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An introduction to Chinese Stocks (毛汤/上汤/吊汤)
u/freshandsticky
This week we wanted to teach you how to make Chinese stocks – just like with Western cooking, it forms part of the backbone of the cuisine, so we figured it’s prolly high time to show you how to make em.

Now there's obviously like a mountain of different stocks to choose from. We figured a simple, everyday homestyle stock called ‘Maotang’ and a really nice Cantonese stock called ‘Shangtang’ would prolly be the most useful... but we also wanted to show ya a crystal-clear stock from the Shandong province called ‘Diaotang’, which’s really cool and basically the Chinese equivalent of a consommé.

Video is here if you’ll like a TL;DR or visual to go along.

The Main Differences between Chinese and Western stocks:

Now, there’s a number of differences between Chinese and Western stocks, so they aren’t direct subs. Western stocks often roast the meats and/or add in a mirepoix, which imparts a bit of a different flavor. Because we know it’d be a bit of a pain to keep two totally different stocks in your freezer simply for when you wanna whip up some Chinese food, we usually call for Chinese stock concentrate in our recipes (which can be nabbed at like any Asian supermarket). That said, if ya wanna do things proper, it’s always best to use actual stock. Other differences:

Combination of meats. Western stocks usually take only one meat (chicken, beef, shrimp, etc) and feature it prominently. While there’s certainly those sorts of stocks in Chinese cooking too, something you’ll see quite a bit is the combination of meats – for example, Cantonese shrimp stock also features pork bones and dried flounder along with shrimp.

Less or optional veg. A basic Western chicken stock takes a bunch of veg like carrot, onion, and celery, sweats em and uses it as a base, while also adding a bouquet garni of herbs (thyme, bay leaf, etc). Chinese stocks tend to use less veg – maybe some ginger and leek, maybe some soyabean sprouts… and for a basic stock they’re pretty much totally optional.

Reduction. Western stocks aren’t really supposed to reduce – usually you’ll pack in a pot with ingredients and seek to keep those ingredients covered, even adding water if need be. Chinese stocks tend to start out with more liquid, and seek to reduce by about half over the cooking time. As such, while both Chinese and Western stocks seek to simmer, Chinese stocks generally go at a slightly heavier simmer than what you might be used to.

Oil and fat. Both Chinese and Western chefs like their stock clear, and neither wants an oily, greasy stock. However, on the latter front you can be a bit less paranoid when making Chinese stocks – no need to defat or anything, just be cognizant of the meat you’re putting in. The heavier simmer when making Chinese stocks causes a touch of imperceptible droplets of fat to be suspended in the stock. While a French chef might turn their nose up at that fact… fat is flavor and it makes for a richer, tastier stock. Obviously though, no one wants a greasy stock.

Pre-rinsing. A common step when making Chinese stocks is to place the meat in a bowl and leave in rinsing under running water for 5-10 minutes. This draws out the myoglobin in the meat and makes your life a bit easier when skimming.

Use of meat. Western stocks tend to use mostly scraps – chicken carcass, beef bones, sub-prime cuts like shin, shrimp shells, etc. Some people are surprised at first when they see chunks of lean meat like pork loin in a Chinese stock. Lean meat’s great because it can help draw in the impurities of the stock (making it so that you really only need to skim at the start), while also imparting a really nice flavor.

On that note though, I know that that last point starts to play games with how we’re calling this in English. Technically, in Western cooking, ‘stocks’ use bones while ‘broths’ use meat. So I know that this post maybe should be titled “How to Make Chinese Broths”, but we went with the word ‘stock’ because the function’s largely the same.

Basic, everyday stock: Maotang

So Maotang’s a basic sort of stock without too many rules. Wanna use up some scraps? This’s the stock to do it with. As such, these ‘measurements’ here are basically just for reference – really, just use what you got around.

Chicken carcass (鸡架), ~1 -or- old hen (老母鸡), ~½. So really no need to overthink this, we actually used the carcass of a Western chicken in the video. A really nice Maotang would use an old hen, you could also do that too.

Optional but recommended: Pork bones (猪骨) with some meat attached, ~500g. We used backbone in the video, cuz we had a bunch left over from chopping up ribs from last week’s Dim Sum spareribs video.

