Chinese hot and sour soup - starts with 5 tips to a delicious sour, spicy and savory soup followed by 7 recipes containing a variety of ingredients used frequently in this kind of soup.
The Chinese hot and sour soup is a common homemade soup from the 四川 (si chuan) province in China. It became popular because it is a winner on all fronts.
It has complex taste; sour, spicy and savory all at the same time.
It has interesting texture; smooth, slightly thickened and crunchy
It has a winning look; colourful with a tinge of gloss.
Hot and sour soup - Wing Loong Restaurant. Photo by avlxyz
It makes a great appetizer as the palate is stimulated or awakened by its spiciness and tartness. It warms the stomach and preps the palate for the food coming after. In a chinese banquet, a variation of a hot and sour soup is usually served as the first dish or second dish.
The slightly thickened consistency adds to its charm. It also helps cut down the greasiness of a meal and aids digestion.
You may have never tried making hot and sour soup because you thought it looks difficult. Or you have tried but it tasted bland. It is actually not difficult to wow your palate and those belonging to friends and family with this soup.
I am going to let you in on a few tips on how to make this delicious pot of soup:
1. Use a soup stock
Do not use plain water to make hot and sour soup. To those who cook often, this might not seem like a secret. But I have come across so many friends who did not know that they should use a soup stock until I told them.
If only water is used, there isn't enough time for the ingredients to impart any flavor to the soup. This is the major cause of soup blandness.
You can make a chicken or vegetable stock from scratch or buy ready-made ones or use stock cubes.
2. Use natural vinegar
Do not use cheap white vinegar to make this soup. This is from personal experience. I tried it once when I was still a poor student and budget-conscious. I did not know that the cheap white vinegar sold in supermarkets is not made from natural ingredients.
Rice vinegar is preferred and I like the dark ones because it adds a tinge of sweetness and has a more earthy tone.
Do not add the vinegar too early in the cooking process. Overcooking dulls the sharpness of the vinegar. Best to add it last.
3. Thicken soup first before egg drop
Many hot and sour soups have beaten egg in them. The sequence of adding the beaten egg is important. Soup thickening requires constant stirring to prevent lumping. If beaten egg was added first, you wouldn't be able to create visible streaks. It would be too broken and also overcooked.
To create nice egg streaks, guide the egg into the soup with a fork or a pair of chopsticks instead of pouring free hand. You can stream the egg in a circular motion over the soup. Let it stand for a while to set. Then, gently stir the soup to create the streaks.
You do not have to maintain a constant stream of beaten egg. You can stop pouring or streaming. Some people add the egg one spoonful at a time. Do that if you want more control but it is a tad slow. :P
4. Thickening is an art
Hot and sour soup is frequently thickened with cornstarch. There is no exact amount. Add the cornstarch mixture until the soup reaches your desired consistency. If in doubt, add less and check. It is easier to add more cornstarch mixture to soup.
Cornstarch mixture is made by adding equal amount of cornstarch to cold or room temperature water and stirring quickly to combine them. Cornstarch do not dissolve in the water. If left to stand for too long, the cornstarch will settle to the bottom of the mixture. A lot of cooks prepare the cornstarch mixture just before needing them. Or remember to give it a quick stir before adding to your hot soup.
Another name for cornstarch mixture is cornstarch slurry.
5. Cut ingredients into similar sizes
Almost all the ingredients in a chinese hot and sour soup require a fair bit of cutting like shredding and dicing. Use the mandoline if necessary. The beauty of this soup is that you can taste all the different ingredients in one spoonful.
7 Hot and Sour Soup Recipes
This type of soup can be simple or complicated. It can be basic or extravagant. It all depends on the ingredients used. Common ingredients include tofu, pork or chicken, bamboo shoot, carrot and egg.
Let's start cooking with a fairly straightforward recipe with ingredients that can be found easily.
1. Soft tofu, chicken, pork and Chinese mushrooms
30g soft tofu
15g chicken breast
15g lean pork
15g fresh Chinese mushrooms
1 egg, beaten
500ml chicken broth
1.5 tbsp ground white pepper
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp rice vinegar
3g chopped spring onion
Dash of sesame oil
Slice the tofu and mushrooms into thin strips
Cook the chicken breast and lean pork and tear into shreds
Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a pot
Add the mushrooms, chicken breast, lean pork and tofu
Add the soy sauce to taste
Bring the soup back to a gentle simmer
Place the cornstarch into a small bowl and add enough water to dissolve the cornstarch
Add the cornstarch mixture to the soup to thicken the soup. Add the mixture slowly until you reach the desired consistency
Using a pair of chopstick, guide the beaten egg into the soup
Place the pepper and rice vinegar into the serving bowl
Pour the soup into the serving bowl and combine the seasonings and soup well
Sprinkle the sesame seed oil and spring onion before serving
Besides Chinese mushrooms, other types of mushrooms / fungus are quite common in the Chinese hot and sour soup. Shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms and black fungus.
