Old Cucumber Soup is one of the more iconic and popular examples of Cantonese ‘Po Tong’ due to its many touted health benefits, particularly its cooling properties to lower ‘heatiness’ in the body, and some say it has anti-ageing benefits as well!
Old Cucumber Soup (老黄瓜汤) is mainstay in many Chinese (especially Cantonese) families like mine. As I was explaining in my recipe post for Sweet Corn Pork Rib soup, the Cantonese like to distinguish between two types of soup: 1) Po Tong (煲汤 bao tang in Chinese), which means soup that is slowly simmered over the fire for about 2 hours or more and 2) Gun Tong (滚烫 gun tang in Chinese), which is a quick-boiling soup which takes 30 minutes or less to cook!
Old Cucumber Soup is one of the more iconic examples of Cantonese Po Tong, and it is very popular due to its many touted health benefits, particularly its cooling properties to lower ‘heatiness’ in the body, and some say it has anti-ageing benefits as well!
It’s very easy to make Old Cucumber Soup, even if you are a newbie – all you need to do is to prepare all the ingredients according to the recipe, and toss it into the pot (except for the red dates and wolf berries which you must add in later – see my explanation in the tips below!), then just let the soup slowly simmer for 2 hours and occasionally check the water levels.
By the way, the preparation method is almost identical to how you prepare Lotus Root Soup (莲藕汤), except for the difference in the main ingredient! So you are getting 2 soups with just one recipe!
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You can add in dried octopus, dried squid or cured Chinese ham (云南火腿 Yun Nan Huo Tui or 金华火腿 Jin Hua Huo Tui) to enhance the taste of the soup. Can you tell the difference between dried octopus and dried squid in the photo below?
The soup is so delicious that I usually don’t even have to add salt, because it is already so tasty! And you feel extra good drinking it because it is so nutritious and nourishing for your body. So its definitely a go-to soup recipe for when you are craving for something nourishing to 补身体 (bu shen ti).
If you find the soup too oily after cooking, there are a few methods to remove the oil. The traditional method is that you can leave it in the fridge until the fat coagulates on top, then remove the fat layer. But do bear in mind this requires you to cook the soup 1 day before.
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Personally I find that too troublesome, so I use my oil separator (also known as a fat separator) to remove the oil. Its basically a large beaker with a long spout that allows you to pour out the soup from the spout, leaving the floating oil layer behind.
I’ve been using mine for a long time so you can’t find that brand anymore, but if you go to Amazon, you can a good range of oil separators which are reasonably priced and ship to Singapore.
Not all the models qualify for FREE shipping to Singapore though. You must type in your address first then it will tell you if it is free shipping or not). But the ones by OXO, Trudeau and Swing-A-way do ship to Singapore for FREE (with the usual minimum spend of US$125) and have high ratings, so do check them out if you don’t already own an oil separator! It will save you the hassle of having to cook all your soups and gravies a day in advance and refrigerate it in order to remove the coagulated fats!
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- 500 g Pork Bones
- 2 carcasses Bones of Whole Chicken
- 1 Old Cucumber Medium sized
- 1 Dried Cuttlefish
- 3 tbsp Chinese Peanuts with skins on
- 6-8 pieces Red Dates
- 2 tbsp Wolfberries
- 2.5 litres Water
- 1 pinch Salt (optional)
Blanche the pork and chicken bones in boiling water for about 3 minutes. Discard the water. Wash the bones and remove all the visible blood clots.
- Blanch the cuttlefish in boiling water for 1 minute to soften it.
- Remove the centre soft bone, mouth and eye of the cuttlefish. Then cut into 1-inch lengths.
- Wash the old cucumber. Then cut the old cucumber into half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds with a metal spoon.
- Cut the old cucumber into 2-inch cross-sections.
- Remove the seeds from the red dates and rinse.
- Rinse the wolf berries and drain dry.
- Wash the peanuts and set aside.
- Add the 2.5 litres of water into a pot and bring to a boil over high fire.
- Add in the pork bones, chicken bones, cuttlefish, old cucumber, and peanuts.
- When it is boiling, turn the heat to medium and continue to boil for 2 hours.
- Add in the wolf berries and red dates, and boil for another 15 minutes.
- Add salt (a pinch, or to taste). Try the soup first before adding salt, because the soup may already be tasty enough.
- Dish out the Old Cucumber Soup into individual bowls, and it is ready to be served!Old Cucumber Soup (老黄瓜汤) Recipe
- When cooking Chinese soup with pork bones, two good choices are suo shi gu (锁匙骨) or bing pang ban (乒乓板) which you can get from your local butcher at the wet market. These two cuts of economical cuts of pork are good for soups, because even after the boiling, the meat on the bones still taste good when eaten because there is some fats (but not too much) to keep the meat tender and yet not make the soup oily.
- Indonesian pork (from the wet market) tends to be leaner and sweeter than Australian pork (typically sold at supermarkets like NTUC), so the soup will not be so oily.
- You need to blanch the pork bones to get rid of the blood clots. This removes the porky smell and ensure that the soup will not have a scum layer on top when cooked.
- More water can be added to the old cucumber soup but it must be hot boiling water so that the temperature will not drop suddenly, affecting the cooking time.
- Try to buy red dates with seeds. Firstly they are sweeter. Secondly pitted red dates, if stored too long at the shops, may have tiny insects and spider webs forming inside the centre hollow of the dates.
- Don't soak the wolfberries. Rinse them just before adding them into the soup otherwise they will become mushy.
- Red dates and wolf berries must only be added in during the last 15 minutes, because if you boil them for too long, it makes the soup a bit sourish.
- Don't soak the cuttlefish, otherwise all the sweetness will be absorbed into the water, leaving it tasteless. You can use either dried octopus 八爪鱼🐙 (photo on the left) or dried cuttlefish (photo on the right) to get that additional sweetness to the soup. Dried octopus is more expensive (almost double the price), and it is sweeter than dried cuttlefish. But I prefer to use dried cuttlefish because it is lower in cholesterol.
- You can also replace the cuttlefish with a small piece of cured Chinese ham (1/2 palm size) for a deeper flavour. Cured Chinese ham (云南火腿 Yun Nan Huo Tui or 金华火腿 Jin Hua Huo Tui) is also great for lowering heatiness.
- If you use a more fatty cut of meat, you may find the soup too oily after cooking. To get rid of the excess oil, you can either 1) leave it in the fridge until the fat coagulates on top to remove the fat layer (this requires you to cook the soup 1 day before) or 2) use an oil separator / fat separator which is a large beaker with a long spout that allows you to pour out the soup from the spout, leaving the floating oil layer behind. I have been using mine for a long time - but you can easily get one from Amazon. There are plenty of models that ship to Singapore, and some even qualify for free shipping with minimum $125 spend.
Suggested Modifications for Special Diets
- Baby/Toddler-Friendly: You can use the old cucumber soup as a base for cooking porridge to make the porridge more tasty. But leave out the nuts and cuttlefish in case of allergies.
- Child-Friendly: Soups in general are great nourishing foods for everyone including children. You can serve the old cucumber soup on its own, or serve over white rice.
- Egg-Free: no modifications needed
- Fish-Free: no modifications needed
- Gluten-Free: no modifications needed
- Nut-Free: Skip the peanuts, or replace it with 2 handfuls of barley. Don’t use too much otherwise the soup will become too starchy.
- Shellfish-Free: Skip the cuttlefish, or replace it with cured Chinese ham.
Hope you enjoyed this easy and delicious recipe! Before you go, why not check out our Recipe Index for more yummy recipes! And don’t forget to leave me a comment below, because I wanna hear from you!