Optional but recommended: a bit of pork loin (瘦肉), ~100g. As we said before, a bit of pork loin’ll make this guy a little clearer.

Optional, we don’t use this: a ~2 inch knob of ginger (姜), ~two 3 inch pieces of leek (大葱), ~1 tbsp Shaoxing wine (Huadiao variety, 花雕). So some people add in a bit of aromatics and wine when making Maotang, some people don’t. We fall in the latter camp – it’s all kinda subtle, but we feel unflavored stocks are a bit more flexible to use (you can always add those flavors later, you can’t take em out). Note that if you’re using wine here, for soups you should prolly use a decent one with no added salt – a lot of stuff labeled ‘Shaoxing wine’ outside of China is actually just cooking wine (i.e. liaojiu)… find some stuff called ‘Huadiao’, which’s higher grade and won’t have salt.

Water, ~4L. To be reduced by half to make about roughly two liters of stock.

Process, Maotang:

If using young or Western chicken, trim off any fat or skin. Rinse all the meat under running water for ten minutes. Young chickens (especially Western chickens) tend to be quite fatty. Just do a bang up job cutting out any visible fat or skin, and the soup shouldn’t be oily (do the same if using bones from a fattier part of the pig). Then rinse all your meat under cool water for ten minutes to extract some of that myoglobin.

Put all the meat in a pot and fill it up with four liters of water. Put it over high heat to start to bring it to a boil, and begin skimming. Just like when making Western stock, you’ll wanna skim off those impurities as it’s coming to a boil. I know some of y’all are on team-no-skim, and that’s fine I guess, but we definitely feel skimming leads to a better end result. With Chinese stocks you don’t need to skim for the entirety of the cooking process, just as it’s coming up to a boil and maybe for a couple minutes after. The lean meat’ll take care of the rest.

Put the heat down to get a medium to heavy simmer. Let that go for roughly three hours til it’s reduced by half. It’ll be pretty cloudy at this point – no worries, let the lean do its thing. Note that if you were adding leek, ginger, and wine… this would be the time to add it in.

Strain through a tofu or cheesecloth. …and that’s it!

Cantonese superior stock: Shangtang

This’s a nicer stock that’s used as a base for a number of dishes in higher end Cantonese restaurants. For us, it’s generally the stock we end up coming back to – it’s easy, the ingredients aren’t overly expensive here in China (runs us ~25 RMB to make a big pot of this stuff), and you get a really tasty, clear result.

Chicken, preferably old hen (老母鸡), ½ bird; ~500g. So I know that we’re spoiled here in China – I can waltz into my local market, ask for “one old hen” and get one for pretty cheap. Old hen has two advantages: (1) it imparts a deeper flavor to the stock and (2) it’s quite lean. I know that if you’re outside of China you don’t have that luxury – feel free to use a younger chicken, just make sure to cut off the fat and much of the skin.

Pork loin (瘦肉), 500g. This stock uses a high ratio of lean, makes for a very clear stock.

Jinhua ham (金华火腿), 85g -or- Jinhua (or Iberico) Ham Bones (火腿菇), 500g -or- Pork Bones, 400g with 85g Jinhua Ham. Ok, so the proper way to do this is to use the bones from Jinhua ham (Iberico ham’s basically the same, so you could also use that if you got some lying around). Here’s the thing though: even here in China, we gotta pre-order those bones from a specific dude at our wholesale market. So please, don’t hesitate to use straight up Jinhua ham – it has a really, really similar effect. That said, if you’re obsessive like us, you can also use some extra pork bones (we blanched em first) together with Jinhua ham… which’s a spot on sub.

Water, ~8L. To be reduced by half for ~4L of stock total. We actually used a bit less in the video to get everything to fit in our stockpot stress-free.

Process, Shangtang:

So I’ll assume you read the recipe for Maotang above, it’s really the same process but at a slightly lighter simmer for 5-6 hours. So I’ll cut out the fluff.

If using young or Western chicken, trim off any fat or skin. If using the extra pork bones, optionally give em a blanch in boiling water for three minutes and let em cool. Then rinse all the meat under running water for ten minutes.

