I have a horrible personality. Of my many horrible traits, I am obsessive. I become obsessed with foods, routines, TV shows, activities, websites, etc.; then I indulge until I cannot take it anymore. Sometimes, these obsessions last for years. For example, I have been eating a turkey sandwich for lunch at work/school for the last five years. I vary the bread, condiments, and toppings, but it’s a turkey sandwich no matter how many different variations of mustard I purchase. How is it possible that I can endure, let alone enjoy, such a way of being? I also have a wide variety of short term obsessions, and right now, I am obsessed with cooking. Obviously, this is a recurring obsession in my life, and at the moment, it is in full swing.
Last week, I came down with a cold; even with a less than rosy bill of health, I still wanted to cook. And that is where hot and sour soup enters the picture. I have been wanting to make hot and sour soup for years, but last week, the timing was right (timing is everything in life). I found this recipe on Food52, which is another short term obsession. The recipe is the brain child of Joanne Chang, the owner of the famed Flour Bakery in Boston. Joanne’s rendition of hot and sour soup resonated with me on a number of counts. For one thing, all of the ingredients were easy to purchase. In fact, I had most of them on hand. While I love the idea of cooking with dried lily buds and tree ear mushrooms, I also love the idea of a straightforward, accessible recipe. As an offshoot of that accessibility factor, I also appreciated that Joanne’s soup had ground pork in it. Most recipes are either without animal protein, or they have some elaborate form of pork in them. Tenderloin, pork chop, barbequed pork – I’ve seen all of these listed as requisite ingredients in hot and sour soup. I deplore recipes that interject prepared ingredients into the recipe. Who, pray tell, has extra Chinese barbequed pork loitering in their refrigerator? Anyway, I definitely wanted pork in mine so that this otherwise light soup could pass as a full meal, but I did not want to fuss over it. I didn’t want to chop, roast, shred, or sanitize a cutting board; I wanted to dump some ground pork in the soup pot straight off the butcher paper, and call it a day. That’s exactly what this recipe allowed me to do.
Additionally, I enjoyed that this soup did not contain cornstarch, as many recipes do. Cornstarch is the traditional thickener in restaurant-style hot and sour soup. There is nothing wrong with it; it’s absolutely what I expect in a restaurant, but at home, I want something a bit more pure. This soup has beaten eggs stirred in at the end, which lend body, but overall the texture and flavor is clean. This soup provides protein and bulk from from ground pork, tofu, and mushrooms. Ginger, garlic, scallion, soy sauce and sesame oil lend classic Asian flavor; sriracha brings heat; rice vinegar brings clean acidity; a little sugar adds balance. And that’s all there is to it. I thought about adding some bean sprouts or greens, but none of the recipes I looked at included these. They would not hurt, but I wanted to maintain the integrity of the dish. As you’re cooking the pork, I recommend giving it an initial stir to break it up (preferably using a potato masher as your meat distributing tool), then let it sit undisturbed for a few minutes. The pork will become golden and crisp, which will give more flavor to your soup. Any bits that are stuck to pan will lift after you add the stock. You may think that you do not want to cook when you’re under the weather, but perhaps you should reconsider. This clean and simple soup will has just the right flavor profile to help clear out your sinuses, and having you breathing clear for a little while.
Joanne Chang’s Hot and Sour Soup (adapted slightly from Food52)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 garlic clove, smashed and minced (I increased it to 4 cloves. Garlic is good for you!)
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (I used at least 2 tablespoons)
- 4 scallions, white and green parts, minced, plus more for garnish
- 8 ounces ground pork
- 4 cups store-bought or homemade chicken stock
- 1 package (12-14 oz.) of soft, medium, or firm tofu, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 4 or 5 medium button mushrooms, wiped clean and thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
- 2/3 cup rice vinegar, or to taste
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil, plus more for garnish
- 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce, or to taste (I used about 3 tablespoons)
- 2 large eggs
- In the saucepan, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic, ginger, scallions, and pork and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 minute. You want to break up the pork into smaller pieces with a spoon, but don’t worry about breaking it down completely or cooking it through. Let it sit undisturbed for about 2-3 minutes to let it brown.
- Add the stock and bring to a simmer, scraping the bottom on the pot to remove any lingering bits of pork. Add the tofu, mushrooms, sugar, vinegar, soy sauce, black pepper, sesame oil, and Sriracha sauce and bring the soup back to a simmer over medium-high heat. Taste the soup. If you want it hotter, add more Sriracha sauce; if you want it more sour, add more vinegar.
- In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until blended. Bring the soup to a steady simmer, and stir in one direction for a few seconds, then pour in the eggs in a steady stream so the egg cooks in strands. Let the soup continue to cook at a low simmer for 2-3 more minutes. Serve the soup, garnished with shards of scallion and an extra drizzle of sesame oil (be careful not add too much because it’s strong). Enjoy immediately! (Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 days. The soup may take on a slightly different appearance, but it will taste just the same.)
December 24, 2014