Traditional Chinese chefs will tell you that less is more: minimum ingredients, minimum taste, minimum processing, in order to let that precious bird’s nest shine through. For centuries, that was the way bird’s nest was prepared for emperors and nobles in China. In fact, apart from the bird’s nest itself, you probably already have all the other ingredients for a basic but fulfilling bird’s nest drink right in your kitchen!
Are you ready to find out what they are? First, let’s introduce the star of the show, the basic bird’s nest….
This is the one ingredient you probably don’t have lying around in your kitchen, unless you’re already a fan of home-made bird’s nest drinks or soups.
Bird’s nest is a real but special bird’s nest, made almost entirely from the hardened saliva of the swiftlet instead of the usual twigs-and-debris nests of many other bird species.
The preparation of raw bird’s nest before it can even be cooked is an hours-long, tedious process that involves soaking, cleaning via a brief boil and maybe even manual nitpicking with forceps, all before you can start cooking it for real.
Since you’re planning to make a soup or drink, you definitely need water! It’s just normal drinking water that you have every day. The amount of water needed varies according to recipe. For the best results, preheated water should be used, regardless of whether you choose to boil or stew your bird’s nest.
Bird’s nest is naturally bland, with a very light, slightly salty taste, almost like egg whites. If you need a natural sweetener, then another common ingredient you can add to your dish is rock sugar. These crystallised lumps of sugar take longer to melt than refined sugar, and they add a delicate sweetness that doesn’t detract from the taste and texture of bird’s nest (this is one of the ways Chinese emperors enjoyed bird’s nest, too!).
When cooked correctly, the bird’s nest drink should gain a gelatinous texture, with soft, slippery strands, and the taste should be a little sweet, just enough to mask any initial fishy smell from the bird’s nest. Temperature and timing is important: if overcooked, those strands will become gummy and break apart, and that’d be such a waste. Watch these two T’s and you’ll have a nice, basic bird’s nest drink to enjoy. You can substitute rock sugar with honey if you prefer a more natural sweetener.
PS: This basic original recipe is what GeGebirdnest offers, too! But if you’re looking to spice it up for a change, bird’s nest drinks are actually a fantastic base for other nutritious ingredients, or if you’re adventurous, even as an ingredient in other dishes.
Want to make your bird’s nest drink even more nutritious? All you need to do is add a few more ingredients to it. You can add traditional ingredients such as jujube (dried red dates), gingseng, rice or goji berries.
Jujube, or dried red dates, is a staple in most Chinese households to be added into soups or eaten raw. A superfood in its own right, jujube has 80 times more Vitamin C than grapes and apples, and can work with bird’s nest to stimulate the production of white blood cells that boost your immunity. In addition to that, it can reduce your cholesterol levels. Add these jujube when you start cooking your bird’s nest.
Ginseng is another traditional Chinese ingredient that shares many of the same benefits as bird’s nest, including improved brain functions, strengthened immune system, lowered blood sugar levels, and anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s perfect as an extra boost for each serving of bird’s nest, since you already know that 3g of bird’s nest is optimal for daily consumption. If you’re feeling “cold”, according to traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng can help to “warm” you up; that’s a handy help since most foods are “cold”! Korean ginseng offers this warm effect, while American ginseng is cooling. Like jujube, add ginseng when you start cooking bird’s nest, because it takes a long time for its essences to seep into your drink.
Do you want your bird’s nest dish to be a filling, full meal? Then you can consider making bird’s nest congee, which is a type of rice porridge or gruel. It requires a little more work as the rice and bird’s nest have to be cooked separately; cooked bird’s nest is only added to the rice once it has almost become congee, during the last few minutes of cooking, and over low heat. Congee is actually a classic Chinese breakfast dish, so you’re still following a traditional Chinese recipe even if you’re not consuming bird’s nest as it is!
Goji berries, or wolfberries, are another staple in Chinese cuisine, well-known to be good for your eyes, immune system, skin, blood sugar levels, mood, and liver. And while most of us are more familiar with the bright red goji berries, there are actually two types in the market: red and black goji berries! Both have many of the same benefits, except that red goji berries have higher carotenoid content (good for your eyes) while black goji berries have higher anti-oxidant capacities (good for your immune system).