Put all the meat in a pot and fill it up with eight liters of water. Put it over high heat to start to bring it to a boil, and begin skimming.

Put the heat down to get a medium simmer. Let that go for roughly five to six hours til it’s reduced by half.

Strain through a tofu or cheesecloth. …and that’s it!

Shandong Consommé: Diaotang

So yeah, while we totally wanted this to be a 101 sorta thing, we just couldn’t help ourselves. This last one’s a really awesome stock from the Shandong province called ‘diaotang’. It’s used in some really high level imperial cuisine… but to be honest, we just like drinking it straight up. It’s crystal clear, and has a noticeable kick of umami.

Similar to a French consommé, Diaotang’s clarified. However, no egg whites’re used – it’s clarified using meat pastes: first, dipping in some chicken thigh or pork loin, and then doing the same with some chicken breast.

Chicken, preferably old hen (老母鸡), ½ bird, ~500g. Same deal, use old hen if you can find it. If not, do a bang up job cutting out the fat and most of the skin.

Duck (老鸭), preferably also old, ¼ bird de-skinned -or- equivalent amount of duck legs ~250g. So if you’re using young duck here, really go at this and get the fat and skin off. Duck’s fatty, be paranoid.

Pork bones, preferably backbone (猪龙骨), ~500g. Try to have some with a touch of meat attached. If there’s not much meat on em, toss in a touch of extra pork loin too.

One large pork rib (排骨), 250g. The super traditional Shandong version of this uses pork knuckle, but the knuckle at our local market’s much too fatty. We used pork rib, and that’s what I think would be most easily replicable.

Water, 8L. Will be reduced by half to make a bit under 4 liters of stock.

Pork Loin (瘦肉), 200g. Finely diced. Will be pulsed into a paste to clarify. You can also use chicken thigh here.

Chicken breast (鸡胸肉), 200g. Finely diced. Will be pulsed into a paste to clarify.

Stock -or- water, 1 cup. Preferably stock – you can take a bit of stock out halfway through cooking and replace it with water if you don’t have any stock on hand. Each lean meat’s pulsed with a half a cup of liquid to make the paste.

Process, Shandong Consommé, Before the Clarification:

Everything here’s the same up until the clarification, so I’ll split this in two. Jump down to the next part assuming you have no interest re-reading things.

Trim the skin off the duck. If using young or Western chicken, trim off any fat or skin. Then rinse all the meat under running water for ten minutes.

Put all the meat in a pot and fill it up with eight liters of water. Put it over high heat to start to bring it to a boil, and begin skimming.

Put the heat down to get a medium simmer. Let that go for roughly five to six hours til it’s reduced by half.

Strain through a tofu or cheesecloth. …and now we can move on to clarification.

Process, Clarifying the Shandong Consommé:

Remove all the ingredients from the pot and let the soup cool down slightly. You don’t want the soup to be too hot when you add in your meat paste – it can be warm but it definitely shouldn’t be simmering (for reference, in the video we cooled ours down to ~50C).

In a blender, pulse the finely diced pork loin with a half cup stock to make a paste; ditto with the chicken breast. Make sure that this’s nice and pasty, there shouldn’t be any ‘chunks’ of meat remaining. If you don’t have a blender, you can also hand mince this stuff til its real fine and stir the stock in vigorously to make a paste.

Add in the pork loin paste, turn the heat up to medium-high, and let it come to a light boil. Slowly stir to make sure the meat’s not sticking to the bottom. So at first it’ll look like you just ruined you stock – the whole thing’ll be super cloudy Just let that all come up to a light boil – the impurities’ll all come up to the top, promise.

Once at a light boil, skim out some impurities, then transfer the cooked loin to a separate plate onto a tofu or cheesecloth. We’ll skim out some of the impurities just because we don’t want those mixing in with the cooked meat – that’ll go back into the stock later.

Let it cool slightly, then do the same thing with the chicken breast paste. Same deal – paste in, bring to a light boil, skim out the impurities, then move it over onto that cheesecloth together with your pork.

