It was a devil of a cold. A tickle gave way to a rasp, which was swallowed up by a tide of winter ick that proved impervious to pharmaceutical intervention. After two weeks of hacking, wheezing and Googling "cough with a squeak at the end," it was time for an exorcism.
It was time for soup.
First stop was pho - the heartily-brothed, soul-bolstering Vietnamese soup that can, with the application of enough hot sauce, rage like a brushfire through gummed-up sinus cavities. Mission accomplished, but my aim was off. The murk of the cold had by that point beaten a retreat to my chest and set up camp. Still, the steam was nice and the dish felt like a hug - which was great because I wasn't allowing any loved ones within my phlegm zone.
Next on the tour, a sturdy tortilla soup from a favorite neighborhood Mexican joint. Chicken soup may be good for the soul, but after a few days of listless broth sipping, I needed sustenance, too.
The chicken soup self-prescription, it should be noted, is not just the stuff of well-meaning grandmothers and bestselling self-help authors. Back in 2000, researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center studied the efficacy of a chicken and root vegetable-based "Grandmas's soup" for the treatment of symptomatic upper respiratory tract infections by taking samples from various parts of a pot to determine which, if any, components of the soup contained inhibitor activity. The group's finding was that chicken soup may possess properties that inhibit the spread of inflammation and help mitigate the effects of a cold.
Moreover, a previous study from the Chaim Sheba Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Israel, found that a full randomized controlled trial of chicken soup's potential impact was impossible because "depriving the control group of chicken soup would, in our opinion, be unethical" and "whether it be a drug or not, chicken soup is...essential." Tongues may have been firmly planted in cheeks, but said tongues belonged to medical professionals, so who am I to argue?
Sadly, while the aforementioned tortilla soup was possessed of a nearly volcanic and thoroughly welcome smokiness, the cheese and crema in this particular rendition only further mucked up matters.
It was time to pull out the big guns. While I'm proud of my homemade roasted chicken soup (you can see the recipe here) and am thoroughly convinced of its power to soothe most psychic wounds, it was time for a little dark magic in the form of Silkie stew.
Silkie is a breed of bantam, black-skinned, black-boned chicken, long prized in China for its purported medicinal effects. It's been deemed a "superfood" due to the meat's high levels of the anti-oxidant carnosine - double the amount found in less Goth chickens - and has been used as a cure-all for conditions ranging from headaches and menstrual cramps to stomach aches and lung ailments.
In its plucked, head-and-feet-on state, it also resembles the unholy union of a vampire bat and a rather accusatory dragon. If nothing else, I figured it would terrify the germs and mucus right out of me. To Sunset Park, Brooklyn's Chinatown, I went.
After a fortifying bowl of hand-pulled noodle, bok choy and fish ball soup at Fei Long Market's adjacent food court, I spent a good 45 minutes crouching, staring and Google translating my way through a football field-sized maze of unfamiliar herbs, roots and dried items to find the makings for a stew so strong it would render me impervious to colds for the next few decades. I found the black chicken, jujubes (also known as red plums) and bean paste in short order, had a small psychic breakdown while hunting for wolfberries (fun fact - they're packaged as "fructus lycii" in Asian markets and called "goji" when marketers are hawking vodka and energy drinks), and nearly compromised on a substitution of ginger for galangal, but held firm and limped home.
I'm glad I did, because the alchemy of medicinal berries, dark soy, chiles, strong beer, powerful aromatics and inky, gamey, luscious chicken shocked the cold right out of me. I've made barely a sniffle or a squeak since scarfing up a plate of the slow-cooked stew last night.
While I can't with any certainty say which came first - the black chicken stew or the already inevitable end to my cold - I'd be willing to guess that four out of five cold-researching scientists would find it delicious. Unless they were too chicken to try it.
