How do I replicate this amazing chicken soup?
August 18, 2015 4:02 PM   Subscribe

At a restaurant called Toritama in Tokyo, I had the most amazing chicken soup ever. It was a really flavourful chicken broth, with shreds of very tender chicken - I would say poached, except that some of the bits had skin still attached and the skin was crisp as if it had been grilled. Also some well-cooked rice. The thing that I particularly remember is that the broth was so rich that it left your lips feeling sticky! It was called something like "Tokyo chicken soup".

I would love to try and replicate this but have no idea how, and googling is not helping. Could anyone suggest suitable recipes which might approximate this, or cooking techniques that will produce the sticky thickness?
posted by ontheradio to Food & Drink (14 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
The stickiness/richness/unctuousness of the broth (I know exactly what you mean) comes from a gelatin-rich chicken stock. You can get this making a stock with a lot of extra bones (especially wings, necks, and backs) but Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats recommends just adding some extra gelatin in the form of gelatin packets. I've tried this and it works great.
posted by rossination at 4:13 PM on August 18, 2015 [2 favorites]

so rich that it left your lips feeling sticky

Gelatin. You can add it, or just make your broth out of high-gelatin cuts like wings. Chop them up a bit, and cook the hell out of them (medium simmer for 5-ish hours). Better yet, pressure cook for a hour or two. If it sets up like Jello in the fridge, you're good.
posted by supercres at 4:13 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

For the chicken pieces, I'd poach them (probably sous-vide if you have the gadgets) then dry the skin thoroughly and broil or sear it. Similar to these techniques.
posted by supercres at 4:16 PM on August 18, 2015

Chicken feet, often found at your local Asian market, are a phenomenally cheap way to add collagen and gelatin to your soups.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:24 PM on August 18, 2015 [4 favorites]

Even money it also had katsuobushi in it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:44 PM on August 18, 2015

Ditto using chicken wings, since they have so much cartilage. Serious eats recommends one pound of wings per quart of stock. I wouldn't be surprised if the stock for this soup had both mushrooms in it, and something like dashi, a broth made from kelp. Dashi has an excellent mouth feel and is super-duper umami.
posted by dis_integration at 6:50 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I think that chickens are cut differently in Asia--across the bones, rather than at the joint. Seems like this would leach marrow as well as collagen into the broth. Maybe hit 99 Ranch (or a local Asian market) for a chicken cut in the proper fashion.
posted by Jane Austen at 11:32 PM on August 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

You will also get a more flavourful stock if you a) use bones with significant bits of meat still on 'em; backs and feet are cheap and high in collagen (which breaks down into gelatine under heat); b) roast all your bone bits first, a good hour or two until they're nicely coloured.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:07 AM on August 19, 2015

As others have said, the rich sticky character comes from from gelatin. The intense savory character comes from free glutamates. There are two ways of getting these things in your broth:

The old-fashioned long way would be to make chicken stock from collagen-rich and glutamate-rich ingredients. Chicken feet and chicken wings are both good sources of collagen, as are pig's feet and cow's feet (which don't add any particular pork or beef flavors). In addition, any chicken bones with gristly soft bits on the end are sources of collagen. One thing to consider (more on this later) is that bones themselves are primarily sources of collagen, and will not give you very much chicken flavor. That comes from the meat. This is why it's important to use "meaty bones" or supplement with some chicken meat. Roasting the bones will generate some maillard flavors, but not particularly any chicken flavors (and in my experience can diminish meaty flavors if all the meaty ingredients are roasted dark brown). As for sources of glutamate, the obvious candidate would be kombu. This could be infused into the liquid either before or after making the stock (I would tend to do it before). You could also infuse some dried shiitake in there as well, but this of course will impart some mushroom flavor whereas kombu doesn't really give flavor.

The new-fangled short way would be to add gelatin and glutamate from industrial sources, in this case gelatin powder and monosodium glutamate in judicious quantities. These could be added to a purchased chicken broth or to a homemade stock, and would have a similar effect.

