt; cracked pepper; white pepper; rosemary; rubbed sage; ; bay leaves
What made this recipe a more exciting adventure than any other was that it also represented my FIRST time buying meat in China. And I didn’t buy just any meat, I had Sarah take me to the local chicken market to selecting a whole chicken and have it freshly killed and cleaned for you.
They had many different types of chickens, but when the woman asked me which chicken I wanted and I told her that I planned to make soup, she directed me to two kinds in the front: a rather normal looking brown chicken, and this one:
Naturally, I picked this one, since how often in the US do you get the chance to have a chicken like that!
An interesting note about buying chickens in China:
Unlike butchered chickens in the US, chickens always come whole (with feet, neck and head still attached). This is in part because Chinese cooks usually use the whole bird, but I’ve heard it’s also to prove the freshness of the meet to diners. When you get meat in China, you always want it to be recently sources (even nowadays refrigeration is a bit sketchy), and serving a meal of meat with the head attached helps signify to your guests that this is not some left over week old meat that’s been lying in the bottom of your fridge, but something you’d actually want to eat (a lot of chicken flavored things, like canned chicken stock, often have a picture of a whole chicken on it for the same reason. Even though they’re packaged, and of course don’t come from a fresh chicken, it’s something about the proving “this is meat, not an artificial, chemical product”).
After the making my purchase I returned home with my freshly cleaned chicken (edible organs and all!), assembled my vegetable ingredients, and started my preparation!
1 Silkie chicken
1 red onion (quartered)
1.5 large carrots (quartered)
3 stalks celery (quartered)
1 medium clove garlic
1.5 bay leaves
(If you make this in the West, use parsley!! Alas there is none here in China, unless you can find it in a Western store in Jinan or Beijing… luckily I scrounged some sage from my neighbors — thanks Max!)
Combine all ingredients in a large pot and cover with water (but don’t fill the pot completely to keep it from boiling over). Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 90 minutes. (Note: Overcooking will remove flavor from the chicken.)
3 stalks celery (thickly chopped)
1.25 large carrots (thinly chopped)
½ red onion (diced)
2 potatoes (~3/4inch dice)
When the stock has finished simmering, remove the chicken and debone it (in my experience the meat is just about falling off the bone, so in reality you’re removing the meat from the bone, not removing the bones from the meat). Cut the meat (or tear it up with clean hands) into the desired size. Strain out the stock vegetables and press them to release all the liquid (and flavor!), then return the stock to the pot. Add the chicken and vegetables. When ready, simmer together for about 30 minutes (until the vegetables are nice and tender).
My advice would be – don’t lock yourself out of your apartment while you’re heating it back up! Even if you are able to find someone with a key and/or someone who can break into your apartment within 15 minutes, it adds a lot of unnecessary stress to the cooking process (but it MIGHT make the soup taste that much better).
If anyone has good advice for using organs, heads, feet, and bones (aside from making more stock for future soups) I’d gladly accept it! I don’t know how often I’ll get a whole chicken (even in China, meat is expensive), but when I do, I’d like to make the most of it!
Also, as promised, here are photos of one of my vegetarian-friendly cooking adventures (Zucchini Bread) with my students (they’re so excited by the chance to make Western food!).