Bird’s Nest Soup
A bowl of bird’s nest soup (冰糖燕窝) is a prized (or should I say pricey) Chinese delicacy. Bird’s nests (swallow’s salivia nests) are expensive due to the difficulty in harvesting. Its drink is said to do wonders for skin, throat and lungs, as well as boosting overall health and well-being.
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When cooked, the bird’s nest takes on a gelatin texture, making it a lovely tong shui (“sweet soup”; Chinese dessert). Whenever my mum makes bird nest’s soup in the past, she stew it the simplest way possible (as with all my mum’s recipes) – just bird’s nest, water and rock sugar. When I cooked mine, I added a few ginseng slices though it is purely optional. Check out my mum’s tips at the end of this page for making a perfect bowl of double-boiled bird’s nest soup.
Chinese love to treat pricey ingredients with the ultimate care, so no direct heat is preferred. This is my double-boiler set-up for stewing the bird nest soup. I’m using the slow cooker as the double-boiler.
Mum’s Tips for Home-Stewed Bird’s Nest Soup
- Rather than weighing the bird’s nest, we go by pieces per person. For two persons, my mum used 2 small pieces or 1 large piece. This equates to about 5-8 grams per person. We use 1 rice bowl of water per person.
- Although red dates are a common addition in bird’s nest soup, my family omitted them. According to my mother, the cheap red dates will act like a sponge which absorb the goodness of the bird’s nest soup (though it’s not so bad if you eat the red dates).
- My family prefer to enjoy bird’s nest in the purest way – just bird’s nest, water and rock sugar. If I cook it, I sometimes add American ginseng slices. If you find ginseng bitter or intend to consume at night (it improves alertness/提神), omit it.
- Don’t fuss over prepping the bird’s nest, because the ones sold nowadays are usually very clean. We simply soak the bird’s nest pieces in cold water for about 1/2 to 1 hr until softened, but not so long that the bird’s nest disintegrates into small bits. If there are any impurities such as debris and feathers, pluck them out using kitchen tweezer, drain and they are ready for cooking.
- Just as we do not soak bird’s nest for too long, we also avoid stewing them for too long. The older folks especially dislike it when the stewed bird’s nest soup do not have solid chunks after cooking. We usually stew them for half to 1 hour in a double-boiler.
- For best results, double-boil instead of using direct flame. See the previous para for the pic on using a slow cooker as the double-boiler.
- It is said that bird’s nest soup is best consumed at room temperature, or chilled, on an empty stomach (such as just before bed). For maximum absorption, do not eat “heaty” snacks or medication a few hours before and after drinking bird’s nest soup.