Hot and Sour Soup

酸辣湯

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Easy

  • Serves

    4

    as a first course.

Appears in

The Key to Chinese Cooking

By Irene Kuo

Published 1977

  • About

Of northern origin, this soup became popular in all regions of China. Over there, it is not authentic unless the silky congealed chicken or duck blood is used. While it does contribute to creating a very smooth texture, the soup is not lesser without it. This is what I call a “mixed” soup, and true to form, it is flexible. Besides pork, it may be made with chicken, beef, veal, small shrimp, or fillets of fish. The vegetables may be varied too, out of convenience, such as substituting fresh mushrooms for the dried Chinese mushrooms and shredded peeled broccoli stem for the bamboo shoots. Sharp and peppery, it’s an ideal cold-weather soup; it warms you from within, giving you a glowing sense of comfort.

Ingredients

  • ¼ pound lean pork, loin or butt

Slippery-coating

  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon dry sherry
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 4 dried black Chinese mushrooms (presoaked)
  • 1 tablespoon dried mo-er mushrooms (presoaked)
  • 16 to 20 Golden Needles (presoaked)
  • ¼ cup shredded bamboo shoots
  • 1 square fresh bean curd
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch dissolved in 3 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon sesame oil

Seasonings

  • tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Chenkong, cider, or red-wine vinegar
  • ½ to 1 teaspoon black pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon chili-pepper oil, optional
  • 4 cups chicken or meat stock
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh coriander or 1 small whole scallion, finely chopped

Method

Preparations

Cut the meat against the grain into ¼-inch-thick slices; stack them, then shred them. Place them in a bowl; add the slippery-coating ingredients in the order listed. Let it set in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Place the black mushrooms, the mo-er mushrooms, and Golden Needles in separate bowls. Pour about ½ cup hot water over each and let them soak for 30 minutes. When soft, rinse the black mushrooms briefly, squeeze dry very lightly, destem, and shred to about the same size as the meat. Rinse and shred the mo-er mushrooms the same way, discarding any hard “eyes.” Rinse and squeeze the Golden Needles lightly dry, sort them out into a bundle, cut off the knobby ends, then cut them crosswise in two. Rinse and drain the shredded bamboo shoots; cut the bean curd into ¼-inch shreds about 2 inches long. Place the ingredients on your working platter in separate piles and set aside. All these preparations may be done hours in advance; cover and refrigerate.

When ready to cook, dissolve the cornstarch and beat the egg in separate bowls. Measure the seasonings into the final serving bowl and set aside.

Cooking the soup

Bring the stock to a boil in a soup pot over high heat; Add the black Chinese mushrooms, the Golden Needles, and the bamboo shoots. Adjust heat to low and simmer, covered, for 5 minutes. Stir in the meat, raise heat, and when it boils again, add the bean curd and mo-er mushrooms. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for about 3 minutes. Give the cornstarch mixture a big stir and add to the soup slowly with one hand as you stir with the other until it is satiny smooth. Turn off the heat. Pour the beaten egg over the surface in a wide circle; as it congeals into floating ribbons, stir gently a few times to break them into chiffony flakes.

Pour the soup into the serving bowl that has the seasonings in it. Scatter the coriander or scallions on top, and stir the soup up from the bottom a few times at table before serving individual portions.

Placing the seasonings for mixed soups directly into the serving bowl is an established cooking habit of professional cooks in China. Ar-chang would never deviate from this practice, insisting the soup is more flavorful because the “fragrance” is intact in the serving bowl. I fully agree but you may season to taste after the soup is poured into the serving bowl.

STIR-FRIED VERSION

This is often done with “mixed” soups, especially when stock is not available. To give the soup a more vivid flavor, the meat and vegetables are stir-fried in oil with seasonings, then water is added instead of stock for a brief simmering.

Prepare everything exactly as before. When ready to cook, heat the soup pot over high heat until hot. Add 3 tablespoons oil, swirl, and heat for about 30 seconds. Scatter in the meat and stir quickly in swishing and shaking motions to break the lumps; toss the shreds rapidly for about 45 seconds in turning and folding motions all over the pan until they are no longer pink. Add the vegetables and stir them together for 30 seconds. Sprinkle in 1 tablespoon light soy sauce, 1 tablespoon dark soy sauce, and ½ teaspoon salt; stir well, then pour in 4 cups water and add the bean curd. When the water comes to a boil, turn heat to medium low to maintain a gentle simmering, cover, and simmer for 3 minutes. Adjust the flavor by adding more soy sauce to taste; then the black pepper and vinegar. Add the cornstarch, then the beaten egg as before. Pour into the serving bowl and scatter the coriander or scallion on top. While this version may be a little less rich, the flavor is nonetheless vivid.