Three Soup Recipes: A Practical Education on Balance

Read my guide to balancing tastes.

Soups from across East Asia are universally delightful treats and what I miss the most from my travels there. Although they often differ in the specifics of how they’re prepared, they generally start with animal bone broth; share the same base aromatics of onion, garlic and ginger; include a bit of picante and some form of umami. Really, this breaks down to making a bone broth (below, I use chicken but virtually any livestock bones will do), infusing the base aromatics and then finishing the broth for nuance.

By varying the finish, however, your options become infinite. Add plentiful lime, fresh bird chilis, mirin, sea salt and palm sugar and you have a mild but tangy broth very well suited to seafood. Add soy sauce, mirin, crushed red pepper, thai basil and a little bit of lime and you have a rich, picante broth absolutely perfect for chicken. Add katsuobushi, fish sauce, soy sauce, fermented shrimp paste, plentiful red pepper flakes, mirin and a bit of lime and you have a rich, umami bomb of a broth that will do incredible justice to heavier, tendinous beef cuts. Include some toppings to your delight, along with the noodles of your choice and you have a full meal.

Here, I walk you through precisely these three examples. When making each broth, you can compare and contrast the taste of each to understand how balancing works. It’s an incredible and delicious educational opportunity.

Have a question? Ask me anything!

Serves Four (When Broth is Paired with One of the Variations Below)

For All-Puropse Bone Broth

Ingredients

225 g chicken bones and sinew including necks, backs and wings

25 g (about 3 to 4 cloves) garlic, finely diced
20 g (a piece approximately 2 cm in across and 2 cm deep) fresh ginger, finely diced
300 g (about 10.5 oz or 1 medium) yellow onion, peeled and diced

1 L filtered water
15 g (about 1 tbsp) sake

Preparation

  1. Perform shimo furi, or “frost falling” procedure to reduce the amount of froth that forms when preparing the broth. Place the chicken bones and sinew in a strainer and pour boiling water over them until all of the exposed surface of the bones turns subtly white. Turn bones over and repeat. Rinse bones with tap water when complete.
  2. Place bones and sinew in a large pot and pour water and sake over them. Water should just cover all of the bones. If bones are protruding from the surface of the water, maneuver them so that they are entirely covered. Place on medium heat until an instant read thermometer reads 80 °C (176 °F). Reduce flame to low, cover and periodically check temperature to ensure a consistent 80 °C. Initially, check every 10 to 15 minutes to ensure a steady temperature. At no point should the liquid reach even a light simmer. After you have ensured a steady temperature, recheck every hour. Steep for four hours in total. (Can be done more quickly and without monitoring, but with less delicate flavor in a pressure cooker for two hours at 15 pounds per square inch, but must be strained through a paper filter, such as a coffee filter, to remove cloudiness and off flavors.)
  3. If the procedures were done correctly you should have a completely clear, yellow-brown stock with a little foam and oil floating atop. Remove bones and skim broth to remove the floating foam or oil. Try to be as thorough as possible when skimming. (This procedure can be completed more easily on frozen frozen broth; if you choose to freeze, store in an airtight container for no longer than six months. When ready to use, simply melt the broth and proceed with the next step.)
  4. Add onion, garlic and ginger to the pot and increase heat slightly, covering to bring to a light simmer. Check back every 10 minutes to ensure the broth does not reach a heavy simmer or boil. Simmer for 45 minutes.
  5. With a fine mesh strainer or sarashi cloth, strain out vegetables. Thoroughly drain out all remaining stock by applying light pressure with a wooden cooking spoon to the vegetables in the strainer or cloth. Discard vegetables and reserve stock. Due to the sugars from the onion, the stock should be slightly cloudy but still pale yellow-brown. It should taste slightly sweet, with a moderate flavor of garlic and ginger along with a mouth coating body.

For Seafood Variation

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Ingredients

400 g (about 16 “extra jumbo”) shrimp, deveined and shells on

4 medium red bird chili peppers, sliced into wide rings
30 g (about 2 tbsp) fresh squeezed lime juice, strained
25 g (about 1.5 tbsp) mirin
10 g (about 2 tsp) palm sugar
21 g (about 4 tsp) coarse sea salt

1 medium carrot, cut into small matchstick-sized pieces
2 large sprigs cilantro, leaves and tender stems only
2 medium green onions, thinly sliced into rings
1 large jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced into rings
400 g (about two medium bulbs) baby bok choi, separated into individual stems and leaves

