The key ingredient of bird’s nest soup (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Unlike the version made in Western restaurants, which utilises noodles shaped like a birds nest, authentic Bird’s Nest soup is made using the nests of the swiftlet, a tiny bird found throughout Southeast Asia. The swiftlet lives in dark caves, using a method of echolocation similar to the bat to get around. Instead of twigs and straw, the swiftlet makes its nest from strands of its own gummy saliva, which hardens when exposed to air. Humans who harvest the swiftlet nests often come from families that have made their living this way for generations. Prying the nests from the cave walls is extremely dangerous, and many harvesters die each year.
Due to the difficulty and danger associated with acquiring these nests and the extensive effort that goes into cleaning them, Bird’s Nest Soup is quite pricey.In Hong Kong, a bowl of bird’s nest soup would cost between $10 and $30, a kilogram of white bird’s nest can cost up to $2,000 per gram, and a kilogram of red bird’s nest for as much as $10,000!
- 3 1/2 oz. bird’s nest (dried)
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 large chicken breast (deboned)
- 1 Tbls. Dry sherry
- 1/4 cup rich chicken stock
- 2 Egg whites
- 1 tsp. Salt
- 2 Green onions (minced)
- 1 Tbls. Ham (Smithfield, minced )
- 2 Tbls. Cornstarch
- 2 Tbls. Chicken stock
- 1. In a large bowl, soak bird’s nest water overnight in cold. Drain and rinse. Then spread softened nest pieces on plate; Remove any prominent pieces of ‘foreign’ matter (e.g. feathers, twigs).
- 2. Remove membrane and muscle fiber from chicken breast. Using a cleaver handle, pound meat to break down tissue and mince chicken until it is pulp. In a mixing bowl, mix cornstarch with 2 Tbls. chicken stock to make a medium thick paste. Set aside.
- 3. When ready to cook, heat 6 cups of chicken stock on high heat until boil. Immediately add bird’s nest and simmer for 30 minutes. Slowly dribble dry sherry into minced chicken. Using a fork, lightly beat egg whites and fold gently into chicken so they are not completely blended.
- 4. Bring soup back to boil and slowly add chicken stock mixture to soup. Add salt to soup and heat on medium heat. When soup returns to boil, serve in serving bowls. Garnish with green onions.
- Serves 6
Making Dragon Beard Candy (Photo credit: garryknight)
The Emperor and the Cook: The Story of Bird’s Nest Soup
Long ago in China, there was an Emperor who loved to taste different gourmet dishes made by the Royal Cook. Each dish was exotic and different every day.
One day the cook ran out of ideas and desperately needed to find a new dish to prepare for the Emperor. The Emperor had decreed that if the cook could not prepare a new and different dish daily, that he would not only lose his position as the roayl Cook, but also his head.
The Royal Cook decided to take a walk to the harbour to see if he could find something new and exotic to cook. He came across a merchant who had showed him a bird’s nest from Borneo.
“How do I cook this?” says the cook, looking at the bird’s nest.
“You’re the cook. They eat this in Borneo; I just buy it, I don’t prepare it. It has some potent longevity properties, that’s what I was told,” said the merchant.
True to his profession, however, the cook did his best and prepared the bird’s nest in a form of soup.
Knowing the Emperor’s passion for Feng Shui and longevity, the Royal Cook cunningly presented the soup with a dragon on one side and a phoenix on the other, with the soup in the middle.
“What have you brought me today?” asked the Emperor.
“Longevity soup, Your Highness,” replied the Royal Cook.
The Emperor’s eyes lit up, and he eagerly tasted the soup. It smelled sweet and aromatic, just as he liked it; however, when he tasted the soup, it was plain. The Royal Cook held his breath.
“this tastes like ordinary soup,” he said, “I can get this anywhere in my Kingdom.”
“Taste it again, please, Your Majesty,” urged the cook.
The Emperor took another spoonful. “It still tastes ordinary.”
“Please take one more sip, Your Majesty,” the cook urged again, fearful for his life.
“All right, but if I don’t taste anything different, I’ll have your head,” threatened the Emperor.
Chinese Ivory Early 20th Century 8 (Photo credit: mharrsch)
The cook had to think fast. “In Borneo…” he started.
The Emperor’s eyes lit up, because he knew that it was an exotic place. The pillars of the Forbidden City were made from timbers that came from Borneo.
“In Borneo, the people there eat this soup for longevity. It keeps the people young and healthy. It lengthens their years, and they live long and prosperous lives because of this soup.” The cook went on about the benefits of the soup, emphasizing the longevity properties of the dish.
“Ahhh, an exotic dish. Why didn’t you say so? This dish is fit for an Emperor,” the Emperor decreed.
The Royal Cook sighed with relief, as the Emperor continued to relish his dish.
Once the Emperor had finished his meal, he announced that the longevity soup was to be served to him on a regular basis, and the Royal Cook was duly rewarded.
To keep the Emperor from finding out that the longevity soup’s raw ingredient was bird’s nest, the Royal Cook ensured that all those who brought back the birds’ nests from Borneo were killed. New crews were sent to retrieve the nests each time.
True enough, the Emperor lived a long and prosperous life.
The longevity soup was only served to the Royal Family and wealthy merchants. It was not allowed to be served to the general population.
The longevity soup became renowned as a royal dish, and its potent properties claimed by the merchant were proven to be true.
The Emperor’s successors were the ones who truly benefited from the soup, as it was served to them at an early age. And now, if the longevity soup is served to guests or VIPs, they know that the host is taking care of them. After all, the dish is fit for an Emperor.