Saturday, November 28, 2015

Gail's Hot & Sour Soup

This quote on Facebook from my high school friend Melinda prompted me to share my wife's recipe for hot and sour soup.
"Was excited to read some homemade hot and sour soup recipes until I got to one whose ingredients completely turned me off: "This silky version includes traditional ingredients like earthy tree ear fungus, tender bamboo shoots and lily buds." TREE EAR FUNGUS???? Turkey vegetable it is."
I strongly encourage you to not let "fungus" turn you off. It's just a funny translation of "mushroom." Here is a picture of the three odd ingredients in the recipe:

On the left is the dried lily flower, which is also called golden needles and in Melinda's recipe, lily buds. They are the strange ingredient. They are a rolled up lily flower petal. The middle ingredient is simply labeled "dried mushrooms," and are also called black mushrooms, but they are simply Shiitake mushrooms. You want the dried ones because they are much more flavorful. The third package is Melinda's tree ear fungus. The package is labeled "dried black fungus," and they are also called tree ear or wood ear mushrooms. They are just a mushroom. We see small ones growing on oak trees in our own yard.

We found these bags at H Mart, but they are available in any Asian grocery.

Gail's recipe is the result of many increasingly better attempts until this excellent soup emerged. The key bit of advice from a friend of hers was, "No hot oil; white pepper." We like it thick, but the nice thing here is you can tune the hot by varying the white pepper, the sour with the vinegar, and the thickness with the cornstarch.

Gail's Hot & Sour Soup
Quadruple the recipe to use a whole can of bamboo shoots and a whole lb. of tofu.
Makes: 4 c
Hands-on prep time: 30 min
Start-to-finish time: 2 hr

1 oz uncooked chicken

8 dried black mushrooms
6 pieces dried wood ears (1 T)
6 pieces dried golden needles (1 T)
4 c vegetable stock

¼ c bamboo shoots
4 oz tofu

½ t white pepper
4 oz can mushrooms in liquid

2 T brown sugar
2 T soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar

1 T chopped scallion
1 egg
¼ t sesame oil

3 T plus 2 t firmly packed cornstarch
¼ c water

Heavy soup pot with cover
  1. Defrost chicken if necessary; soak black mushrooms, wood ears and golden needles in stock 30 min.
  2. While dried vegetables soak, drain and rinse bamboo shoots; cut into matchsticks; cut tofu into ½” cubes; cook chicken and cut into matchsticks. 
  3. When dried vegetables are softened, remove from stock; cut into matchsticks, discard any hard stems. If bouillon is used for stock, make sure it is completely dissolved. 
  4. Combine stock, soaked vegetables, bamboo shoots, tofu, chicken, white pepper and canned mushrooms, including liquid, in pot; bring to boil. 
  5. When soup boils, reduce heat; cover; simmer 30 min. 
  6. Stir brown sugar, soy sauce and vinegar into simmered soup. Taste and correct seasonings. Recipe can be paused at this point. Reheat to boiling before continuing. 
  7. Remove soup from heat; chop scallion; beat egg; mix in sesame oil; set aside. Dissolve cornstarch in water; stir into soup; return to med-high heat, stirring constantly, until liquid thickens slightly and becomes translucent, 1-2 min. Do not stop stirring for even a moment or else cornstarch mixture will sink to bottom and form an unappetizing glob! 
  8. Slowly add egg mixture, stirring for a count of 5 (to keep egg from cooking in one big piece), then letting sit undisturbed for a count of 5 (so egg isn’t completely incorporated into broth). 
  9. Serve immediately, topped with chopped scallion. 
Substitute pork or shrimp for chicken, or eliminate meat and egg entirely for a vegan version.

Warning: Reheat on the stove since this soup explodes in a microwave when hot enough to eat, even with short heatings separated by frequent stirrings.

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