Canh Ga Ham Thuoc Bac: Vietnamese Black Chicken Soup Recipe

Canh Ga Ham Thuoc Bac: Vietnamese Black Chicken Soup Recipe Recipe

Canh gà hầm thuốc bắc, or "stewed black chicken soup" in Vietnamese, is known for its medicinal properties. It's the cultural equivalent of chicken noodle soup when you feel sick. In addition to its purported healing properties, it has a reputation of enhancing lactation for breast-feeding mothers. I don't know if it really helped nourish my baby girl but the broth is very tasty.

"Gà ác", which literally translates to "cruel chicken" is black chicken. It's parboiled then cooked overnight in a slow cooker. The soup requires several ingredients called thuốc bắc (traditional Chinese medicinal herbs and roots). It's composed of several kinds of dried mushrooms, gojee berries, ginseng, almonds, dried dates, dried jujube, dried lily bulbs, dried longans and fresh ginger. The addition of dried fruits makes a delicious broth with a complex flavor and natural sweetness.


Yields: 6 servings

1 (3-½-pound) gà ác (black chicken)
4 chicken carcasses
2 yellow onions
2 tablespoons canola oil
½ (16-ounce) package dried shiitake mushrooms (nấm đông cô)
1 (5.6-ounce) package dried white fungus mushrooms
1 (0-ounce) package dried gojee berries (fructus lycii)
1 (6-ounce) package dried south almonds
1 (6-ounce) package dried longans
1 (6-ounce) package dried dates
½ (16-ounce) package dried jujube
1 (6-ounce) package dried lily bulb
1 tablespoon ginseng
1 (3-inch) piece fresh ginger
1 (4-inch) chunk daikon turnip, peeled
1 carrot, peeled
2 tablespoons greens onions, chopped
2-½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked


Parboiling the chicken:

Wash the chicken carcasses and whole chicken.

This step is important to get clear broth before starting the long, slow cooking. 

Fill a 12-quart stockpot with about 6 quarts of water (enough to cover the chicken). Bring to a boil. 

Add the whole black chicken and chicken carcasses. Bring the liquid back to a gentle boil, then lower the heat to a bubbly simmer for 3 minutes. Skim the impurities rising to the surface of the broth using a fine mesh strainer and set the chicken, the carcasses and 4 quarts of strained liquid aside.

Prepping the roots and spices:

Peel one whole yellow onion without cutting the stem to make sure the onion doesn't fall apart in the broth.

Wash the unpeeled ginger; pat dry. Bruise the ginger using a hammer to loosen the flesh and help release all its flavor.

Caramelizing onions: Slice the remaining onion. Heat the oil in a pan. Fry the onions, stirring frequently to prevent it from burning, until the color is evenly golden brown. Transfer to a plate, leaving as much oil as possible in the pan (reserve it for the boiled rice noodles and make flavorful vinaigrette using the remaining oil).

Making canh gà hầm thuốc bắc:

Place the chicken, the peeled onion, the carcasses, 4 quarts of the boiling reserved strained liquid, fresh ginger root, caramelized onions, carrot, daikon and the thuốc bắc herbs and roots in a slow cooker. Cover with a lid and let simmer overnight (about 6 hours, I use a timer).

Remove and discard the chicken carcasses. Remove the whole chicken from the pot. Let it cool a bit until you can handle it without discomfort. Shred the meat.

Check the seasoning. Season with salt and pepper. Adjust the sweetness of the broth (if necessary). The amount of sugar varies with the amount of dried longans, jujube and the daikon and carrots.

The chicken soup is ready. Garnish with green onions.

Serve immediately.

Bon appétit!


Black chicken, gà ác in Vietnamese, has black meat and bones but white feathers. Unlike regular chicken, it requires a longer cooking time and it's mainly cooked for its sweet broth.

You can find ready-packed chicken carcasses at most Asian stores. You could also use the chicken thighs and chicken breasts to make other dishes such as chicken cacciatore, gơi (Vietnamese chicken salad) and keep the bones and carcasses for making the flavorful chicken broth. The other alternative to using chicken carcasses is to simply add low-sodium chicken broth.

The Chinese medicinal herbs and roots, called thuốc bắc in Vietnamese are a combination of nấm đông cô (shiitake), white fungus mushrooms, táo tầu (dried ziziphus jujube), kỷ tử (dried gojee berries / fructus lycii), long nhãn nhục (longans / arillus longanae)dried lily bulbs and other roots.

If you don't have dried jujube and dried longans, you could replace them with rock sugar or granulated sugar.

I purposely do not salt the broth at the beginning, but wait to add salt until the chickens are fully cooked. This way the broth remains clear.

Daikon (củ cải trắng in Vietnamese) is an Asian radish that looks like a large white carrot. I use this root a lot for making broth. Both the carrots and daikons give natural sweetness to the broth.

I used a slow cooker to make controlling the heat during the cooking process a simple task. With this method you needn't worry about the pot overflowing while the stew simmers.


If you have chicken broth left over; pour it into containers and store in the freezer. You can keep them up to 6 months.

You can find the ingredients listed above in most Asian markets.


Published By: Jacqueline Pham on January 4, 2012.


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