Hot and Sour Soup, Better Than Takeout

Hot and Sour Soup
BY CICI LI AND CRYSTAL SHI

Skip the takeout—hot and sour soup, that beloved Chinese restaurant staple, is quick and easy to make at home.

This recipe gives you a rich, silky broth, packed with flavor and lots of goodies: tender strips of pork and shiitake; crunchy wood ear mushrooms and bamboo shoots; slippery slivers of tofu; delicate ribbons of egg. The soup is thickened just enough—none of the dreaded gloppiness that too often plagues restaurant renditions.

White pepper lends the soup its trademark “hot,” a mellow, belly-warming kind of heat, while dark Chinkiang vinegar gives it the “sour,” a bright and bracing punch. White pepper is a must in any Chinese kitchen; black pepper, on the other hand, is rarely used. Chinkiang vinegar, fermented from black glutinous rice, is another common ingredient. These key seasonings are added at the end of the cooking process, since if they’re added too early, they’ll lose their precious aromas.

Warming and full of lively flavors, hot and sour soup is perfect for chasing away the winter chill or fighting off a cold. And according to traditional Chinese medicine, it’ll give you a beauty boost, too: wood ear mushrooms are considered to be a “beauty food,” as they promote blood circulation and nourish the skin.

For this recipe, you’ll need to plan ahead a couple of hours to rehydrate the dried mushrooms. After that, though, the soup takes just 15 minutes to come together—even faster, and much tastier, than takeout.

Hot and Sour Soup (Suan La Tang)

Prep Time: 2 hours hands-off, plus 15 minutes hands-on
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Serves 6

 For the mushrooms:

  • 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon dried wood ear mushrooms
  • Water, for soaking

For the pork (see Note):

  • 3 ounces pork loin, cut into thin strips
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon water

For the soup:

  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • Pinch of salt
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons Chinkiang vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 1/4 carrot, julienned
  • 1/3 cup canned bamboo shoots
  • 3 thin slices ginger, julienned (about 1/2 teaspoon)
  • 1/3 block soft tofu, julienned
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 3 scallions, finely chopped, for garnish

To rehydrate the mushrooms:

In separate bowls, rehydrate the dried shiitake mushrooms in 1/2 cup water for 2 hours or up to overnight, and the dried wood ear mushrooms in water for 1 hour or up to 2 hours. (The wood ear will develop harmful bacteria if soaked for longer than 2 hours.)

Drain, reserving the soaking water from the shiitake mushrooms for later use. Rinse the shiitake and wood ear mushrooms well and slice thinly.

To prepare the pork:

In a medium bowl, add the salt, white pepper, soy sauce, cornstarch, and water and mix well. Transfer in the pork and mix well to combine. Let marinate for 10 minutes.

To make the soup:

In a small bowl, make the first sauce: mix together the soy sauce, salt, and sugar.

In another small bowl, make the second sauce: mix together the Chinkiang vinegar, white pepper, dark soy sauce, and sesame oil.

In a large pot over high heat, add the chicken stock and reserved mushroom soaking water and bring to a boil. Add the first sauce and mix well.

Add the pork, working quickly to break up the pieces with your chopsticks. Cook over high heat for about 5 minutes. Skim off any foam from the surface of the soup.

Then add the shiitake mushrooms, wood ear mushrooms, carrot, bamboo shoots, and ginger. Cook over high heat for about 3 minutes, until softened. Add the tofu and stir carefully. Cook over high heat for another 2 minutes.

Start with chicken broth. (CiCi Li)
Add the pork… (CiCi Li)
… then the rest of the add-ins, and the first sauce. (CiCi Li)
Add the cornstarch slurry to thicken. (CiCi Li)
Pour in the second sauce. (CiCi Li)
Finally, swirl in the egg. (CiCi Li)

Make a cornstarch slurry by combining the cornstarch and water in a small bowl and mixing well. Pour half of the slurry into the soup, and quickly stir. Add a little more and stir again. Continue adding little by little, until the soup reaches your desired consistency.

Pour in the second sauce. (We add this sauce last for two reasons: first, we don’t want the vinegar to evaporate throughout the cooking process, and second, we don’t want the color of the white cornstarch to cover up the color of the dark soy sauce. Think of it like painting: if you want the color to be more vibrant, you want the darker color to be on top of the lighter color, not the other way around.) Bring to a boil.

Slowly pour in the beaten eggs in a circular motion, stirring gently with chopsticks. Lastly, garnish with the chopped scallions and serve.

Note: Feel free to substitute the pork with chicken or seafood, or omit it entirely.

Recipe by CiCi Li. CiCi Li is the producer and presenter of “CiCi’s Food Paradise” on NTD. Join her in discovering the world of Asian home cooking at CiCiLi.tv

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