Chicken Essence Is Southeast Asia’s Red Bull

Mcspiedoboston now shares with you the article Chicken Essence Is Southeast Asia’s Red Bull on our Food cooking blog.

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Red Bull—it’s the elixir of energy, the ambrosia of athletes, the drink that gives you wings. But let’s be honest, while Red Bull might put an extra pep (or ten) in your step, from a taste perspective, it’s pretty rank.

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During my college days, as papers and project deadlines loomed, I remember having to wade through crumpled Red Bull cans and empty caffeine pill strips strewn over the sidewalk on my way to lectures. That sickly sweet, medicinal stench of stale Red Bull still lingers in the depths of my olfactory memory, even today. And all my life, I’m proud to say that I’ve never had Red Bull voluntarily, because in my native home of Malaysia, we drink chicken essence instead.

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In Southeast Asia, especially within the local Chinese communities of Malaysia and Singapore, chicken essence has long ousted Red Bull as the energizer tonic. Like Red Bull, it could boost your concentration and keep you awake for hours like that NZT pill from Limitless (or at least that’s the lore). But unlike Red Bull, chicken essence actually tastes good. It has the deep, robust flavor of chicken coursing through it, thanks to an umami-rich jus you get from the drippings of an oven-roasted bird, but with less fat and a bolder, purer flavor.

While chicken essence started off centuries ago as a niche component of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), today it’s widely available and is used extensively by mothers, students, and people from all walks of life, prized for its energizing effects on the mind and body. Moms might give it to their children before major exams, college students might take shots of it for those nights when the midnight oil has to keep burning, and office workers might down bottles of it in their chase for deadlines. As Brand’s—one of the famous chicken essence brands in Malaysia (or at least the most aggressively marketed one)—puts it, chicken essence is for “busy people who want to seize the day.”

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It’s a curious cultural phenomenon in this part of the world, but what truly intrigues me is the way it’s made at home. Because, despite the rise of slow cookers, built-in-steamers, and the Instant-Pot, all modern techniques are largely eschewed in favor of the traditional, old-school method of extracting chicken essence. In most Chinese households, chicken essence is made with a very ad-hoc kitchen set-up—the gai jing extractor, as I like to call it. (Gai jing is the Cantonese term for chicken essence.)

You start by inverting a small bowl into a larger bowl filled with a few tablespoons of salt water. A whole chicken, butchered and roughly smashed up (to increase its surface area), is then splayed out on top of the overturned small bowl. This whole bowl should be left to steam undisturbed in a double boiler or a covered wok for several hours. During this time, the steam cooks the flesh and bones of the chicken, and bits of juice drip down into the cavity of the bowl. What results is the clear, aromatic essence of chicken, untainted by any flesh or marrow, gleaming and golden, clear as the morning sun.

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And once you have a sip, the pure, distilled spirit of the chicken will imbue you with the focus and attention you need to plow through your tasks, and make you feel like you can speed through your to-do list like Road Runner.


Have you ever had essence of chicken? Let us know in the comments below.

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Danh mục: Food

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