From an early age, my brother, sister, and I have shared an insatiable fondness for hot and sour soup. Every Sunday, we would eagerly wait to see if mom and dad would be treating us to a lunch out that week. If we were so lucky, we knew we would likely be going to one of our favorite local Szechuan restaurants. Upon our arrival, our parents would ask us what we wanted to have – even though they already knew the answer. It was always the same: “Hot and sour soup!”
To this day, hot and sour remains one of my favorite feel-great, classic Chinese soups. The amazing part is that although it may not look it, hot and sour soup is actually quite simple to make. The hard part is finding the ingredients, which vary depending on regional differences.
Here is my variation on this old classic (serves a family of 4-6… for 2 days):
- 12 cups (or 3L) of homemade chicken or vegetable stock (If you don’t have stock, you can also use 500mL-1L of chicken or vegetable stock in combination with 8-10 cups of water)
- 1 pork tenderloin (this is usually around 15 oz., or 0.45 kg), minced
- 1 to 3 pieces of wood ear fungus depending on the size of the pieces (they may also come under the name black fungus or cloud ear fungus)
- 3 to 4 Chinese dried mushrooms (you can also use either dried or fresh shiitake mushrooms as a substitute)
- 2 dried lily buds
- 1 cake of medium-firm tofu (use fresh tofu if at all possible)
- 1 can of bamboo shoots (I prefer the whole bamboo shoots over the pre-sliced variety)
- 2 teaspoons worth of finely grated or chopped ginger (optional)
- 2 green onion, finely chopped
- 1 to 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 to 3 small red chili peppers, chopped with seeds (if you prefer a milder spiciness, you can add less peppers and/or remove the seeds)
- 4 to 5 tablespoons of soy sauce, or to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of chili paste, or to taste (alternatively, you can use 1/2-1 teaspoon of chili oil, but use this sparingly as a little bit goes a long way)
- 1/4 to 3/4 cup of red rice vinegar, white rice vinegar, or red wine vinegar, or to taste
- 2 teaspoon of sesame oil (or peanut oil)
- 2 to 3 teaspoon of salt, to taste
- 2 teaspoon of granulated sugar
- 2 to 3 tablespoons of cornstarch dissolved in 1/4 cup of the soup-base (I use the soup base to avoid diluting the soup further)
- Ground white pepper or finely ground black pepper, to taste (per serving)
Marinade for the pork tenderloin:
- 2 teaspoons of soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon of sesame or peanut oil
- 2 teaspoons of cornstarch
- 1 Ziplock bag
As I mentioned, the hardest part of making hot and sour soup is finding all the ingredients. For the most part, the ingredients are fairly common and readily available at most grocery stores. However, you will likely need to visit your local Chinatown or a Chinese specialty goods store for the dried Chinese mushrooms, wood ear fungus, and lily buds. The latter two are by far, the hardest to find, especially if you have no idea what they may look like. Both the wood ear fungus and the lily buds may go by a variety of names. For example, the packaging for lily buds I picked up actually didn’t say “lily buds” anywhere. Instead, it listed the scientific name, “hylocereus undatus”. Wood ear fungus may also be called black fungus or cloud ear fungus. I’ve included a photo of what the packaging for the wood ear fungus and lily buds may look like above, as well as what the individual ingredients look like below.
Once you have everything you need, you’re ready to prep the ingredients. First, slice up and mince the pork tenderloin. Put the minced tenderloin into the Ziploc bag and add in the marinade ingredients listed above. Seal the bag and massage the soy sauce, sesame (or peanut) oil, and corn starch into the meat. When it is well mixed, put the bag into the fridge for it to marinade for the next 15-20 minutes.
Next, take the dried mushrooms, wood ear fungus, and lily buds and place them in a bowl of water. You should only need to soak them for about 15-20 minutes before they’ll be fresh and plump, ready for slicing. The exception will be the dried Chinese mushrooms, which may still be slightly dry on the inside. This is okay, because you’ll be cooking them through when you prepare the soup.
While your dried ingredients are soaking, slice the tofu into cubes or strips. How big you want them will be your preference, I like to err on the side of thinner strips about an inch long and a 1/2-inch thick.
Cut the bamboo shoots into fine slices and then into thin strips. I like to leave the bamboo tips a little larger so the texture of the bamboo shoot core is left intact.
Fill a pot with your chicken or vegetable stock (or water and broth combination), add the chopped chili peppers, cover it, keep it on high heat to bring it to boil.
Take your bowl of soaking mushrooms, wood ear fungus, and lily buds and finely slice these ingredients. The wood ear fungus can be a little unruly to slice. A tip is to lay it out flat and roll it up into a small tube and slice as finely as possible. The result is that you get lovely, long strips of the fungus.
By this point, the water should be boiling. Add the sliced bamboo shoots, mushrooms, wood ear fungus, and lily buds to the water and stir. Add the slices of tofu. Stir again. Cover the pot and let it simmer for 5-10 minutes.
Add the marinated pork tenderloin. Be careful as you put the tenderloin in the pot that and make sure the meat does not all stay clumped together and essentially become one massive meatball. Use a wooden spoon and break up the meat. Bring the soup to boil again.
Add the soy sauce, chili sauce (or chili oil), red vinegar, sesame oil, salt, and sugar. Stir.
Scoop out about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of soup only into a bowl or measuring cup and thoroughly mix in the cornstarch. Pour the mixture back into the soup slowly while stirring.
Beat the egg(s), and very slowly, dribble it into the pot while you stir in ONE direction. If you stop stirring, stop pouring. You want the egg to disperse and fan out in the soup as much as possible, and not cook in clumps, so striking a balance between how fast you pour and how fast you stir is important.
Test the soup for taste. Add more soy sauce, vinegar, chili sauce, and/or salt according to your preference of how hot or sour you like your soup.
Finally, add green onion for garnish and sprinkle on some white pepper or finely ground black pepper for added flavour as you serve the soup.