Shiitake mushroom is meaty while enoki offers a soft crunch. I like chewing on enoki mushrooms because each bite releases flavorsome juices.
Enoki is my favourite. It can be used in stir-fries, barbeque and because they are already of the correct size. Just need to trim off the roots and cut them into half. *wink*
The combination of bamboo shoot, carrot, Chinese mushrooms and enoki mushrooms in thin strips in a slightly thickened soup is a classic texture.
250g lean pork
150g bamboo shoot
6 dried Chinese mushrooms
50g enoki mushrooms
1 stalk Chinese celery
6 cups soup stock
Salt and ground white pepper
2 tbsp cornstarch solution
1 tbsp sesame seed oil
1 tbsp black vinegar
Wash the pork and slice into thin strips
Peel the carrot and bamboo shoot and slice into thin strips
Soak the dried Chinese mushrooms until softened, remove the stalks and slice into thin strips
Trim off the ends or root of the enoki mushrooms and rinse in salt water. Cut into half if they are too long
Bring the soup to a boil in a pot
Add the bamboo shoot, Chinese mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, and carrot and bring back to a boil
Add the pork slices
Lower the heat and simmer until the carrot and bamboo shoots are cooked and soft
Add salt and pepper to taste
Thicken the soup slightly with the cornstarch solution
Wash and finely chop the Chinese celery
Garnish the soup with Chinese celery and black vinegar before serving
Black fungus is also known as wood ear, Judas or tree ear fungus. As the name suggests, it is a fungus that grows on trees. Some may think this is a exotic or bizarre food. But try it anyway. It is good for the heart, blood cholesterol and digestion.
Try to find young fresh bamboo shoot. The canned version is also okay. Avoid the ones that are soaked in oil. Dark or balsamic vinegar has a rather earthy tone which matches the texture of the black fungus and bamboo shoot.
Wash and soak the black fungus for about 1 hour in room temperature water until rehydrated
Slice the rehydrated fungus into long thin strips
Wash the pork tenderloin slice into long thin strips
Peel, wash and shred the carrot and bamboo shoot
Blanch the carrot and bamboo in boiling water and drain
Slice both carrot and bamboo into long thin strips or use a mandoline to shred them
Wash the ginger and spring onion and chop both finely
Beat the eggs lightly
Heat the cooking oil in a wok
Stir fry the spring onion and ginger until slightly aromatic
Then add the pork, black fungus, carrot and bamboo shoot
Fry them thoroughly
Add the soup stock, soy sauce, salt and pepper
Bring to a boil
Add the cornstarch mixture and stir to thicken the soup slightly
Remove from the heat, stream the beaten egg and stir the soup gently
Drizzle the black vinegar before serving
4. Pork, black fungus, carrot and celery
Dried black fungus. Photo by Phoebe Lim
Instead of bamboo shoot, this recipe has celery.
100g lean pork
20g black fungus
2 pieces ginger
2 eggs, beaten
6 cups soup stock
2 tbsp cornstarch mixture
2 tbsp cooking oil
Salt and ground white pepper to taste
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 stalk spring onion, chopped
2 stalks coriander, chopped
Soak the black fungus until soft
Wash the lean pork, black fungus, carrot and celery, coriander and ginger
Slice the pork, black fungus, carrot and celery into thin strips
Chop the coriander and ginger finely
Bring a pot of water to a boil and parboil the pork, fungus, carrot and celery for about 5 minutes
Drain and leave aside
Heat the cooking oil in a pot and fry the ginger till brown
Add the pork, black fungus, carrot and celery and fry quickly
Add the soup stock and bring to a boil
Add the salt and pepper to taste
Thicken the soup with the cornstarch mixture to the desired consistency
Remove from heat and stream the beaten egg in using a pair of chopsticks
Place the rice vinegar into the serving bowl and pour the soup over it
Give it a quick stir
Garnish with the chopped spring onion and coriander
5. Black fungus, shiitake mushrooms, bamboo shoot and tiger lily buds
Dried black fungus on the left and dried tiger lily buds on the right. Photo by Mary Helen Leonard
4 cups of vegetarian soup stock
25g bamboo shoot
100g soft tofu
25g dried shiitake mushrooms
25g black fungus or wood ear
25g dried tiger lily buds or golden needles 金针花干 (jin zhen hua)
2.5 tbsp cooking oil
2 tbsp cornstarch mixture
10g coriander leaves
This is a vegetarian soup, but even without meat, it is luxurious. Dried shiitake mushrooms and tiger lily buds have a comforting smoky and earthly flavor.
