Black Chicken Soup - Gastro Obscura

Black Chicken Soup

In Asia, the black-skinned silkie chicken forms the base of a medicinal broth.

Silkie chickens are named for their coat of unusually fluffy, silky feathers. These luxuriously plumed birds are native to China, where they’re used to make a healing broth. Chicken soup is a seemingly universal comfort food, but silkie chickens give the dish a distinct look. Beneath their cloud-like exterior hides deeply pigmented flesh and bone that ranges from blue-gray to pitch black. 

Among Asian families, black chicken soup operates as a sort of cure-all. Nutrition research supports the belief: Silkies contain twice the amount of carnosine, a powerful antioxidant, as other chickens. Across the continent, mothers with sick children simmer the bird into an aromatic, amber broth, often laced with an herbal bite. Traditional Chinese medicinals, such as ginger, dried wolfberries, ginseng, wood ear mushrooms, and jujubes (dried red dates), add healing properties and a sweet, complex flavor to the soup. Many new and expectant Chinese mothers will also tuck into a bowl, as it’s believed to improve lactation. 

While the dish originated in China, it’s spread to many Asian countries, which now offer their own unique versions. South Koreans sometimes use silkie chicken in samgyetang, a fragrant, steaming soup that’s eaten on the hottest summer days in an attempt to “fight fire with fire.” After stuffing the bird with glutinous rice, Koreans add chestnut, garlic, green onion, jujubes, and lots of ginseng. In Vietnam, where black chicken soup is known as gà ác tiềm thuốc bắc, chefs might add lotus seeds, shiitake mushrooms, and bamboo shoots.

Though the soup has a reputation for healing, Asian families and restaurants serve plenty of helpings to healthy diners, as well. Those who find themselves put off by the striking appearance of a silkie chicken’s meat need not worry. While the bird is leaner, gamier, and more savory than your average farmed chicken, one bite will situate any unfamiliar taster back into a familiar trope—really, it tastes like chicken.

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