8g (about 2 tsp) vegetable oil

400 g medium thickness Vietnamese rice noodles

Preparation

  1. In a large pot, pour two liters of tap water and dissolve 18 grams of sea salt in it. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add noodles and cook until they lose their stiffness, but do not look entirely limp, depending on the producer, about three to five minutes (do not follow cooking times on the noodle package). The noodles should still shimmer in the light and not look dull. If the noodle appears dull or limp, it is overcooked and you should start with a fresh batch of water, salt and noddles.
  2. Strain the water out through a large strainer and rinse the noodles in cool tap water until all excess starch is removed. Once sufficiently cooled flip the noodles with your hands and lightly move the noodles around the strainer under the water to ensure all the noodles are free of excess starch. Thoroughly drain all excess water from the noodles by shaking and agitating them while on the strainer over the sink. Set noodles aside.
  3. Heat a saute pan to approximately 250 °C (482 °F). Add the oil and coat the pan evenly. Add baby bok choi and saute until stems are just tender, about three minutes. Remove from pan and place on paper towel to absorb excess oils. Blot with an additional paper towel, if necessary, to remove oils.
  4. Add broth to a large, fully-cleaned pot along with the salt and bring to  80 °C over medium heat. Add thai bird chilis and shrimp. Poach shrimp until their color changes to bright pink-orange, their tails curl and their flesh looks lusterous and plump, about five minutes. Remove shrimp with a slotted spoon and set aside.
  5. Skim any foam that developed on the broth then bring to a light simmer over medium heat. Taste the broth an notice the flavor, including the level of sweetness. Add lime juice and stir to integrate. Taste again, noting how the balance has changed, restraining the sweetness with a slightly harsh sour tang. Add mirin and palm sugar, stirring to integrate. Taste again and note how the balance has changed again, now to a slightly sweet and rounder tasting tanginess. Add additional salt, palm sugar and lime juice to taste and for your preferred balance.
  6. Set out four large soup bowls and pour boiling tap water in them, filling about half way, to heat. Once heated, discard the water and dry. Portion noodles across the bowls. Portion and arrange the bok choi and shrimp atop the noodles in each bowl. Bring broth to a rolling boil and ladel over noodles, bok choi and shrimp. Portion and arrange carrots, green onion, cilantro and jalapeno atop the broth. Serve immediately.

For Chicken Variation

img_5123

Ingredients

400 g (about 4 medium) chicken thighs, deboned and skin removed
8g (about 2 tsp) vegetable oil

15 g (about 1 tbsp) fresh squeezed lime juice, strained
40 g (about 2.5 tbsp) mirin
100 g (about 5 tbsp) light soy sauce
5 g (about 1.5 tbsp) crushed red pepper

4 large sprigs cilantro, leaves and tender stems only
2 large sprigs thai basil, leaves only
60 g (about 2 cups, loosely packed) spinach, chopped

400 g thick Vietnamese rice noodles
18 g (about 2 tsp) kosher salt

Preparation

  1. In a large pot, pour two liters of tap water and dissolve salt in it. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add noodles and cook until they lose their stiffness, but do not look entirely limp, depending on the producer, about four to six minutes (do not follow cooking times on the noodle package). The noodles should still shimmer in the light and not look dull. If the noodle appears dull or limp, it is overcooked and you should start with a fresh batch of water, salt and noddles.
  2. Strain the water out through a large strainer and rinse the noodles in cool tap water until all excess starch is removed. Once sufficiently cooled flip the noodles with your hands and lightly move the noodles around the strainer under the water to ensure all the noodles are free of excess starch. Thoroughly drain all excess water from the noodles by shaking and agitating them while on the strainer over the sink. Set noodles aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 180 °C (356 °F). With a knife, carefully cut away any substantial excess fat on the chicken thighs. Rinse the chicken under tap water and remove any grit on the meat, then pat dry. Place chicken in a large bowl and pour 70 g of the light soy sauce and 15 g of mirin over the chicken thighs, making sure to coat the thighs thoroughly. Allow to sit in the mixture for 15 minutes.
  4. Heat a flat top grill or cast iron skillet to 275 °C (527 °F). You should be able to hold your hand for no longer than five seconds at about 10 cm (4 inches) from the grill at this temperature. Remove chickens from soy sauce mixture, allowing excess liquid to drip off. Place chicken thighs in a plate and coat with vegetable oil.
  5. Place chicken on the grill and do not flip until chicken comes off the grill without sticking at all, about two minutes. Do the same on the other side of the chicken and continue to flip every one to two minutes until the surface of the chicken turns a deep, burnished brown. As you flip the chicken, ensure that a substantial amount of char is not developing and the chicken is browning. If substantial char is developing, reduce the flame and continue to cook until properly browned. The chicken is ideally cooked when it reaches an internal temperature of 65 °C (149 °F) at the thickest part of each chicken thigh. If the temperature has not reached 65 °C by the time the chicken is fully browned on the grill, place chicken on greased baking sheet and roast in the oven until the internal temperature reaches 65 °C. Remove from the oven and rest for at least five minutes. Slice chicken into manageable, bite-sized pieces and set aside.
  6. Add broth to a large, fully-cleaned pot along with the crushed red pepper and bring to a light simmer over medium heat. Simmer until the broth tints to a slightly rusted color, about five minutes, and then add the remaining soy sauce, stirring to integrate.
  7. Taste the broth an notice the flavor, including the level of sweetness. Add lime juice and stir to integrate. Taste again, noting how the balance has changed, restraining the sweetness with tanginess. Now add the remaining mirin, stirring to integrate. Taste again and note how the balance has changed again, now to a state of bright flavors with underlying umami. Add additional salt, mirin and lime juice to taste and for your preferred balance.
  8. Set out four large soup bowls and pour boiling tap water in them, filling about half way, to heat. Once heated, discard the water and dry. Portion noodles across the bowls. Portion and arrange the chicken atop the noodles in each bowl. Bring broth to a rolling boil and add spinach, stirring to allow the leaves to fully coat with broth. Next, add Thai basil in the same process. Immediately ladel broth and vegetables over noodles and chicken. Portion the cilantro across the four bowls and serve immediately.

