This soup delights not only the eye, the nose and the palate, but the ear as well. I always enjoy making it because, as well as the dramatic sizzling, it is so full of flavour and easy to do. The ingredients are simple, requiring little preparation, much of which can be done ahead of time. Rice cakes are easy to make, once you have prepared them a few times. The key point to remember is that the oil used for deep-frying the pieces must be very hot to ensure that they become very crispy and not greasy — almost like dried popcorn. While the soup itself re-heats well, the rice cake pieces must be deep-fried just before serving.
In separate bowls, soak the dried mushrooms and wood ears in warm water for 20 minutes. Drain them and squeeze out any excess liquid. Trim off the tough stalks and shred the mushroom caps and wood ears into
Bring the stock to simmering point in a large pan. Add the remaining soup ingredients, setting aside the rice cake and oil for deep-frying. Simmer for 20 minutes before transferring the soup to a large serving bowl.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying-pan or wok until it is nearly smoking. Drop in a grain of rice to test the heat — the rice should bubble all over and immediately come up to the surface.
Cut the rice cake into pieces and deep-fry for about 1–2 minutes until they puff up and brown slightly. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Quickly transfer the pieces to a platter and slide them into the soup. It should sizzle dramatically. Garnish with the fresh coriander leaves and serve at once.
© 1995 Ken Hom. All rights reserved.