One of Szechwan’s most common soups, and to my mind one of her most charming, is this peppery, light blend of soft shredded pork, crunchy Szechwan pickle, and slippery glass noodles. The pickle, actually knobs of cabbage root preserved in a chili-type paste that one rinses off before using, lends an irresistible spice to the soup. It is clean and refreshing and unassumingly simple, the kind of soup for which China is best known.
Cut the pork crosswise against the grain into thin slices a scant ¼ inch thick. Shred the slices against the grain into slivers a scant ¼ inch wide. Cut long slivers into 1½-inch lengths. Blend the marinade ingredients until smooth and combine with the pork, stirring with your fingers to coat and separate each shred. Seal the pork airtight, then refrigerate 30 minutes or overnight to set the marinade and swell the pork with its flavors.
Rinse the preserved vegetable under cool water, rubbing to remove the reddish coating from the knobs. Pat dry, then slice into matchstick shreds about ⅛ inch thin and 1¼ inches long. (You should have ⅓ cup shreds.)
Soak the noodles in warm or hot tap water to cover until rubber-band firm, about 30 seconds, the timing and water temperature to depend on the noodles. Do not let them get mushy. With scissors, cut the noodles through the loop ends of the skein, into 4–5-inch lengths. Cut and discard the rubber bands or strings, then drain and rinse the noodles.
The pickle and noodles may be refrigerated overnight.
Have all the ingredients within easy reach of your stovetop. Put a large serving bowl or several individual soup bowls in a low oven to warm.
About 5–10 minutes before serving, bring the stock in a heavy saucepan to a steaming near-simmer over moderate heat. Add the pickle, stir to disperse the threads, then let it sit under cover for 1 minute to infuse the broth with its peppery flavor. Uncover the pot, raise the heat to maintain a gentle simmer, then stir the pork shreds to loosen them and slide them into the soup. Stir once or twice to scatter the shreds, and simmer until the meat turns gray, about 20 seconds. Add the drained noodles, stir to blend, and simmer the soup gently for 2 minutes more.
Add the soy and pepper to the pot, stir to combine, then taste the soup carefully and adjust as required to get a zesty, invigorating taste. Scatter in the scallion rings and turn off the heat.
Ladle the soup into warm bowls, using chopsticks or tongs to portion the slippery noodles and the pork shreds between them. Serve at once.
The Chinese style is to eat the noodles and pork with chopsticks, then sip the broth directly from the bowl—a fine way to enjoy the aroma and treat your lips to the peppery taste.
This soup does not reheat well. It is best made just before serving and then eaten up on the spot. Leftovers, if you have them, are best reheated by steaming in a covered bowl.
© 1982 Barbara Tropp estate. All rights reserved.