Hot and sour soup gets the bum rush – most places that craft it poorly do so by phoning it in. It’s so simple to the point that it’s ludicrous that it could be butchered, and yet I’ve been affronted with some shady knockoffs standing in for the real thing. Rather than flirt with disappointment, I just whip a pot up myself and call it a day. No more fishing out rubbery tofu and incredulously huge pieces of celery (what the eff?) Just hot and sour action at its best. Brilliant!
The soup is comprised of savory vegetable stock studded with slivers of bamboo shoots, scallions and tofu. An essential for me, and what separates the real deal from the imposters, is the use of wood ear mushrooms. Sometimes referred to with the not-so-pleasant monniker of fungus, these pleasantly chewy mushrooms can be purchased dry in many upscale markets. If you can score some, get on it, because their texture and color lend an air of the exotic to the soup.
My favorite moment in making this soup is after you’ve spiked the stock with rice wine vinegar, chilies and white pepper – you drizzle beaten egg into the boiling stock and watch it flour into ivory strands. One of those glorious moments where food intersects with art.
Hot and Sour Soup
1 oz. of reconstituted wood ear mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 tbs. of ginger scallion sauce
2 tsp. to 1 tbs. of chili sauce (sambal olek), to taste
4 oz. of bamboo shoots, sliced into 1/8 wide strips
2 tbs. of dark soy sauce
1 tbs. of rice vinegar
1/4 tsp. of white pepper
1 packet of splenda
4 c. of vegetable stock
1/3 c. of firm white tofu, sliced into strips
1 tbs. of cornstarch
1 egg, scrambled
crispy noodles for garnish
Bring the stock to a rolling boil. Cut the root ends of the scallions off and discard. Cut the white and light green part from the scallion (about two inches in length) and slice the scallions lengthwise into very thin strips. Save the rest of the scallions for later. Add the scallion strips to the stock with the bamboo shoots, wood ear mushrooms, ginger scallion sauce, soy sauce, vinegar, white pepper, chili sauce and splenda. In a very small bowl, mix the cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of water, forming a smooth paste. While the soup is boiling, pour in the cornstarch mixture and allow soup to thicken. Now pour in the beaten egg – it will cook on contact and form into lacy strands. Add the tofu and let cook for a brief moment to warm the tofu through. Turn off the heat.
Slice the reserved scallion tops thinly. Top the soup with scallions and serve with crispy noodles if desired.