Pickle and Meat Shred Soup

Zhacai Rousi Tang

The pickles of Szechwan are legendary. “Every family made its own pickles, and every kitchen had three or four big earthenware jars full of them,” says Mrs. Chiang. “My mother’s were particularly good. She made so many that we ate preserved or salted vegetable every day for breakfast, and there were still enough left over to sell at market.”

Pickles are one of the few foods Mrs. Chiang is unable to make in America, for many of the vegetables pickled in Szechwan simply aren’t grown here. Fortunately, most Chinese grocery stores stock at least one kind of imported Szechwanese pickled vegetable, and since pickles take well to canning, they are reasonably authentic. The best kind is called “Szechwan preserved vegetable.”

Szechwan preserved vegetable has an appealing salty-sour flavor that comes across particularly well in soups like this one, otherwise quite bland. Pork shreds add body and cellophane noodles lend their inimitable slippery texture; but it is the pickled vegetable that gives the soup its special character.

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Method

Preparation and Cooking

4 cups water Bring the water to a boil in a medium-sized saucepan.
1 piece canned Szechwan preserved vegetable about the size of an egg (2-½ to 3 inches in diameter) Rinse the pickle very thoroughly under cold water to wash it off all the pepper coating it. Slice the pickle into shreds about ⅛ inch wide, the width of a wooden matchstick; you should get slightly less than 1 cup of pickle shreds. Add to the boiling water.
2 medium pork chops (for a yield of ½ pound meat, approximately)

Cut the bones and fat away from the pork chop, then cut the lean meat into slivers approximately the same size as the pickle shreds. (It is always easier to slice meat into shreds if you first put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes, until it becomes stiff but not frozen.)

Add the shredded pork to the boiling soup, stirring as you do so that the meat shreds don’t stick together. Let the soup boil vigorously over a high flame for 5 minutes, then lower the flame and let the soup simmer for another 25 minutes.

1 package (2 ounces) dried cellophane noodles

2 cups boiling water

Meanwhile, put the dried cellophane noodles in a medium-sized bowl and pour the boiling water over them. Let them soak for 5 minutes.

When the noodles are soft, drain them, then put them on a chopping block or other flat surface and cut them into segments approximately 3 inches long. Add them to the soup when it has about 15 more minutes of boiling to go.

2 scallions Clean the scallions, then slice them, both white part and green, crosswise, as fine as you can.
½ teaspoon sesame oil Just before you are ready to serve the soup, add the scallions and the sesame oil. Let the soup boil for a few more seconds and then serve.

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