Friday, 22 June 2012

Nourishing Soups and Teas - Post #1 : Bird Nest Soup

The whole family is coughing, no thanks to the haze.   Itchy throat, sniffling and phlegmy cough. I seem to have it particularly bad. At times my rib cage hurts due to the hacking cough, my head feels light, and even my eye balls feel sore (does that make sense?!)

Hubby bought a box of raw bird nest a few months ago, but i had forgotten all about it, having chucked it into the fridge. I suddenly remembered about it when i was thinking of what nourishing soups to make.

The Chinese have been cooking bird nests for over 400 years, and many firmly believed that it has significant healing properties in terms of improving asthma, minimising coughs (especially the phlegmy type) and generally strengthening overall body immune system.

In the last decade, bird nest prices have soared to ridiculous levels.  That is why I honestly believe there is no point in eating it outside because 1. they'd probably serve you the fake stuff, and then 2. charge you an arm and a leg for it.  Unless you eat at the really top end reputable restaurants, AND pay with both legs and arms for a teeny weeny portion.  Even then, I seriously doubt if the entire portion is the real deal (I'm the biggest sceptic).

So the next best thing is to cook it yourself.  i didn't ask hubby how much was the box of 20 pieces of dried swallow/swiftlet saliva - I don't really want to know since it's already been paid for.  I just prayed real hard that it's the real deal, and took out four pieces. 

I know that's A LOT to cook at one go, but hey, we are all sick. When is a better time than now?  And guess what, mummy is going to take double portion, because mummy has to take care of everyone so mummy can't afford to be sick :P

The dried bird nests, before soaking

The only cumbersome part about cooking this is the cleaning.  There is no way out - you will be straining and squinting your (failing) eyesight to diligently pluck out all the tiny feathers and dirt that is trapped inside the strands of the bird nests.  If you happen to have bought those that are not very clean, this will kill you.  So try to get those that are cleanest possible without breaking the bank. 

This is best taken right before you go to bed.  Warm it up before consuming.

Bird Nest Soup, Slow Cooker Recipe
Serves 4

  • 4 pieces of dried bird nest
  • 3 medium or large size red dates, pitted
  • 1 medium size honey date
  • 1 medium size rock sugar
  • 400ml water

1.  Soak the dried bird nests in tap water for about 1-2 hours, or until the layers have soften and expanded.

2.  Use a pointed tweezer to carefully pluck out the tiny feathers and dirt in between the layers.  Be careful not to press or separate the layers too much with your fingers, it could easily disintegrate.  Transfer the cleaned bird nests into another bowl with water, and repeat this process 2-3 times.  Once done, drain the bird nests using a sift and pour all into a slow cooker.

From left, clockwise: Picture 1 - The equipment you will need:
(A) an extra bowl to transfer the cleaned bird nests,
(B) a cup preferably with an all white inside, so you
can see the dirt that has been removed,
(C) tweezer  (D) a sift to drain the cleaned
bird nests before pouring into the slow cooker. 
Picture 2 - Get a pointed tweezer, do not get the straight line type. 
Picture 3 - the small slow cooker (good for two servings). 
The cup is to visualise the scale of the cooker. 
It is only marginally taller than a regular mug.

See the tiny feathers and dirt that has been plucked out from the bird nests.

3.  Rinse the dates and put on top the cleaned bird nest in the slow cooker.  Add in the rock sugar.  Boil the water in a separate saucepan.  Once the water is boiling, pour into the slow cooker, cover and set to High.  Once the soup is boiling, turn the heat down to Medium and let simmer for 1 hour.  Check occassionally and stir once or twice. 

From top left, clockwise: Honey date, red dates and rock sugar; 
My SIL bought me some jumbo sized red dates from Singapore,
thanks Vanessa!;  The cleaned bird nests, see that the strands
are still intact;  Put everything into the slow
cooker and pour boiling water

4.  Once the time is up, taste and adjust the sweetness and consistency of the soup.  I made this pretty concentrated, so if you feel it is too thick, add some hot water in.  Do not add cool water as it would bring down the temperature of the soup.

5.  Switch off the heat and consume warm just before you go to bed.

A pot of concentrated goodness

The gooey, gelatinuos bird nests, strands still intact. 
This is a real treat, thanks daddy for buying!

Note:  Given the weather these days,  I will be posting a series on Nourishing Soups and Teas, starting with this post.  Next post up is on Double Boiled Snow Pear with Almond Seeds and White Fungus.  Stay tuned!


  1. My husband always eats this when we go back to Taiwan. He said it's really good for you, but I actually haven't tried it. Maybe I should next time so I could say "I've tried this!". :-) It's quite expensive is it?

    1. Hi Nami, guess what? As said, I had my double portion, and woke up feeling much better. My chest felt more relieved, throat much less itchy and definitely less coughing :) yes, it is ridiculously expensive in Malaysia, and there's a lot of fake stuffs out there. Maybe it's cheaper in Taiwan?

  2. Hi Esther, happen to chance upon your blog while searching for a good cooker to boil birdnest.
    Does slow cooker works the same as double boiler? Does it works the same as double boiler? I can't seem to find any ceramic double boiler.
    All reviews I came accross so far are for slow cooker =(
    Hope you can advise. Thanks!

  3. Hi Ang,

    They are different as double boiler cooks the food in indirect heat (pot within a pot) whilst slow cooker cooks by heating the pot directly. Those who love double boiler believes that indirect cooking helps the ingredients to release the nutrients more gradually into the soup and thus "locking" in the nutrients..I don't have a double boiler and honestly, slowcooker cooks the food super slow anyway, so it doesn't really matter in my opinion.

    If you really would like to try cooking double boiler style, find a large stainless steel pot and a smaller ceramic bowl (with a cover) that can fit into the pot. Fill the pot with water (up to just over half of the height of the ceramic bowl, bring the water to a boil, and put the ceramic bowl into the pot, cover and let simmer for at least 2 hours or until the ingredients are cooked. Hope this helps.

  4. Glorious food ingredient...
    i like it so much, actually my sister is cured from suffering asthma thx to this pricey ingredient,
    my mom used to cooked this with kampong or malay chicken

  5. This is something completely new for me, and I must admit it looks amazing!
    I am not sure if I will be able to find all these ingredients.


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