Hot and sour soup

Man. Just when I thought I’d licked this cold, it bounced back up for another round.

Last time I tried to tame the ickiness with a kiss of citrus. This time, I’m bringing out the big guns: capsaicin, and lots of it. I wanted to save this recipe for Christmas, but desperate times call for desperate measures.

It’s hot and sour soup time.

I’m dating a man whose philosophy when it comes to his favorite foods is, if a little is good, more is better. He will stuff himself until he hurts, and then take a few more bites for good measure. Hot and sour soup is his most favoritest kind of soup.

We eat a lot of hot and sour soup.

So when our friend Molly (she of the delicious Passover brisket) learned to make a simple version of hot and sour soup at a cooking class, there was absolutely no question that the recipe would be making its way into Sam’s hands–and shortly thereafter into mine.

Turns out, it’s remarkably easy to make hot and sour soup at home–that familiar tart-meaty broth, glossy and dark, with a terrific pepper bite. This particular recipe doesn’t strike me as being super-authentic, but it hits the classic American-Chinese comfort food spot just fine. It’s an easy weeknight dish, too, with everything coming together in half an hour tops.

Interestingly, this is the second soup in a row I’ve made that involves beaten egg. And it’s a classic example of how a small switch in technique yields an entirely different result. Instead of tempering the egg to produce a thick, creamy liquid, the egg in hot and sour soup is gently stirred straight into the hot broth, where it breaks into thousands of wispy strands. Cooking: it really is magic.

Tonight I made a batch of soup and put in about as much hot sauce and pepper as I could possibly stand. It’s too early to tell, but I think the blast of spice might have finally done the job. Onward and upward to less-sniffly cooking endeavors!

Hot and Sour Soup (serves 4)

Adapted from Draeger’s Cooking School, via my friend Molly

2 tbsp peanut or vegetable oil

1/4 lb boneless pork loin OR boneless skinless chicken breast, sliced into 1/8-inch-wide strips

1/2 cup thinly sliced white button mushrooms*

4 cups (1 quart or 32 oz) chicken broth (low-sodium, if storebought)

3 tbsp soy sauce or tamari

1-2 tsp chili garlic sauce or hot chili paste (I used Sriracha)

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

1/4 cup distilled white vinegar

1/3 cup (about half a can) bamboo shoots, drained and julienned

3 oz firm tofu, sliced into 1/4-inch-wide strips

2 – 3 tsp cornstarch (the more cornstarch, the thicker the soup)

1 egg, beaten

2 scallions, trimmed and sliced

1/2 tsp toasted sesame oil

*If you can find wood ear mushrooms, use half wood ears and half regular mushrooms in the soup. They’re most often sold dried; reconstitute them by soaking in hot water for 30 minutes before thinly slicing.

In a medium saucepan, heat peanut oil over medium-high heat. Add pork or chicken and stir-fry just until it becomes opaque, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms and stir-fry 1 additional minute.

Add broth to pan and bring to simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, add soy sauce and chili sauce, and simmer for 5 minutes. Add white pepper, vinegar, bamboo shoots and tofu, and simmer another 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, dissolve cornstarch in an equal amount of cold water to make a slurry. Stir cornstarch slurry into soup, return to simmer, and let bubble for 3-5 minutes, or until the soup has thickened. Slowly drizzle beaten egg into the hot soup, stirring constantly, and let simmer another 30 seconds. Taste and adjust for seasoning; add more soy sauce, chili sauce or vinegar as you desire.

Remove soup from heat, stir in scallions and sesame oil, and ladle into bowls. If this doesn’t clear out your sinuses, I don’t know what will.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Hot and sour soup

  1. molly

    Yay! I also made this again tonight.

  2. Veronika

    I absolutely love the Chinese-restaurant style hot and sour soup and this looks and sounds just like it! Shame bf cannot have egg whites, so I would have to leave eggs out (I doubt dumping some beaten yolk in would result in the same lovely wisps as it does with whole egg), but the rest of it, oh, I have to try!

    I have been wanting to take a trip out to the Chinese supermarkets (I nearly typoed soupermarkets and laughed at myself – it’s telling what I am thinking of!) because I have decided to make Pad Thai and now I am a bit obsessed with that (and it requires a half a ton of ingredients which do not scare me but which do not live in regular super), so may as well get the wood ear shrooms and the like!

  3. --Greg

    Came for the Limbaugh essay, stayed for the hot and sour soup recipe. I’ll probably double the sesame oil because I’m, well, crazy, but the rest of the recipe’s solid. Better than antibiotics.

  4. edelmanrachel

    Zoe, I’ve been fighting off a cold this week, so I decided to make a big pot of this soup. I thought I’d share some modifications: First, I’m vegetarian, so the chicken and pork were out, as well as the broth. Instead, I bought some (cheap) dried shitaakes (1 oz), put them in 4 cups of water and brought the pot to a boil, then removed them from the heat and let them soak for 20 minutes or so with the ends of the green onions. I doubled the quantity of mushrooms and added about a tablespoon each of grated ginger and minced garlic when I put the mushrooms in. Cold begone!

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