Monday, November 12, 2007

Hot & Sour Soup

Part One of the Soup Trilogy.

A while back, delightfully perky reader Daphne asked that I 'blog Hot & Sour Soup because she was sick of overpaying for restaurant versions and wanted to learn how to make it at home. This post is for her.

I've never made Hot & Sour Soup so this will be a noobish effort. However, I think just about everyone, me included, has had more than a few bowls from the local Chinese joint. When thinking about the versions that I most enjoyed, two things jumped out at me:
1. A flavorful broth which wasn't overly gloopy...judicious use of the cornstarch slurry is key.
2. A variety of ingredients used in the soup...makes things more interesting.

With these two things in mind, I set out to conquer Hot & Sour soup. I pored over my cookbooks and decided to use the recipe in Land Of Plenty as my reference/starting point. I'd like to mention that the aforementioned cookbook is, quite possibly, my favorite cookbook of all time. If you have any interest in the delectable cooking of Szechuan province, you MUST buy this book. The recipes work well, everything is clearly written and there's a large section on cooking terms, techniques, ingredients etc. It's definitely on my list of desert island cookbooks.

Here we go! This recipe may seem like it's got too many steps but just stay organized and you'll be fine. Most of it is prep work and the actual soup comes together very quickly. The obligatory pictures of today's ingredients:
I didn't realize how poorly laid out the second picture was until just now. Somewhat hidden is the ginger, ham, black fungus and shredded bamboo shoots.

You'll notice that I've already got the dried shiitake mushrooms soaking. Refer back to this post for a picture of the dried 'shrooms. Soaking the mushrooms in warm water should be one of the first steps because they take a good half hour to rehydrate. I'm using between 12-15 mushrooms for today's recipe.

We're also going to rehydrate some Chinese black fungus. It doesn't have much in the way of taste but adds a really neat crunchy texture. It will have to be soaked in warm water for 15 or so minutes. I used around 1/3 of a cup of the dried fungi. Here's a pic of a dried fungi and a rehydrated fungi:We will also need to chop some Smithfield ham into rough matchstick sized pieces. Some of you are probably wondering what's up with the ham. Most Chinese cookbook authors consider American Smithfield ham to be an acceptable substitute so that's what I went with. Just take it and chop it up into matchsticks. I used about half a pound of ham.
Set aside.

Take a piece of ginger approximately 1 inch long and peel. Do you know how to peel ginger? Just take a spoon and "scoop" off the skin. Something about the shape of a spoon makes the work really easy. Slice the ginger into matchstick sized pieces. Here's how:
Slice off the back of the peeled ginger so it lies flat on the cutting board.
Vertically slice the ginger.
Roll the ginger 90 degrees and slice vertically. You should end up with matchsticks.

Thinly slice the tops of 4 green onions and place into your serving bowl. Drizzle bowl with sesame oil and set aside:
Take a 1/3 lb. piece of pork loin (or other lean pork) and slice into thin, bite size pieces. This is easy..just take a slice off of one end of the pork
and sliver the slice. Take the pork and put into a bowl with a large pinch of salt, two teaspoons of Shaoxing rice wine, two teaspoons of cornstarch and two teaspoons of water. Mix well. Set aside.

Open up a can of shredded bamboo shoots and rinse well. Grab a handful and set aside. Refrigerate the rest.

By now, the mushrooms and fungus should be reconstituted. Slice each into bite size pieces and set aside. Prep work is done! Whew!

Heat up a soup pot, drizzle in some oil and fry the slivered ginger until fragrant. Add the ham, bamboo, mushrooms and fungus to the pot and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.
Add in 6 cups of pork or chicken broth. Bring to a boil.

When soup is coming to a boil, make the cornstarch slurry...6 tablespoons of cornstarch to 9 tablespoons of COLD water. Whisk well with a fork and set aside.

When the soup is boiling, turn the heat down to a medium simmer and add a tablespoon of Shaoxing rice wine, and a teaspoon each of dark and light soy sauce. Stir.

Add the pork mixture and stir to separate the slices of pork. Cook for a minute. While this may seem like not enough time, it'll be fine.

Now comes the fun part. Season to taste. You won't need much salt because the ham is already quite salty. Add tons of white pepper. This is what gives Hot & Sour Soup it's characteristic hot flavor. I'm not going to give you an amount, just do it to your taste.

When you have achieved an optimum of hot flavor, bring the soup back up to a boil and add half of the cornstarch slurry. Bring the soup back up to a boil...this will fully activate the starch so you can see the consistency. Want it thicker? Add a bit more of the slurry and bring back up to a boil. Do this until it's as thick as you like and turn off the heat.

Time to add the sour flavor. Chinkiang vinegar is what we're going to use. Add 3 tablespoons to the soup. Taste. Want it more sour? Add more vinegar. Do this until you're happy.

Take a ladle and pour the soup into your green onion/sesame oil bowl. Done!

Feel free to add your own additions. Egg is popular, some cubed tofu would also be nice.

Time- 30 minutes of prep, 15 minutes of cooking time.
Food Cost-
Pork- $0.75
Ham- $5.00
Incidentals- $1.25
Total- $7.00
Serves about 5 as a side dish...$1.40 a bowl.


Jimmy said...

What do you do with the pork mixture?

Mike Czyzewski said...

Good point. I've added it to the recipe.


Daphne said...


I'm planning to make this.

Got your voicemail-the two of you are too funny-can't wait to see you guys at some point.

Love you guys!