The classic hot and sour soup is a staple of Chinese cuisine, and has a great flavor and complexity even though it takes mere minutes to prepare and cook.
Many versions of hot and sour soups are found throughout eastern Asia but the type most Americans are familiar with is from the Sichuan or central China region. It is a careful hodgepodge of lean meat, dried mushrooms, tofu and bamboo shoots that is simply spiced with pepper and soy sauce. Traditional versions can be thickened with pig’s blood, but Western soups use egg or a cornstarch slurry.
Of course, the named hot and sour elements here are the white pepper and vinegar, respectively, which are added to finish the dish. Both have volatile flavor compounds that can fade quickly once introduced to heat, so include these as close to serving as possible for the freshest effect. The ratio of each can be adjusted for individual preference, and leftovers may have a noticeably softer taste.
This recipe calls for shiitake and cloud ear mushrooms (Auricularia polytricha), sometimes labeled as “black fungus,” but most any dried mushrooms will suffice. Avoid fresh mushrooms as they may not cook to the desired tenderness and are more difficult to cut into uniform strips to match the other ingredients.
The pork and mushrooms should be thin enough to cook almost instantly. The particular combination of ingredients is arbitrary, and meat may be omitted for a vegetarian option. Canned bamboo shoots should already be cooked, and will lend a satisfying textural component with their tender crunch.
Little is needed as a garnish for this dish, which works well as either appetizer or main course depending on serving portion.
Hot and Sour Soup
4 oz pork tenderloin
1 oz cloud ear mushrooms (dried)
½ oz shiitake mushrooms (dried)
6 oz firm tofu
¼ c bamboo shoots (canned)
1 T white wine
4 T cornstarch
2 T rice vinegar
1 T soy sauce
1 t white pepper
1 Slice the pork into ¼-inch strips and toss with the wine, 1 T corn starch and a pinch of salt. Set aside to marinate for at least 15 min.
2 Cut the tofu into small cubes, and slice the bamboo shoots into matchsticks. Rehydrate the shiitake mushrooms in warm water, about 10 min.
3 Bring 8 c water to a low simmer and add the cloud ear mushrooms, tofu and soy sauce. Simmer, covered, for 5 min.
4 Mix the remaining 3 T cornstarch with 2 T water until fully dissolved. Stir into the soup to thicken.
5 Drain and slice the shiitake mushrooms into strips, and add along with the pork and bamboo shoots.
6 Finely chop the cilantro and add with a touch of sesame oil. Beat the egg and slowly drizzle it into the soup while stirring. Season to taste.
7 Whisk together the vinegar and pepper, and add to the soup off the heat.