Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Hot & Sour Soup Perfected

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Sichuan hot & sour soup. The tofu should be cut finer--I need more practice.

Another soup, this time one of my favorites.

Remember 6th Aunt in Hong Kong, the one who fell down and broke her ankle on her way out of the dim sum restaurant when we visited last year? She's in town and I managed to get her to cook her hot and sour soup today. 6th Aunt's hot & sour soup was absolutely elegant and tasty, making mine look unrefined and, to tell the truth, it tasted coarse compared to hers.

From coarse to fine is a matter of cutting skills and patience. 6th Aunt cut all her ingredients into tooth-pick julienne strips while I cut mine as thick as chopsticks. On the tongue, the 'chopsticks' are chunky while the 'toothpicks' are delicate. To the eyes too the 'chopsticks' look unappealing while the 'toothpicks' give a foretaste of a smooth-textured soup. I also learnt from 6th Aunt's advice of not using too much ingredients so that the soup won't be like a thick bowl of ingredients in a little bit of starchy soup. That was really how my hot & sour soup tasted, because I tend to have this cooking principle of 'the more ingredients the better', which isn't true for this soup. Adequate amount of ingredients suspended in a silky tasty soup should be the key to a fabulous bowl of hot & sour soup.

Since 6th Aunt cooked without measurement, the recipe below is not rocket-science accurate, and you'll have to adjust the amount of ingredients, seasoning and thickening. Eaten with some guotie and shui jiao, this soup truly tickles the tastebuds with the texture of the many ingredients, the taste ( hot, sour and xien) and flavors (Sichuan peppercorn oil and chili oil). One of my favorite soups, not made this way in any of the restaurants here and surprisingly very well done in Chinese restaurants in the USA, from what I remember.

I have chosen to use canned chicken stock because I think the majority of us don't have home-made chicken stock sitting in the fridge whenever we feel like having quick soups as this. You can brew your chicken stock of course but that's like taking a boat to Singapore (3 days) when you can fly there (2.5 hours).

Reminder: to make a great hot & sour soup, the ingredients must be sliced very thinly and there shouldn't be an overload of ingredients!

Hot & Sour Soup Perfected (serves 6-8)
2 cans chicken stock + 2 cans water (the water is to stretch the soup but you can use stock only)
1/2 small piece of white tofu (about 1/3 cup only), outer 'skin' sliced away n cut into thin strips
3 dried mushrooms, soaked, cut into 3-4 thin layers horizontally n then into very thin strips
1/4 cup cloud's ears (black fungus), soaked, stems discarded and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup golden needles (lily buds), soaked, hard ends snipped off n buds shredded
1/2 cup chicken breast meat, in thin strips, seasoned with sesame oil, salt, pepper n some cornsflour
1/4 cup seasoned ja cai* (a pickled veg), cut into thin strips
1 small egg, beaten lightly

*seasoned ja cai comes in little foil packets

Seasoning:
white pepper (about 1 t)
black vinegar (about 4 T)--I'm told 'jen jiang' vinegar is best
light soy sauce (about 3 T)
sesame oil (about 1 t)
red chili oil to drizzle
Sichuan peppercorn oil to drizzle

To thicken soup:
4-5 T cornflour + same amount of room temp water, mixed

1. Put the chicken stock and water to boil. Add mushrooms and fungus and boil for at least 15 minutes to release the flavor of the mushrooms.

2. Add two tablespoonfuls of water to the meat to help loosen it, add meat into the soup, stirring well to separate, and then add the lily buds. When it comes to a boil, add the tofu.

3. When soup comes to a boil again, add the ja cai. Mix the light soy sauce and the black vinegar in a small bowl (this way you can control the taste better) and add half to the soup, taste, then add more if necessary. Remember that the sourness will be more pronounced when the soup cools. You can add a cup of water if the stock level has gone down.

4. Now add the white pepper (should be quite a lot but if you have sissy eaters, add less pepper and serve extra pepper on the side) and the sesame oil and when the soup is in a rolling boil, add the cornstarch solution slowly, stirring. Check if you like the consistency and add more cornflour solution or water to thicken or thin the soup respectively. Remember that the soup must be heated through to get the cornflour solution to thicken it. Switch off the heat and pour the egg in in a slow trail, stirring the soup in large circles with your other hand holding a pair of chopsticks or fork to make 'egg flower'.

5. Taste and season if necessary, then ladle into individual bowls and drizzle with chili oil and Sichuan peppercorn oil. Serve hot.

22 comments:

Lily Anette said...

Love this soup!On cold days, it tastes best!

Sugar Bean said...

Chinese restaurants in the UK always have hot and sour soup in their menu, and it is something that I always order. Thanks for the recipe, I just need to buy some seasoning and start cooking! :)

Anonymous said...

A new avid reader of your blog..tried a few recipes and worked: choc molten cake, roast lamb etc..told so many ppl of your fab blog..do keep the great recipes rolling in. Got to know Lorraine through your blog too and got her to bake a few cakes which all turned out superb.Your blog and hers have become a must read daily..

Precious Pea said...

