A pot of steaming hot free range chicken soup is a heartwarming dish in winter especially on freezing days. First of all, chicken here is supposed to be free range older hens (around 2 years old), grass, insects and grains fed. Without any flavor-stimulating soy sauce, star anise, etc., the chicken can produce exceptional delicacy itself. It’s believed to be nourishing and healthy. In my homeland, eating free range chicken soup is a national tradition for new moms to recover sooner. Unfortunately, it’s harder and harder to obtain this kind of chicken even in the market in urban areas in China. People usually have to turn to their village friends or relatives to buy when there is a need.
I feel blessed that free range chicken is available in Philadelphia. For me there are three tips to tell whether a chicken is really free range. Firstly, legs are slender not stout. Secondly, skins look tight and meat is solid. Thirdly and most importantly, the soup has an appetizing golden yellow color. It’s impossible for fake free range chicken to produce this color.
As a Hubei native, one of favorite side ingredients I usually add is lotus root. What they mean to Hubei people is as same as what peppercorns mean to Sichuan people. Hubei’s lakes abound with high-quality lotus roots. When you go shopping them in Hubei, a vendor will usually ask first: “do you want to stir fry them or make a soup?” (Actually, Hubei people have much more than the two ways to cook them.) As what the vendor asks, there are two kinds of lotus roots, crunchy ones for stir-frying, and a little glutinous ones for making a soup. The first is very easily available, whether in or outside Hubei. The second is much less common. Even in Hubei, only several cities’ soil and water can nurture this kind of lotus roots, such as Honghu, Xiantao, Wuhan. It is also high in starch and trace elements. It’s impractical to be picky about this vegetable at abroad. I am content as long as there are lotus roots available.
This dish embodies Hubei cuisine’s typical characteristics-trying to use fewer spices to highlight the main ingredients’ original flavor. Except for salt, the only other spice I usually use is ginger. Sometimes I even do not use ginger. An InstantPot makes this dish really easy. Sometimes if I am not busy I may follow the traditional way to stew them in a clay pot over small flame for around three hours.
- One pound free range chicken, cut into 2-inch pieces
- Two pounds lotus roots, cut into two to three inch cubes
- Two pieces of one-inch ginger
- Enough water
- Salt to taste
- Put chicken, lotus roots and ginger all into InstantPot pressure cooker. Add water enough to cover all. Cover the lid and place the pressure valve in “Seal” position. Select “Pressure” or “Manual” button and set 40 minutes of cooking time.
- When it’s done, wait for five minutes. Release the pressure and open the lid.
- Serve warm.