This Chinese black chicken soup recipe is made with silkie chicken, which has black skin and has long been thought to have medicinal properties by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM).
It also happens to be delicious! This black chicken soup has a clear broth with a pure, rich chicken flavor.
What Is a Black Silkie Chicken?
The silkie chicken is a small breed of chicken with very soft, fine feathers from head to toe, and black skin and bones. It is thought to have originated in ancient China.
In Chinese, this type of chicken is known as 乌骨鸡 (wū gǔ jī – black boned chicken), 竹丝鸡 (zhú sī jī – bamboo chicken), 黑脚鸡 (hēi jiǎo jī – black footed chicken), or 药鸡 (yào jī – medicinal chicken).
Other names for the breed in English include: Silky Chicken and Chinese Silk Chicken. The appearance of the chicken may be a little strange at first—the skin, bone, and meat are all in shades of black, charcoal, and grey.
It takes a couple of seconds to acknowledge its unusual appearance, but it tastes like a quality chicken should! I find, for instance, that the texture of the meat is still quite good, even after cooking for long periods of time.
Health Benefits of Black Chicken
While this breed of chicken has long been believed by the Chinese to have curative properties, scientific studies have indeed found that silkie chickens contain twice the amount of carnosine (an antioxidant) than in regular chicken.
Black chicken is therefore believed to have anti-inflammatory properties that help prevent or reduce oxidative stress, cell aging, macular degeneration, kidney problems, and more.
Interestingly, there is an Indian breed of black chicken called Kadaknath or Kali Masi, which has similar levels of carnosine, though sadly this breed is on the brink of extinction and breeding programs are currently trying to bring its numbers back up!
Beyond its antioxidant properties, black silkie chicken is also rich in protein, B vitamins, Vitamin E, and other nutrients. It is also generally smaller in size—around 1.5 to 2.5 pounds (0.75-1kg), as opposed to 3-4 pounds (1.3 to 1.75kg) for a regular chicken. This makes it leaner than regular chicken.
Benefits of Black Chicken According to TCM
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, this black chicken soup recipe tonifies (balances, stabilizes, or unblocks) qi/energy in the body. It is also believed to strengthen the liver and kidneys, nourish the blood, and improve immunity and overall energy.
It’s supposed to be a beneficial postpartum food, or for anyone who is healing from injury or surgery.
It’s important to note, however, that we are sharing this information purely from a culinary and cultural perspective. We are not doctors, and you should not interpret this information as such!
Always consult your doctor before changing your diet or attempting to use your diet to treat any condition. If you have further questions about food as medicine from a Chinese medicine perspective, consult a reputable TCM professional.
Where to Buy It
You may be able to find black silkie chickens in your local Chinese market, if it is very well-stocked.
We used a black chicken from BoBo Poultry Market, a family business based in New York that has been bringing Chinese buddhist-style chickens to the market for decades.
Check out your Chinese grocery’s meat department to see if this type of chicken is available! There is also availability for customers in select markets on Say Weee! (When you plug in your zip code you’ll see what’s available for you to shop. You can also head over to Say Weee to read a little bit more about this unique breed of chicken.)
Where I Got This Recipe
What I love about making Cantonese soups is that it takes so little work! You just put all the ingredients into a soup pot, bring it to a simmer, cover, and cook until you get a tasty clear broth. Then, simply add salt before serving. There’s nothing to it.
With that said, the “work” of a Cantonese herbal soup is putting the right combination of ingredients together, and that’s an art.
Some 20 years ago, I bought a Chinese cookbook on traditional Cantonese soups in Hong Kong. It was written by the father of HK pop singer and actress Karen Mok. I learned a lot from this cookbook, and reference it all the time. (It’s hard to come by a copy these days but you may get lucky finding one online or in a Chinese bookstore one day!)
This is basically Daddy Mok’s recipe, except I added 10g dried huangqi, as dangshen and huangqi go so well together.
The key to a good Cantonese soup is that no one ingredient should stand out. They should all work together. This soup doesn’t taste the least bit medicinal. It is just a rich, faintly sweet chicken soup.
More About The Herbal Ingredients In This Soup
- 淮山 – huáishān (Chinese Yam): Also known as 山药 (shānyào), or literally, “mountain medicine,” this yam looks similar to yucca root, and can be used fresh or dried. Here, we’re using the dried version.
- 党参 – dǎngshēn (Codonopsis pilosula): These are the roots of a perennial plant in the bellflower family, thought to aid digestion and decrease blood pressure. In Traditional characters, it is written: 黨參.
- 枸杞 – gǒuqǐ (Goji Berries): Dried goji berries, also known as wolfberries, contain antioxidants that protect against inflammation, free radicals, cancer, degenerative eye diseases, and more. They’ve made their way into health food stores, but the Chinese have been using them in TCM for centuries.
- 黄芪 – huángqí (Astragalus propinquus): This is the root of another flowering plant, which is an adaptogen that protects the body from various forms of stress and disease and stimulates the immune system.
- 玉竹 – yù zhú (Polygonatum odoratum): This is an herbaceous perennial plant known commonly as Fragrant Solomon’s Seal. The rhizome of the plant is the part used here, shaved into thin slices and dried.
All these ingredients can be found in the dried goods section of a well-stocked Chinese grocery store. If you’re not sure whether you have the right item, compare the label with the Chinese characters written above!
Recipe Notes Before You Begin:
- You’ll need to clean the chicken thoroughly. The feathers on a silkie chicken are fine and hair-like. There may still be some feathers left on the chicken, so you may need to take some time to clean them off.
- Due to the irregular shape of the dried ingredients, we have included measurements by weight. If you don’t have a digital scale, you can approximate the quantities based on the image above!
Add the dried ingredients, ginger, and water to a thick-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven.
Lower the chicken into the pot, feet side down.
Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, immediately reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Adjust the heat as necessary so the soup is simmering slowly. This slow cooking will give you a clear, consommé-like broth, and will prevent you from cooking off too much liquid.
Skim any fat off the surface of the soup, and ladle the broth into bowls.
Season the soup with salt to taste, right before enjoying.
Black Chicken Soup
- Add the dried ingredients, ginger, and water to a thick-bottomed soup pot or Dutch oven. Lower the chicken into the pot, feet side down.
- Bring to a boil over high heat. Once boiling, immediately reduce the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 2 hours. Adjust the heat as necessary so the soup is simmering slowly. This slow cooking will give you a clear, consommé-like broth, and will prevent you from cooking off too much liquid.
- Skim any fat off the surface of the soup, and ladle the broth into bowls. Season the soup with salt to taste, right before enjoying.