1 tbsp soy sauce
1.5 tbsp rice vinegar
Ground white pepper
Wash and boil the bamboo shoot if it is fresh. Skip this step if you are using canned bamboo shoot
Soak the dried mushrooms and black fungus in warm water until soft
Cut the bamboo shoot, mushrooms and black fungus into thin strips
Wash and soak the dried lily buds
Cut the soft tofu into thin slices
Chop the coriander finely
Heat the cooking oil in a pot
Add the bamboo shoot and fry quickly
Add the soup stock
Add the lily buds, black fungus, and tofu
Bring to a boil
Add soy sauce and test the taste
Thicken the soup with the cornstarch mixture until the desired consistency
Place the rice vinegar and pepper into the serving bowl and mix well
Pour the soup into the serving bowl
Garnish with chopped coriander and serve
The recipes so far have used only vinegar to flavor the soup. The next recipe uses tomato and spicy preserved vegetable to add a tartness different from vinegar. This makes the soup a bit more complex and interesting.
The preserved vegetable used here is known as 榨菜 (zha cai) in mandarin. It is actually made from a thick knobby stemmed mustard. The part that is eaten is the stem part. It can be very salty and spicy so it is normally sliced thinly or into strips.
Use a fresh firm tomato. To peel the tomato, score the skin with a sharp knife and then blanch quickly in hot water. The skin will contract and curl away from the flesh.
I usually do not remove the tomato seeds but add them to the hot and sour soup. It is up to you. I suggest removing only if you really do not like them or if you are serving the soup to the elderly or people with digestive issues.
Clean and slice the lean pork into thin strips
Marinate with wine, salt and cornstarch
Soak the black fungus till soft
Cut the black fungus, preserved vegetable, spring onion and ginger into thin strips
Peel the tomato, remove seeds and slice into thin strips
Cut the tofu into thin strips
Combine the dark vinegar, soy sauce and pepper
Heat the oil in a pot
Add the preserved bean paste and fry quickly
Add the lean pork strips and fry briefly
Remove the pork strips and leave aside
Add the soup stock into the pot and add the ginger, black fungus strips
Bring the soup to a boil
Add the tofu, preserved vegetable, pork strips and tomato
Add the combined vinegar, soy sauce and pepper
Bring the soup back to a boil
Thicken soup with the cornstarch mixture
Stream the egg in, using a pair of chopstick
Remove from heat, garnish with chopped spring onion
7. Vegetarian hot and sour soup
See the Chinese black moss on top of the steamed dumplings. Photo by Avlxyz
This is the final recipe and it is a vegetarian one.
It contains a bizarre ingredient - 发菜 (fa cai). It is a type of edible hair-like moss. Once it is cooked, it softens and clings to the surface of other ingredients. It has the same sound as prosperity in mandarin which is why the Chinese likes to use it in our new year dishes.
The other new ingredient is salted vegetable 咸菜 (xian cai). This is a type of preserved vegetable but not the preserved vegetable introduced earlier on. This one consists mostly of the leaves of the vegetables and is preserved with salt.
5g 发菜 (fa cai)
110g needle mushroom (enoki mushrooms)
4 shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
85g 咸菜 salted vegetable, cut into thin strips
1 firm tofu, cut into thin strips
1 carrot, cut into strips
3-4 red chilli, remove seeds and sliced
85g vegetable cooking oil
1 litre vegetarian soup stock
cornstarch mixture (2 tbsp with 60ml water)
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
60ml dark vinegar
1 tbsp rice vinegar
2 tsp sesame seed oil
1 tbsp chopped coriander
Seasoning B should be added just before serving. You can set them on the dining table and allow your guests to add them on their own.
Soak the salted vegetable in water for 30 minutes, drain, wash and cut into thin strips
Soak the black moss in water for 20 minutes and drain
Heat the oil in a wok, fry the shiitake mushrooms for about a minute
Add the tofu, carrot, salted vegetable, chilli, fa cai and enoki mushrooms
Stir fry the ingredients well, add the soup stock and seasoning A
When soup boils, lower heat and simmer for 2 minutes
Add the cornstarch mixture and bring soup back to a boil and thickens
Turn off the heat, add the beaten egg
Before serving, add seasoning B
Quick and easy
Making Chinese hot and sour soup from scratch is great but are there times when you just aren't up to cooking yet crave the comfort of a hot and sour soup?
Or you are not up to stocking your larder with too many Chinese condiments. Or worse! You ran out! May I recommend stocking up the following:
This pre-packed soup mix is really easy to use. There are instructions on the back of the packet. It comes in 50g vacuum-packed pouch. No added monosodium glutamate, preservatives and artificial colors. The sodium is a bit high which is quite normal for processed food items. As long as you eat in moderation, I think it is handy to have a small stash of this soup packs in your larder for rainy days.