You know what Terry? We are quite identical in terms of taste. I lurve this soup as well...and i prefer to have some thinly slices of bamboo shoot as well. Yummy! Good job!

Johnathan Oh said...

Hi Terri, you mentioned that you must cut the skin of the tofu. Does this imply that it is 'dou gan'? But come to think of it, it should not be so I would guess it is silken tofu that you are talking about and if that is so, what is the point of cutting/trimming off the skin?

Is the ja cai = sze chuan cai? I tried making this long ago and like yours, mine is a whole bowlful of ingredients and embarrasing enough, they are chop-sticky too... I even had slices of bamboo shoots which is as big as my ears!

mott said...

I really love this soup! Thanks for sharing! I have always thought less is more..(but my hands do the complete opposite ~ Gah!). I love the fact that you mentioned how thinly sliced the ingredients have to be. I agree too..but again, my hands are too clumsy to slice it so finely!

TeaLady said...

oooo!!!! This sounds gooooood!

Agnes said...

Oh dear me this is one of my favourites!!!! O:

jinkar said...

This is one of my favourite soups. Thanks for the recipe. I have tried previously making it but must remember that "less" is more in this case. Mine was chockful of ingredients and was more like a watery stirfry ;) I have tried your other recipes (durian cream cake, maccha cheese cake) to my and my family's satisfaction. Looking forward to trying this one out.

Anonymous said...

did you forget put "mu er" the black, thin, and crunchy stuff ? sour and spicy soup should definitely include 'mu er' in slices, please. jim

terri@adailyobsession said...

lilyann: yes yes, great on cool days, not so good on hot. maybe bc it's thick. hey, sorry i got carried away n 4got about our chat the other day.

sugarbean: tell me how it turned out ok

anon: thnx dear. keep telling more ppl ok.

pp: yes, good tastebuds taste alike :D ah, i lov bamboo shoots in this soup too but it turned out i didn't hav any in my cupboard n was too lazy to zip out when guests were around.

johnathan: i used our local fresh tofu, not the boxed silken tofu. the local tofu has a slightly harder top n bottom 'skin' so it's better to slice them off.if u use the boxed silken tofu, there's no skin to take off. ja cai is sichuan veg but get those already cut n packed in small packets. they r seasoned n don't need to be washed unlike the wholesale ones in jars. but u still hav to cut them into toothpicks.

mott: am sure u can slice the ingredients thinly if u hav the patience.

terri@adailyobsession said...

tealady: bet u can get good hot n sour soup where u live

agnes: hav u found any restaurants here tt serves good hot n sour soup?

jinkar: tt is a very accurate description, watery stir-fry. am glad i learnt my mistake.

jim: 'mu er' is the thicker black fungus, better for stews. i used 'yun er', cloud's ears (see recipe) which is more delicate yet crunchy. n u r right, just like pp. yun er n bamboo shoots r essential to this soup.

npm said...

yummy soups! i love them all, looks so tempting! thanks for this soup recipe, will try it one fine day :)

J. Ambrose said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Agnes said...

Apparently No. :(~

I tasted the one in Emperor's Delight which its saddening because the Campbell's (they use to have canned hot and sour soup before)one are even better!!!

MP said...

Help! Terri ;)
The recipe said the "jen jiang" black vinegar is best. When i looked for it in the supermkt, there are different brands, all saying it comes from "jen jiang". Which one do you use? What is the name label on the bottle so that it helps me to search for it correctly cos the diff brands have diff ingredients n it was confusing for me :P

I also want to confirm that black vinegar is different from black rice vinegar?
Thks alot

terri@adailyobsession said...

npm: gorgeous cupcakes u made!

agnes: there i told u so :()

mp: we can't get it here n i don't even know how the bottle looks like. my MIL said the 'jen' is the word for real, with the would for gold on the left. i guess this doesn't help if u get many jen jiang vinegar...all d vinegar r made of rice but i think u shd go for the one tt just says jen jiang vinegar, n it shd be black not white or red. tell me if u find the real thing. i'm told it's the best vinegar for thick soups like sharks' fins soup n hot n sour soup. am hungry thinking of these soups...

terri@adailyobsession said...

mp: 3rd line 'would' shd be 'word'

npm said...

thanks for the compliment Terri ;).

anyway, i wanna say that i really enjoy your writings. they're lively, engaging and amusing at times. fyi, the elusive baking ingredient shop near Raffles Hotel is located outside of it, on Seah Street, which is on the right hand-side of the hotel and an office building (when standing outside facing the hotel's main facade). i thk it's called Sun Lik & they have kind of a bad hair day attitude sometimes. well, in yr next trip here, you'll surely be able to find it. if you really love baking, there are a few other good bakeware shops here.

glad to have stumbled upon yr blog ;). you have a lovely fmly. do keep posting!

Siew said...

One of my favorite soup too and your pictures are getting better and better.

Fei-Szai said...

Hi Terri,
What brand of the chicken broth did you use for the hot and sour soup? Can I substitute with granule/cube?
Thanks!

terri@adailyobsession said...

fei szai: just saw ur comment. i use swanson's chicken broth. you can use maggi stock cubes but i find them too heavily msg-ed.

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