Most,if not all of us are familiar with Brands essence of chicken. I cannot think of another brand name that is as legendary to a point where it has embedded in many of our memories. This chicken essence concoction has been around for as long as I can remember. I know many in our community, especially the elderly Singaporean uncles and aunties, swear by it for the numerous claims made for its beneficial properties that they are told and retold; they have raised the brand to a mythological level. It is widely believed to be a 'brain food' for students studying for their important examinations and also well known as a "pick up food" for the convalescents and new mothers, and naturally becomes an acceptable social gift for many Singaporeans and multi packs are given and graciously accepted at Weddings and Birthdays.
Yet Brands is essentially a British invention. It is said that it was developed by one Henderson William Brand, a Royal Chef to King George the IV way back in 1820, as a tonic food for his ailing royal employer. It didn't stay in the the royal kitchen but was spread to every corner of the Colonial British Empire of yesteryear. Brands first arrived in Asia in the 1920's in Singapore and very quickly was accepted as it already had similarities with our Asian tonic preparation. Little did I know that many of our hand-raised chicken in the backyard would eventually end up in the chicken broth that my mother made. "Where is the brown cockerel with black tail feathers?" we would ask repeatedly asked when we came back from school. " I have traded it for the condensed milk from the shopkeeper at the Kit Ai Tiam" was one of favourite answers and accompanied with a plateful of roti spread with sweet condensed milk as a compensation to lessen our loss. Of course, our older siblings knew that they were be rewarded later with a bowl delicious chicken broth whenever the cockerel disappeared prior to the end of school examination period. Today, I am going to differ slightly on how my mother made her home brand chicken essence during my formative years in Singapore. First of all, I do not have any chicken in my backyard and secondly, I do not have a double boiling jar, a special ceramic pot where the chicken is cooked using the heat from the boiling water and not directly from the original heat source. This cooking technique ensures there is no loss of liquid or moisture (its essences) from the food being cooked. Instead,I have improvised for this exercise, by using a covered ceramic jar and the jar is then steamed for several hours inside a big stock pot. Furthermore as a follower of frugal living, I am using chicken bones carcases instead of a whole chicken as written in mum's recipe.
6 chicken bone carcases
½ cup water
½ tsp salt
Wash and trim of any fat or skin from the chicken bone carcases. Put the trimmed chicken carcases into a mortar and pound the the bones with a pestle.
Prepare the steaming utensil by putting a small bowl in a ceramic pot. Pile the pounded chicken bones carcases on top of the bowl.and add 1/2 cup of water. Cover the ceramic pot with a lid or seal with a foil. Put the ceramic pot into a stock pot and add enough water to cover half of the ceramic pot. Bring the water to the boil then lower to a simmer for 2 hours. Cool before removing the steamed bones carcases on top of the inverted bowl. Carefully remove the bowl before pouring out the chicken essence broth. Add salt to taste.