Clear Wonton Soup Broth

September 11, 2016
5 Stars
Photo by Mark
Author Notes

My favorite local Chinese restaurant has an incredible wonton soup. Crystal clear, yellow, and perfectly seasoned... delicious. Although the wontons are the star of the dish, I could slurp cup after cup of the delicious broth. I asked the owner about the recipe. What was in it? How can I make it? Needless to say, she wasn't about to give up any ancient Chinese secrets.

Flash forward six years. Same owner, same restaurant, and same delicious soup, so asked her again as I had many, many of times before "How to you make this broth?" She rolled her eyes, lowered her voice and said, "It's just salt, msg, a little sugar and yellow food coloring." My culinary world crumbled. How could this be? No chicken? No vegetables? No spices? And to add insult to injury, fake yellow food coloring. I couldn't believe what I had just heard. She then gave me this mischievous smile and added "It's all about balance." In her defense, the wontons were the star of the soup. All that was needed was a subtle, balanced broth to allow them to float.

From a cooking perspective, this whole incident bugged the heck out of me. How could something so delicious come from 3 ingredients (I still do not believe food coloring is an ingredient). Then I kept hearing the last thing she told me.... It's all about balance. So what do we have? Salty, sweet, and umami in a pot of water. She gave me the base ingredients, now I had to find the balance. I probably made 30 or 40 batches until I came up with something that was very close to the broth used in the restaurant. Oftentimes I would make 3 or 4 gallons in separate pots so I could tweak the recipe in each pot and test them side by side. Sometimes I would pickup up a quart of the takeout soup so that I could compare my version to the baseline. Every batch started with one gallon of tap water.

If you want the most basic liquid that you can substitute as broth here it is: 1 gallon water, 2 TBS kosher salt, 4 tsp sugar, 1/8 tsp msg, and 4 drops yellow food coloring. Don't scoff, it took me six years of begging and 3 months of testing to get that ratio. Serve this in a bowl with a few pieces of thinly sliced scallion and a pinch of white pepper and you'll be amazed. Oh, the food coloring? Call it the placebo effect. It does nothing to add flavor, it just gives the visual cue of a long simmered broth. Don't believe me? Try omitting it. Side by side tasters will pick the yellow broth every time.

My up-converted recipe. Why it works...

The salt & MSG ratio is the same, 2 TBS Kosher salt and 1/8 tsp. MSG per gallon of water. Instead of table sugar I rely on the carrot and onion to provide natural sweetness and of course flavor. The celery, ginger, and peppercorns just up the flavor. One chicken thigh provides a little chicken flavor and just enough fat to float on top of the soup while the pressure cooker extracts the maximum amount of collagen from the thigh. And the crown jewel, turmeric replaces the food coloring.

  • Prep time 5 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 35 minutes
  • Makes 1 gallon
  • 1 chicken thigh, skin on
  • 1 carrot, coarsly chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, coarsly choppped
  • 1 small onion, quartered
  • 3 dime-sized pieces of ginger
  • 2 tablespoons Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon MSG, (don't leave it out)
  • 5 white peppercorns, black can be substituted
  • 1 gallon Water
In This Recipe
  1. In a small pot bring chicken thigh to a rapid boil. Boil for 5 minutes. Discard water, clean and rinse thigh under running water
  2. In a large pressure cooker add all ingredients. Bring to a boil, skim for 5 min. Cover, and bring up to max pressure for 1.5 hours
  3. Strain and discard vegetables and chicken.
  4. Cool, and defat if desired.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Josh N Melinda Fickes
    Josh N Melinda Fickes
  • Dana Wilcox
    Dana Wilcox
  • Ron
  • Vimal Ramdin
    Vimal Ramdin

14 Reviews

Heidi S. January 20, 2022
If you don’t have a pressure cooker; can you just cook on stove in heavy pan?
Author Comment
Mark January 20, 2022
Yes. Simmer partially covered and 30 minutes additional cook time. If you loose too much liquid due to evaporation, occasionally add water to maintain the same level. If you have an instant pot that would work in place of a pressure cooker.
Yvonne August 18, 2021
I rarely leave reviews but had to for this one. I also had a similar experience when my favorite Chinese restaurant was selling to new owners. I was disappointed that I would no longer have access to their amazing wonton soup. After some pleading the owner shared her recipe on how to make her wontons and broth. To my disappointment I was shocked to learn that the delicious broth was made with salt and msg and topped off with sesame oil and white pepper. I was unable to make myself to make it and resorted to a chicken bone broth which never had that authentic wonton soup profile. I have now made this broth recipe several times using the original recipe shared with me for the wontons. Everyone I have served it to have all stated it is one of the best they have ever had. I do add some soya sauce and white pepper when serving. Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe!
Josh N. May 6, 2021
Decent broth but not even close to chinese wonton broth
Dana W. July 19, 2020
Brilliant and so close to my favourite broth it’s crazy! I had to try after reading your story. And this amazing broth. I did add another thigh because I had more. Probably only needed one!
Author Comment
Mark July 20, 2020
Thank you so much for the positive feedback! I'm glad you enjoyed the broth.
Ron April 26, 2020
Awesome story and recipe
Thank you
Vimal R. March 8, 2020
how much water for this both?????
Author Comment
Mark March 8, 2020
1 gallon.
Author Comment
Mark March 8, 2020
I updated the recipe accordingly. Thanks.
foodie1 October 6, 2019
Excellent! I would like to know the kosher salt brand for exact ammount of salt and there are at lest 2 complimenting MSG components out there so I am curious on brands of msg. IE monosodium glutomate, disodium guanylate, and disodium inosinate all contribute to unami
Author Comment
Mark November 21, 2019
I use Morton Kosher salt. Also, for my MSG I use Accent. Thank you very much for the feedback.
Author Comment
Mark November 21, 2019
THANK YOU!!! for the additional information. I'll do more research. Happy Cooking! ...and eating!
foodie1 October 6, 2019
5 starts. Thanks for sharing Mark. Could you share what brand of kosher salt you use. The weight/ammount varies quite a bit between brands because of the crystal size. Also I was curious what brand of MSG you use or tried. There are several unami components depending on brand. My local Thai place makes a clear broth, a little bit of chicken and fresh scallions. Its delicious.