This comforting chicken soup uses a technique I learned from an old Ken Hom cookbook for making a delicately fluffy chicken mixture, or velvet, that disperses the finely chopped chicken throughout the broth. This dish always hits the spot when the weather turns cold, or I get wistful for Cantonese soups.–Michelle Tam

Velvet Chicken and Spinach Soup FAQs

Can I make any of this soup ahead of time?

You can make the chicken paste and store it tightly wrapped in the fridge. When it comes time to finish the soup, just add the paste to the simmering broth.

What’s the difference between bone broth, stock, and broth?

Bone broth and stock are essentially the same. Both are made by cooking animal bones, vegetables, and herbs in slowly simmering water. Where they differ is in the cooking time. Stock is cooked for less time, two to four hours, while bone broth can simmer anywhere from eight to 16 hours, depending upon the type of broth. Both are viscous and gelatinous due to the collagen that breaks down in joints and bones, but bone broth is more so.

Broth, on the other hand, is usually made with meat, rather than bone, and not cooked as long, so it’s lighter, and thinner.

What does velveting chicken mean?

Velveting meat is a traditional Chinese cooking technique that results in juicy, flavorful meat and glossy, thickened liquid. The meat gets coated in a mixture of cornstarch, egg white, and salt, preventing the protein from seizing and firming up. The result is more tender meat. In this recipe, Michelle Tam takes velveting one step further and processes the chicken into ground meat that retains the tenderness of velveting but also becomes light and fluffy.

A blue and white bowl filled with velvet chicken and spinach soup

Velvet Chicken and Spinach Soup

4.94 / 15 votes
This velvet chicken and spinach soup is a warming Cantonese-style dish. A light, fluffy chicken mixture is cooked in stock and fresh spinach is stirred in. Mushrooms add just the right amount of umami flavor.
David Leite
CourseAppetizers
CuisineAsian
Servings4 servings
Calories326 kcal
Prep Time30 minutes
Cook Time30 minutes
Total Time1 hour

Ingredients 

  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes
  • 2 teaspoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or 3/4 teaspoon Morton kosher salt)
  • 2 teaspoons ice water
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon avocado oil, ghee, or fat of choice
  • 1 large (2 oz) shallot, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 pound large shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
  • One (2 inch) piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into thin coins
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
  • 6 cups chicken bone broth or chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons coconut aminos or soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 6 cups (6 oz) baby spinach
  • 1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

Instructions 

  • In a food processor, pulse the chicken until finely chopped.
  • Add the arrowroot powder or cornstarch, salt, ice water, and egg white to the chopped chicken in the food processor bowl. Process until a velvety paste develops, about 1 minute.
  • Heat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the oil, shallot and mushrooms. Cook, stirring frequently, until the shallots are slightly softened, 2 to 4 minutes.
  • Toss in the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  • Pour in the broth. Increase the heat to high to bring the soup to a boil.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the coconut aminos or soy sauce and fish sauce to the soup. Taste and adjust for seasoning.
  • Add the chicken paste to the broth and, working quickly, use a spatula to break it up.
  • Cook until the chicken is no longer pink, then stir in the spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute more.
  • Turn off the heat and stir in the toasted sesame oil. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed and serve.
Nom Nom Paleo Let's Go Cookbook

Adapted From

Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go

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Nutrition

Serving: 1 bowlCalories: 326 kcalCarbohydrates: 19 gProtein: 49 gFat: 9 gSaturated Fat: 1 gMonounsaturated Fat: 4 gTrans Fat: 1 gCholesterol: 73 mgSodium: 1319 mgFiber: 9 gSugar: 2 g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe?Mention @leitesculinaria or tag #leitesculinaria!
Recipe © 2022 Michelle Tam | Henry Fong. Photo © 2022 Henry Fong. All rights reserved.

Recipe Testers’ Reviews

This is quite a tasty soup. I was intrigued by the unique method of chopping the chicken in the food processor. And am pleased that I took a chance and made it. The flavor is pure and allows each ingredient to come through while at the same time blending together harmoniously.

A blue bowl filled with velvet chicken and spinach soup

Because I used homemade unsalted chicken stock, I had to add additional salt and I also added just a bit more soy sauce to bump up the flavor. I chopped the garlic rather than smashing it (a happy accident resulting from not noticing the instruction) but otherwise made no changes. I made scallion pancakes to go along with the soup.

This velvet chicken and spinach soup is perfect. I mean, chicken soup with garlic and ginger. How can you go wrong? But in the world of chicken soups, this is a standout.

There’s a bit of prep, but not an insurmountable amount. And that’s about all there is to this recipe, the actual cooking of it goes really fast. While I think some people won’t make it because you do need the food processor for it (otherwise it becomes an exercise in chopping chicken very, very, very finely with a knife,) I have to say, it was worth having to wash the darn thing and worth having it in the first place if all I do is make this soup with it!

I am a bit of a garlic and ginger freak, so my three garlic cloves were quite large. And I may have used an extra half-inch or inch of ginger. Because, well, it’s ginger!

You need this soup. It will make you feel better. Make it!

Yum. While I didn’t achieve “finely chopped chicken throughout the broth,” this velvet chicken and spinach soup is a delicious dish that’s a lot easier to make than most iterations of chicken and noodles.

I tried it with thighs and again with breasts, and both were tasty. Initially wondering why the recipe doesn’t call for pre-ground chicken, I realized that the grind in the food processor is larger and it’s easier to work in the other ingredients with it. Once in the hot broth, the chicken cooks FAST, and I couldn’t get it to break up very well. I tried a potato masher and had more success, though the result was more like little misshapen meatballs than velvety and fluffy.

It’s a very good soup, so whatever chicken distribution one ends up with, it’s quick, homemade, and worth cleaning the food processor. A cheap Ruffino pinot grigio was just right with it.  

I wasn’t sure how the “chicken paste” thing would work out but it turned out pretty genius. Even in the soup, you could see that velvetiness.

By cooking the chicken in the soup broth, it absorbed all the wonderful flavors, particularly the ginger and mushroom. The spinach, even wilted, added a nice little crunch. We love ginger, but so often it can get lost in a recipe because of minced. By slicing it, the ginger is a real standout. But none of the other flavors get overrun or drowned out. We used soy sauce and regular fish sauce along with the toasted sesame seed oil. That’s another nice thing about this recipe. It’s adaptable.




About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.


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14 Comments

  1. This soup is a perfect 10 in my household. Loved the chicken, such an interesting method. I think next time I’ll throw in a few extra shittakes.

  2. 5 stars
    Soup absolutely delicious…Was skeptical regarding the chicken ~ but was fine. A bit of a rush to get the chicken broken up in a timely manner but mostly got it done. My husband’s favorite soup has always been chicken with matzoh balls AND fine egg noodles… at the same time, mind you!! He now states, after almost 50 years together…that this soup wins!!! Wow!!

    Ok…2 questions:

    1. Can the chicken paste be made in advance and frozen?
    2. What if one made tiny chicken meatballs out of mixture before dropping in soup?

    Thank you so much!!

    JEA

    1. Thank you, JEA. A new winning soup, that is praise indeed! We haven’t tested freezing the paste or making meatballs but you should be able to do both successfully. If you try it please let us know how it turns out.

  3. I just made and tasted this soup and can’t wait to serve it to the family for dinner. The only change I made was using frozen spinach, which I drained before adding to the rest of the ingredients. The broth was a basic batch of chicken pho, which had the additional aromas of star anise and coriander which was a plus to the final product. Thank you for this wonderful recipe.

    1. You’re welcome, Shelley. Do let us know what everyone thinks! Your photo is certainly making my mouth water.