Hot and Sour Soup

I can't stop making soup. This is my third batch in two days. So, here it is, hold onto your hats, the best hot and sour soup recipe I've come across.

It involves a lot of steps, but it's not really that hard, just follow along and calmly work it. The original recipe came from Cook's Illustrated, but I've adapted it, enough, I hope, to call it my own. I use chicken instead of pork and since I am gluten-free, I use Tamari instead of regular soy sauce, as it has no wheat in it.

You'll want to get all your ingredients organized, lined up and measured out since some of the steps have a few sub-steps. It's well worth it, so hang in and have fun.

See that bottle? Chinese Black Vinegar. It's the secret ingredient for the flavor in this dish. Between this and the white pepper, it's amazing how much earthiness and valor these give to the soup. The white pepper is very pungent, use caution! As it is always easy to add more, but you can't remove it once it's in there.

The meat picks up an amazing texture when it is soaked in the cornstarch mixture.I've read that it helps to seal in the juices of the meat, which, if the soup is any example, then, yes, it works!

This is fun, don't over think it. But, do, go slow and try to make the drizzled stream as thin and consistent as possible.

Important Note:  Read the entire recipe all the way through first, please. You will need a bunch of small and medium bowls for this process. So grab them as you are reading and it should help start you off on the right foot.

Hot and Sour Soup 

adapted from Cooks Illustrated, 5/2006

  • 4 tablespoons tamari (gluten-free soy sauce) or soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch , plus an additional 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • 8 ounces extra firm tofu, drained and cubed (see below for directions)
  • 1 boneless skinless chicken breast cut into 1 inch by 1/8-inch matchsticks
  • 3 tablespoons cold water , plus 1 additional teaspoon
  • 1 large egg
  • 6 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms , stems removed, caps sliced 1/4 inch thick (about 1 cup)
  • 5 tablespoons black Chinese vinegar or 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar plus 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (see note above)
  • 2 teaspoons chili oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 3 medium scallions , sliced thin

First, drain the tofu:

  • Take the tofu out of the container, put it into a shallow pie plate (or any dish with a short rim).
  • Then, put a plate on top, and press down hard. Place two or three cans on top of the plate (I used canned beans) and leave to drain for about 15 minutes. Add more time if the tofu still appears soggy when you check it.
  • You'll know when it's ready to be cubed when the liquid has pooled at the bottom of the dish and the tofu appears much drier than it had been, but not super dried out.
  • Dice the tofu into cubes and set aside (though it's likely the broth will be simmered and ready by the time you've cubed your tofu).

Next Marinate the Chicken:

  • Whisk in a medium bowl:
    • 1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
    • Sesame oil
    • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Thoroughly mix the chicken strips in the marinade and leave to soak for about 10 to 20 minutes.
  • The meat will become silky and somewhat fatter than it was when you began.

And Then:

  • Combine:
    • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 3 tablespoons water in small bowl and mix thoroughly
    • Set aside, leaving spoon in bowl.
  • Mix:
    • Remaining 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
    • Remaining 1 teaspoon water in small bowl
    • Add egg and beat with fork until combined. Set aside.

Start Putting it Together:

  • In a large heavy-bottomed pan, bring the chicken broth to a boil.
  • Once the broth has boiled, lower the heat to medium-low and:
    • Add mushrooms.
    • Simmer for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are nice and tender.
  • Add:
    • Tofu and chicken, including marinade, to soup, stirring.
    • Continue to simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 4 minutes.

Almost Done:

  • Remember the mixture you made that you left the spoon in? It's time to stir it and make it more liquid now.
  • Add to soup and increase heat to medium-high.
  • Cook, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens and turns translucent, about 1 minute.
  • Stir in:
    • vinegar (either the Chinese Black Vinegar, or the combo of Balsamic and red wine vinegar)
    • chili oil
    • white pepper
    • remaining 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Turn off heat.

Make the Egg Drops:

  • Get your egg mixture (the last bowl, I hope, that you have left with something you mixed earlier) and grab a spoon.
  • Do not stir the soup, make sure it's still when you start this next step.
  • Take your spoon and scoop up a bit of it into your spoon.
  • Very slowly, like you are just hanging out and not in any kind of rush, start drizzling the egg mixture over the soup, moving around the pot in a clockwise motion.
  • Let rest for a bit, about a minute.
  • Bring soup back up to a gentle boil over medium heat.

Serve it Up:

  • Remove from heat and give the soup a light stir, just enough to break up the egg drops, but not so fiercely that the nice thickness that the cornstarch leant to the mix.
  • Ladle into bowls and top with scallions.