If you make or buy stock, it's also worthwhile considering that stock and broth are not the same thing. A soup made strictly from stock is not likely to be all that flavorful and delicious. To reduce a somewhat complicated question to a simple dichotomy, stocks are all about gelatin whereas broths are all about flavorings (meat is a flavoring). You can make a broth from a stock, but you can also make a broth with water or any number of other liquids to get a non-gelatinous broth. On the other hand, you can use an unmodified stock as the basis for a sauce or to add richness and depth to any number of preparations, or you can add flavorings and turn it into a broth. In order to turn a stock into a broth, one typically cooks the stock together with raw ingredients (chicken meat in this case) and other flavorings (vegetables, herbs, etc.) for a brief period of time, then strains and uses the broth. This will result in a much meatier flavor than just using the stock.

This offers a number of possibilities. You could make the stock from scratch, which is almost surely what Toritama does, or you could start with purchased chicken stock, add glutamates by steeping kombu or sprinkling in some MSG, add gelatin powder, then add a mixture of finely minced chicken/scallion/ginger/mushroom and a few peppercorns and hold it just under a simmer for 30 minutes before you strain and use the broth.
posted by slkinsey at 8:21 AM on August 19, 2015 [4 favorites]

My friend roasts chicken bones for stock, and her chicken soup is amazing. The tender + crispy bits of chicken sound delicious, would love to know how this is accomplished.
posted by theora55 at 8:56 AM on August 19, 2015

While its almost certain that a number of "tricks" have been used, also consider that the chicken variety used may also be different from the battery chickens available in the West.

I don't think that the final chicken in there is the chicken that is used to flavour the "soup" part of the soup. The chicken used to flavour the soup is likely removed and replaced with virgin chicken. However, I've encountered Chinese "whole chicken soup" where the original chicken remains in the final soup; these are typically brined beforehand and fall off the bone. It's likely not possible to get what's left of the skin to get crispy.

To get really tender chicken, consider brining it ahead of time, rinse, then poach, dry skin, broil/frying. You can get the skin a little extra crispy if you brush mature black vinegar on it prior to broiling/frying.

For a very clear broth/soup, do a pre-boil of the chicken carcass (meat mostly on, uncooked) until you get the floaty scummy bits to mostly come out (this is mostly serum proteins and free proteins from the marrow). Discard the pre-boil liquid, rinse the pre-boiled carcass. Add back to fresh boiling water and boil away to get a stocky clear broth.

If you elect to add monosodium glutamate, add it at the very end. Don't add MSG and boil; have the finished soup and add a little MSG prior to serving to perk up the flavour.

A little turkey in chicken soup can really make it pop. Especially around the major N. American holidays, your butcher or supermarket may have lots of backs/wings/bone-trim for making stock/broth with.
posted by porpoise at 3:03 PM on August 19, 2015

what porpoise wrote made me curious, so I googled: this Japanese company seems to work with a special production of chickens for collagen-rich soup. It makes sense, where I live, one can buy free-range chickens with stronger bones and more muscle which are really great for soup. They cost double of what a battery chicken costs, and there is less meat, but they are delicious.
MSG isn't at all necessary if you have time, or a pressure cooker.
posted by mumimor at 8:53 AM on August 20, 2015

Response by poster: Wow. Thank you for these fantastic resources! I will have fun trying to replicate the soup...
posted by ontheradio at 2:40 PM on August 20, 2015

MSG isn't at all necessary if you have time, or a pressure cooker.

MSG isn't necessary at all, unless you want to increase umami. Traditionally, especially in Japanese cooking, this would be done using kombu. Mainly, though, gelatin and glutamate in a stock are completely unrelated. A stock made from collagen-rich chickens may not necessarily have a lot of glutamate.
posted by slkinsey at 5:37 AM on August 21, 2015

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