Hot and Sour Soup

Suanla Tang

Preparation info

    Appears in

    Mrs. Chiang’s Szechwan Cookbook

    By Ellen Schrecker

    Published 1976

    • About

    Meal: One-Dish

    You can’t make an authentic Hot and Sour Soup in the United States because you can’t get coagulated duck’s blood. This is a dark brown substance that comes in chunks like bean curd, has the consistency of raw liver, and tastes just as you would expect duck’s blood to taste. Even on Taiwan it was hard to find. Mrs. Chiang’s recipe is as close to the original as you can get, and produces a delicious soup with an exciting taste and unusual texture. The thick broth teems with so many different kinds of crunchy, chewy, slippery, and soft ingredients that only a connoisseur would quibble about the duck’s blood.

    The taste of the soup, of course, is famous. It really is both hot and sour. It gets its heat from black pepper, instead of the more commonly used red chilies; the sourness comes from vinegar. Though the idea of combining two such powerful and distinctive tastes sounds extreme, the mixture succeeds brilliantly. Its tart pepperiness challenges the taste buds with the kind of extravagance that characterizes the most exciting Szechwanese food.

    Hot and Sour Soup is much too thick and highly spiced to be produced at the end of a multi-course meal; it is almost a meal in itself. We usually serve it as the main course in an informal supper, accompanied by a bread or a savory pastry like Oily Scallion Cakes).

    Method

    Preparation and Cooking

    ½ cup dried tree ears

    ½ cup dried lily buds

    5 dried black mushrooms

    2 cups boiling water, approximately

    Combine the tree ears, lily buds, and dried mushrooms in a small bowl. Pour the boiling water over them and let them soak for 20 minutes.
    5 cups water Bring the 5 cups water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan.
    2 medium pork chops (for a yield of ½ pound meat, approximately) Cut the bones and fat away from the pork chops and discard them. Cut the lean meat into slivers about 2 inches long and ⅛ inch wide, the size and shape of a wooden matchstick. (It is always easier to slice meat very fine if you first put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes, until it becomes slightly stiff but not frozen.)
    (boiling water) Put about 2 tablespoonfuls of the shredded pork in the boiling water. Let the meat simmer over a moderate flame for 20 minutes. (This will give both flavor and body to the soup.)

    1 tablespoon soy sauce

    1 teaspoon cornstarch

    Put the remaining meat shreds in a small bowl. Add the soy sauce and the cornstarch and mix well.
    (tree ears, lily buds, and mushrooms) When they are soft, drain the tree ears, lily buds, and mushrooms and rinse them thoroughly. Be particularly careful to pick over the tree ears and remove any impurities, such as little pieces of wood, that might still be embedded in them. Remove the hard stems from the mushrooms and slice the caps into thin shreds, the same width as the pork slivers. Chop the tree ears into shreds as well, then, using your fingers, tear each lily bud into three or four shreds.
    2 squares fresh bean curd Slice each square of bean curd into 4 layers, then cut each layer into slivers about ¼ inch wide.

    (soup)

    1 teaspoon salt

    6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

    2 tablespoons soy sauce

    Add the shredded mushrooms, tree ears, lily buds and bean curd to the soup, along with the salt, vinegar, and soy sauce. Bring the soup to a boil again, then reduce the heat slightly and let it boil gently for 7 minutes.
    2 scallions Meanwhile, clean the scallions and chop them, both white part and green, crosswise into the thinnest possible pieces.
    (meat mixture) After the soup has boiled for about 7 minutes, add the scallions and the rest of the meat shreds to it, stirring the soup as you add the meat so the shreds don’t stick together. Let the soup boil for 2 more minutes.

    2 eggs

    2 tablespoons cornstarch

    2 tablespoons cold water

    While the soup is cooking, beat the eggs in a small bowl. Combine the cornstarch and water in another small bowl and mix well.

    After the meat shreds have boiled for 2 minutes, pour the beaten egg and the cornstarch mixture into the soup, stirring as you do so the egg will form shreds, not lumps, while it is cooking. As soon as the soup comes to a boil again and has become clear and slightly thickened, remove it from the stove.

    ½ to ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Stir the pepper into the soup and serve. (Don’t be shy about adding a lot of pepper; this is the ingredient that gives this famous soup its bite.)