Chinese hot and sour soup 酸辣湯 is a traditional northern Chinese favorite packed with the acidity of Zhenjiang vinegar, the spiciness of the white pepper and the nuttiness of sesame oil.
The flavor becomes even more complex with the inclusion of bamboo shoot, dry mushrooms, wood ear fungus and finishes with a beaten egg pour high above the soup to form multiple small egg ribbons floating on the thick soup.
You only need twenty minutes to prepare it. Make it at home to warm your family (and their hearts) with this utterly delicious soup with the iconic flavors of Northern Chinese cuisine.
This recipe is very close to the original hot and sour soup in Northern China, although I have left out ingredients such as ‘black tofu’ (see section 2 below) which is too exotic for most people.
I can assure you that it is way better than many substandard hot and sour soup that is merely a tasteless, gloopy mess of cornstarch paste.
Let’s take a look how to prepare the Chinese hot and sour soup in detail:
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Step one- Preparing the meat.
You need some lean meat to make this soup. The meat can be either pork or chicken. Use the pork loin, and breast if it is chicken.
- There are two ways to prepare the meat.
You can put the whole piece of meat into the boiling water and let it boil until it is cooked. Remove the pork from the pot, and keep the water as the stock for making the soup. Place the meat on the chopping board and cut it into julienne.
- The second method is to cut the raw meat into the julienne and marinate it with light soy sauce, oil, and cornstarch. You only need to marinate the small pieces of pork for fifteen minutes. Marination enhances the flavor of the meat, and the cornstarch can make the meat to be velvety smooth. I am using this method in my recipe.
Are you a vegetarian?
You can omit the meat for a vegetarian version. Just add more of other ingredients slightly.
Watch the videoRead on: Watch the video recipe at the end of this post
Step two- Preparing other ingredients
There are many variations of this soup. However, tofu, mushrooms, egg, and wood ear fungus can be found in almost every recipe. Here is a list of the common ingredients for this soup.
The traditional hot and sour soup recipe call for Chinese dry shiitake mushroom. Soak the mushrooms in water until it is fully hydrated and become very soft and easy to cut. The time required varies from an hour to two or three hours, as it depends on the thickness of the mushrooms. If you have enough time, soak it in advance or even overnight. (Note: they will not be ‘over-soaked’) Otherwise, soak the mushroom in hot water to speed up the process.
Remove the stem, cut the mushroom into thin slices. Set aside.
- Tips: the water for soaking the mushrooms has loads of flavor. Use it as part of the liquid to make the soup.
You can use other types of mushroom as the substitute. The best alternative is button mushrooms. Cut the mushrooms into thin slices as the dry shiitake, minus the steps of soaking it.
Bamboo shoot is the essential ingredients of hot and sour soup. I am using the vacuum pack bamboo shoot imported from China, but I know that some places selling it in cans. You may also be able to get it online.
Cut the bamboo shoot into thin slices. I use about two tablespoons of bamboo shoot slices. You can increase the amount if you like the crunchiness of the bamboo shoot. I remember a Chinese chef mentioned in a TV program that cut it lengthwise instead of crosswise can increase the crunchiness.
Wood ear fungus
Word ear fungus is an ingredient which is very Chinese.
You need to soak the dry fungus with water, just like the dry shiitake mushroom. The fungus will expand in size and turn soft once it is fully hydrated. Drain and remove the hard luster in the center. Cut the wood ear fungus into fine julienne. Set aside.
Wood ear fungus has a crunchy and slippery texture which is quite distinct from any other food ingredients that I ever know.
The ideal tofu for this soup should be soft, but it can be difficult to handle. I usually buy the block tofu and cut it carefully into two. Then use a chef knife to it into slices and then julienne it. The trick to cut tofu by not breaking it is to use the ‘minced’ action, chopping it with an up-down action, not slicing it.
Transfer the tofu strips to a plate and set aside. You should add the tofu to the soup after all the ingredients (except the egg) are cooked since it can break easily.
You may also add some carrot to make the soup more colorful. Since other ingredients are julienne, the carrot is of no exception.
Coagulated pig blood (a.k.a black tofu)
This item is not my favorite. The name does terrify some people, even to the Chinese. So they invent a much acceptable term black tofu (黑豆腐) to avoid mentioned it directly. The closest western food I can think off is the black pudding of the staple English breakfast.
It does look like a piece of tofu, which is an authentic ingredient for the traditional hot and sour soup of Northern China. If you are are looking for the most authentic hot and sour soup, go for it. Otherwise, skip it which is what most people do nowadays.
Add a few slices of ginger to the soup to make the flavor. Since we only want the flavor of ginger, discard it after the cooking.
