Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hot & Sour Soup (Suan La Tang)

Hot and Sour Soup ("Suan La Tang") was not something my mom ever made at home, and the very few times we had it was always in a restaurant. But here in SoCal (and the rest of the U.S., for that matter), Hot & Sour Soup is a staple, ubiquitous item on the menu of many a Chinese restaurant. I had always assumed that this soup originated from Szechuan province, which is known for its spicy dishes, but I'm not totally sure as there seem to be some regional variations, including one with pig's blood, which is soooo not my cup of tea. The "hot" in this soup comes from a generous seasoning of white pepper (not from chilies) and the sour from vinegar (I use a combination of Chinese red vinegar and rice vinegar). I keep the vinegar on the mild side in my recipe - that way you can always embellish your own individual serving according to your own taste. If you're vegetarian, just substitute the chicken broth with vegetable stock and omit the pork.

2 cups of dried sliced shiitake mushrooms
1 cup shredded, dried wood ear fungus (or 2 cups whole reconstituted)
1/2 cup dried lily buds (optional)
8 oz. vacuum-packed bamboo shoots, drained & julienned.
2 14-oz. pkgs. soft tofu, diced into 1" cubes.
14 oz. pork butt or country ribs, cut into thin strips

Marinade for pork:
2 tbsp. soy sauce
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tbsp. cornstarch

Soup stock:
24 cups water
7 tbsp. Totole chicken base
1 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. white pepper
1/2 cup of chopped cilantro & stems*
3-4 scallions, chopped

Vinegar Seasoning:
1/4 cup Chinese black vinegar
2 tsp. sugar
1 tbsp. sesame oil

Cornstarch Slurry:
1 cup cornstarch 
1 cup of reserved shiitake mushroom soaking liquid
(or 1 1/2 cup cornstarch + 1 1/2 cups liquid for a thicker soup)

4 eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp. white pepper
Extra chopped scallion and cilantro for garnish

1. Place the Shiitakes, shredded wood ear fungus and lily buds in 3 separate bowls and cover with hot tap water. Let soak at least 30 minutes or until they are reconstituted. Cut off any stems on the shiitakes and the tough ends of the lily buds after they are softened. Reserve the mushroom soaking liquid.

2. In the meantime, slice pork into thin strips and mix well with marinade ingredients in a bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

3. Dice tofu, julienne bamboo shoots, chop cilantro & scallion, and set aside.

3. In a large stock pot, bring 24 cups of water plus 7 tbsp. of Totole chicken base (or just substitute with low sodium canned chicken broth of the same quantity) and 1 tbsp. kosher salt. Add 1/2 cup of chopped cilantro (mostly stems), 3-4 chopped scallions, 1 tsp. sesame oil, and 1 tsp. white pepper. Bring to a boil. 

4. Add diced tofu, shiitakes, wood ear, lily buds, and bamboo. Bring soup up to a boil, then reduce heat & simmer 10 minutes. 

5. Stir in pork and cook about 5-10 minutes. Bring soup back up to a boil and add beaten egg, stirring constantly. Stir in the vinegar seasoning and up to an additional 1 tbsp. white pepper (according to your taste). Stir in cornstarch slurry and boil until soup is thickened. 

6. Pour soup into serving bowls and garnish with cilantro & scallion. Serve red and/or vinegar and white pepper in case anyone wants to add more of these.

Shredded dried black wood ear fungus and dried lily buds. If you don't have a Chinese market in your area, it's ok to omit these ingredients. Just use extra dried shiitake mushrooms, which seem more readily available these days.

These are dried sliced shiitakes from Costco. Very convenient, but some still have a tough stem end, which I will slice off after they've been reconstituted. 

Soaking the dried lily buds, shredded black wood ear fungus and shiitakes in hot tap water.

Country ribs or pork butt are ideal for this recipe. Trim the fat and cut against the grain into thin strips. 

Toss marinade ingredients with the pork, cover with plastic wrap & refrigerate until ready to use.

Chop the cilantro & scallions.

Julienne the bamboo shoots.

I use the vacuum-packed bamboo shoots found in the refrigerated section at 99 Ranch Market. If all else fails, use the canned stuff. But it just isn't as good.

Once the lily buds are softened, line them up and trim off the tough ends.

Use two 14-oz. packages of soft tofu (especially if they're of the Kung Fu Panda variety).

Cube the tofu.

Bring the water, chicken base and salt to a boil.

My favorite chicken base: Totole

Add 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro stems/leaves, 3 chopped scallions, 1 tsp. sesame oil, 1 tsp. white pepper.

Add shiitakes, wood ear, tofu, and lily buds.

Vinegar seasoning: Chinese black vinegar, sugar, sesame oil.

Add the pork to the soup and cook 5-10 minutes.

Add vinegar seasoning to the soup.

Add 1 tbsp. of white pepper.

4 beaten eggs & cornstarch slurry (1 cup reserved shiitake mushroom soaking liquid and 1 cup of cornstarch, well blended).

With soup on boil, add beaten eggs and stir constantly. Eggs should look like streamers in the soup.

Add the cornstarch slurry and boil until the soup has thickened, stirring constantly.

Garnish with cilantro & scallion, and serve with extra vinegar and white pepper on the side.

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