Note: I followed this New York Times recipe for Black-Skinned Chicken Slow-Cooked in Dark Soy Sauce to the letter, save for swapping in dark, coffee-based beer for the cola. Mostly because I couldn't face going to the store again. Got a favorite cold-fighting food? Be kind and share it in the comments below.
Chicken soup recipe for the banged-up soul
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Healthy green soup to fight the funk
Cooped up with the flu
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I love it when Americans act so freaked out about food that is perfectly normal for other cultures–in this case, Taiwanese and Chinese people. As a Taiwanese-American, I grew up drinking this soup every time I had a cold (my mom would make it for me). If anything, American soups are weird. Silkie chickens taste (shockingly!) just like...chickens.
A few months ago I was so sick, I thought i was going to die. After a week and a half of being sick I decides I was going to eat as much onions, garlic, ginger, cayenne, honey, dark greens i could get my hands on. So I made some tea with lemon, ginger, honey; drank that constantly. And I rubbed garlic oil over my feet. Borscht was kind of nice on the throat. And I made hummus too but don't think that did anything. Thanks for the article :)
And your reply made me goggle. Thank you for that.
my Jewish neighbors said they have chicken soup to heal the sick... what about the Chinese? I'm Chinese American.
I replied 'it depends'..
Tomato basil and sour and spicy soup (Chinese) are some of my all time favorites.
And here I thought a black chicken was just a bad joke from the 1979 movie "Love at first bite".
Silkie chickens can be bought at several hatcheries in the US: I've had them for years. Cool little birds and they really don't taste any different than regular chicken. Just cuter.
I thoroughly enjoyed your writing! Thank you for the morning laughs combined with useful information for my next cold. How I could come by one of these chickens in Iowa in winter, I have not a clue. Have a good day and glad you are feeling better!
A much-belated thank you to you!
My favorite sick-day chicken soup is simmered with lemon. I save chicken bones and carcasses in the freezer and brown them with carrot, onion, and celery. I pluck a lemon from the tree, halve it, give it a squeeze over the pot and toss the halves along with the water for the stock. Once the stock is nice and rich, I strain it and then add rice, diced potatoes, and slivered chard and cook until everything is tender. The soup is rich, warm, rousing, and so grateful to the tummy when your head is whanging and your nose and throat are raw. Next time I make it, I might have to hunt up a black chicken!
ok i know this too easy... but Mrs. Grass Chicken Noodle Soup REALLY WORKS.
I'd say that there shore seem like there is a supreme dislike for the oppossum. When I was small and my great aunt Natasha visited from the Ozarks, she would go out and catch oppossums during an evening using old melon as bait. She would spotlight them with a light and then hit them with something. If they try to play oppossum on her, she would run them through with a long skewer. Then she would skin it and wash it much like you would with this chickens and then fill up its belly with onion and oranges and a hard stick of butter toffee. AFter roasting it for about an hour, a delesious broth would come out of that animal to which she would add 9 cups of salt. Us kids would sip that and all of our sick ailments would be gone. I fear some of the old healing recipes have been lost.
Sounds like someone who's missing 14 teeth.
9 cups of salt???
Ha. Didn't even notice that earlier.
Why do I hear banjos when I read your post?
My veggie husband will be delighted when I demand to try this for our next plague!
You have gotten the wheels in my head turning concerning this black bird. I may try this during summertime grilling using the beer can method. How did the meat taste? Was it gamey or just taste like chicken? Guess I'll have to find an Asian Grocer in Houston...sooon. Thanks for the article.
It was really, really gamey and dark - like squirrel. I would eat that again and again if they were easier to get.
You can find a lot of awesome stuff at an Asian grocery. Saw some frozen frogs once, was too 'chicken' to try it at the time, though. lol
I love frog. It's a pain to eat with all the little bones, but worth the trouble.
You can get them at Hong Kong Market on Bellaire, just past the beltway. I got one there once, head, feet and all!!
They now sell black chickens at the Urban Harvest saturday farmers market at Eastside/Richmond – near Greenway plaza
Rub some dirt on it.
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