The egg is another must-have ingredient for the soup. I will elaborate on how to add it to the soup in step 4.
You may also want to try out the Chinese Chicken and Corn Soup on this blog.
Step three- Preparing the seasonings.
The combination of vinegar, white pepper, and sesame oil create the flavor high is iconic to the hot and sour soup
The sourness of the soup comes from the vinegar. Zhenjiang vinegar 镇江醋 is best of this soup, and the close alternative will be the red vinegar 浙醋。Zhenjiang vinegar has a sharper sourness note than the red vinegar. Red vinegar is mellower than Zhenjiang vinegar and used primarily as one of the ingredients for marinade and sauces.
Vinegar should only add during the final step of cooking since it will volatile and lost flavor after prolonged cooking.
Add a teaspoon of sesame oil in the final step. We want the flavor of sesame. So it should never be substituted with other oils.
Ground white pepper
The hotness of the soup originates from the pepper, not the chili. Ground white pepper is used for this soup by everyone, not black pepper.
The white pepper will release a bitter taste if heated for too long. Add it to the soup in the final step of cooking.
Chili bean paste (Toban Djan) 豆瓣醬
This sauce provides the flavor of chili pepper and the broad bean paste. It is the convenient way to add Szechuan flavor to any cuisine. Some people will skip this by adding some chili oil to the soup to provide the hotness of chili paper and create the signature red hue of the hot and sour soup.
Light soy sauce
Add some light soy sauce to marinate the meat and to the soup. Soy sauce is the magic seasoning ingredient for the Chinese cooking which is high on umami.
Dark soy sauce
A small amount of dark soy sauce help to darken the color of the soup, You will see the familiar color of the hot and sour soup once you add the dark soy sauce and the chili bean paste into the broth.
Step four- Cook and serve
Add the cornflour slurry before, not after forming the egg drops.
The corn flour will thicken the soup, and give the soup a smooth mouthfeel. Adding the right amount of cornflour slurry until you get the desired consistency.
Beat the egg. Pour the egg liquid into the soup by dropping it at a high position slowly in circular motion. Wait for a second or two and use the ladle to push the egg strands around lightly. The egg strands will break into short pieces and form many small ribbons.
Do not over stir the eggs. That is why I always adjust the consistency and flavor of the soup before adding the eggs.
Final adjustment of the flavor
Add the Zhenjiang vinegar, white pepper and sesame oil to the soup. The three ingredients are added last as prolonged cooking can reduce the intensity of their flavor.
You can now have the final adjustment of the flavor. Add more vinegar and pepper if you want a more intense flavor or some extra soy sauce for stronger umami.
Turn your hot and sour soup into a savory soup noodle.
Make a twist of the easy hot and sour recipe with some added lamian (Chinese handmade noodles) for a complete meal.
The noodles behave like a sponge, soaking up all the flavors from the thick soup.
You can make the soup more concentrated by reducing the amount of water or increasing the seasoning (vinegar, salt bean paste, soy sauce, etc.) to take care of the dilution by the noodles.
Blanch the noodles in a pot of water until the noodles are soft and al dente. You can refer to the instruction on the packaging as it varies from brand to brand. Drain the noodles and place it in a large ceramic bowl. Ladle the hot and sour soup on it and garnish with some chopped scallions.
The ingredients of the soup can be varied too. Use scallop or shrimps in place of meat for the seafood version, make a chicken hot and sour soup or omit the meat if you prefer it to be vegetarian.
Watch this video
A picture worth a thousand words, a video worth a thousand images.
This video will show you how to prepare Chinese hot and sour soup. (8.35 minutes)
(Note: If you encounter any audio / visual problem of viewing this video, you can view it from YouTube by clicking this link , which will open in a new tab)
The Hot and Sour Soup Recipe
Hot and sour soup 酸辣湯 is a traditional northern Chinese favorite packed with the acidity of Zhenjiang vinegar, the spiciness of the white pepper and the nuttiness of sesame oil.
- 2 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
- 1 tablespoon water
- Cut the pork loin into fine julienne. Marinate with the light soy sauce, vegetable oil and cornstarch for 15 minutes.
- Soak the dry mushrooms and wood ear fungus until they are soft and fully hydrated. Cut them into fine julienne.
- Cut three slices of ginger and set aside.
- Cut the carrots into julienne.
- Cut the tofu into strips.
- Bring the water to a boil. Cook the meat for half a minute. Then add the remaining ingredients in (B)into the pot and boil for two minutes.
- Add ingredients (C)
- Thicken the soup with the cornstarch slurry.
- Remove from heat. Add ingredients in (E). Mix well and serve.
You may also need the following items for this recipe:
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