Tightly wrap the tofu/cheesecloth into a sort of ‘ball’ and dip it back into the soup. Let it cook for 30-45 minutes. This’ll do two things – it’ll infuse the flavor of the meat into the soup (for some reason giving it an umami kick, and I have zero fucking clue why that’d be), while also drawing in some more impurities. Use a small spoon to scoop out and impurities that’ve gathered around the ball.

Squeeze out the stock from the tofu/cheesecloth ball, and strain through some separate tofu/cheesecloth.When this’s in a big pot if it it’ll still look slightly yellow… you can see just how clear this stuff is once tossed in a bowl. In a shallow bowl, it almost looks like water.

Note on Cantonese Ertang, the way Cantonese restaurants use up their leftover meat:

So right, especially in these higher level sort of stocks, a lot of meat’s used. Don’t just toss the stuff, it still has use. While in the next note we’ll talk about a more realistic way to use it up at home, Cantonese restaurants use up their ingredients by making ‘ertang’.

Ertang is literally ‘second stock’ and it basically does what it says on the tin. Take all your leftover materials and… make some some stock with em using the same method. The flavor’s obviously inferior to the Shangtang, but it can make a good everyday sort of stock for sauces and the like.

Note on how you can up your meat, at home:

At home, you prolly don't wanna make two separate boxes of stock. How we use it:

Chicken/duck: Shred it. We like adding this to noodle soup, but you can kinda do whatever. It’ll be tougher than your run-of-the-mill shredded chicken, but still totally edible.

Lean Pork: Make pork floss. With the lean pork, it’s a little harder because it’ll really end up tough as nails. What you can do though is a quick sort of pork floss (feel free to ask for a full recipe if you’re interested in pork floss from scratch). Shred the pork, then toss in a pan with a bit of oil. Season with salt (1/2 tbsp per 500g), sugar (2 tbsp per 500g) and light soy sauce (1btsp per 500g). Fry on medium low, stirring and breaking up the pork, for about 30 minutes til the pork starts to get golden brown. Turn off the heat and rub it between your hands. The pork’ll then turn into… pork floss. It’s used in a lot of Asian desserts, but I personally like it in my congee.

Leftover mince from clarifying the Shandong Consommé: feed to your dog, if they’ll eat it. This’s the only thing we can’t find any use for. It’s rubbery and like literally all the taste’s been extracted into the soup. Not even our dog’ll eat it. And he eats literally… everything.

Note on what you can make with your stocks:

So again, if you’ve read these posts before, you'll find us reaching for the stock concentrate. Why? Well, besides making life easier for people that don’t pan on cooking Chinese food constantly, it’s also honestly just a lot easier to get away with using the stuff in Chinese cooking than Western cooking. Make a gumbo using concentrate and everyone’d know immediately, make a Sichuan chili poached beef using concentrate and I don’t think anyone could tell the difference.

It boils down to, I think, the fact that Chinese sauces make heavy use of soy sauce and other fermented, umami-rich ingredients. Basically, you gotta use stock whenever you’re making a lighter sauce or in soups (obviously). Besides that, while stocks’re better, concentrate can do the trick in a pinch.

That said, here’s some ideas on how to use them:

Simple, Homestyle Stock: Basically recipe that calls for stock. Mapo Tofu, the sauce for whole steamed fish, that kind of thing. If drinking this as a soup, season with a little salt and sugar together with a touch of MSG and Shaoxing wine (the proper unsalted sort, e.g. Huadiao wine).

Cantonese Superior Stock: This’s primarily used with fancier dishes, stuff like abalone and sea cucumber. That said, homecooks have different sort of economic pressures from restaurants, so feel free to use this as an everyday stock with Cantonese dishes too. If drinking this as a soup, season with a little sugar and a tiny touch of salt (the Jinhua ham already imparted a little salinity).

Shandong Consommé: This stock’s usually reserved for really high level stuff, imperial cuisine and the like. Off the top of our heads, something you could do is the ‘white’ version of Lion’s head meatballs… basically, just make lion’s head meatballs as you would recipe here but use this stock and cut out the soy sauce and oyster sauce. It’s also just really delicious to drink – doesn’t really need any seasoning (maybe a small touch of salt)

Added by Matthias Klein
Updated 11 days ago

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