For Beef Variation

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Here, I use a complicated to prepare beef oxtail, which is my preference for this dish. Below, I use a less complicated, thinly sliced beef, which is also very delicious.

Ingredients

400 g thinly sliced tendinous beef cut such as short rib or brisket
8g (about 2 tsp) vegetable oil

15 g (about 1 tbsp) fresh squeezed lime juice, strained
50 g (about 3 tbsp) mirin
20 g (about 0.75 cup, loosely packed) katsuobushi flakes
100 g (about 4 tbsp) dark soy sauce
15 g (about 2 tsp) Vietnamese fermented shrimp paste
40 g (about 2 tbsp) Vietnamese extra virgin fermented fish sauce
10 g (about 3 tbsp) crushed red pepper

4 medium green onions, thinly sliced into rings
4 g (about 1 tbsp) dried, sliced wakame, soaked in cool filtered water for about 10 minutes
1 large jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced into rings

400 g egg-based alkaline ramen noodles (not instant)
18 g (about 2 tsp) kosher salt

Preparation

  1. In a large pot, pour two liters of tap water and dissolve salt in it. Bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Add noodles and cook according to producer instructions. The noodles should ultimately have a substantial chewiness when fully cooked, but should not exhibit any flavor of raw dough. If the noodle is no longer chewy, it has been overcooked.
  2. Strain the water out through a large strainer and rinse the noodles in cool tap water until all excess starch is removed. Once sufficiently cooled flip the noodles with your hands and lightly move the noodles around the strainer under the water to ensure all the noodles are free of excess starch. Thoroughly drain all excess water from the noodles by shaking and agitating them while on the strainer over the sink. Set noodles aside.
  3. Place the meat in a large bowl and pour 70 g of the dark soy sauce and 15 g of mirin over the meat, making sure to coat each piece thoroughly. Allow to sit in the mixture for one or two minutes.
  4. Heat a flat top grill or cast iron skillet to 275 °C (527 °F). You should be able to hold your hand for no longer than five seconds at about 10 cm (4 inches) from the grill at this temperature. Remove meat from soy sauce mixture, allowing excess liquid to drip off. Place meat in a plate and coat with vegetable oil.
  5. Place meat on the grill and briefly sear each piece until lightly browned, about 10 to 30 seconds per side, depending on how thinly sliced. The meat should basically be lightly browned and just cooked through with no visible pink. Set aside
  6. Add broth to a large, fully-cleaned pot along with the crushed red pepper and bring to  80 °C over medium heat. Evenly scatter the katsuobushi flakes over the surface of the broth. When the flakes sink to the bottom, about five minutes, strain the flakes out, making sure to remove all of the broth that may be trapped in between flake layers in the strainer. Pour broth back into the pot, ensuring that no katsuobushi flakes remain.
  7. Taste the broth and notice the flavor, including the level of sweetness and umami. Add lime juice and stir to integrate. Taste again, noting how the balance has changed, restraining the sweetness with a slight tanginess. Now add the remaining mirin, stirring to integrate. Taste again and note how the balance has changed again, to a state of bright flavors. Now add the remaining soy sauce and all of the fish sauce and shrimp paste. Taste again and note the rich umami flavors. Add additional salt, mirin and lime juice to taste and for your preferred balance.
  8. Set out four large soup bowls and pour boiling tap water in them, filling about half way, to heat. Once heated, discard the water and dry. Portion noodles across the bowls. Portion and arrange the meat and wakame atop the noodles in each bowl. Bring broth to a rolling boil and ladel over noodles, meat and wakame. Portion and arrange green onions and jalapeno across the four bowls and serve immediately.

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