Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Hot and Sour Soup

You either love it or hate it. Personally, I love it. I enjoy the heat and the flavors and it's remarkably easy to make. Basically, the base is chicken or beef stock with vinegar and white pepper and a choice of vegetables. Restaurants typically use mushrooms and tofu but they are by no means required. Mushrooms have to be prepped and cooked right to really shine in any dish and tofu simply absorbs the surrounding flavors no matter what they are which makes it an excellent filler and protein substitute. But if you don't need the filler or the substitute then it really adds nothing to the dish.

I like grilled chicken, maybe even blacked as the main protein. Grill up or blacken three to four chicken breasts and set them aside to rest.

Julienne one large red onion and sweat in a stock pot with olive oil. Season a dash of a cajun spice mix. Julienne two or three jalapenos, managing the seeds for heat (the white pepper is the main source of heat so be careful). Slice three or four stalks of celery and add to the sweat. When the onions are translucent, add four cans of chicken stock and two cans of water or use six cans of stock. Bring to a simmer and add two tablespoons of white vinegar and a teaspoon of white pepper.

Take three to four carrots and use a peeler to reduce the carrots to long strips. Add to soup.

At this point, start tasting and add vinegar, the cajun spice and the white pepper to taste. Be careful and add each in small amounts until you find the balance between hot and sour.

When the carrots are tender, the soup is done. Beat one egg and while stirring, drizzle the egg into the simmering soup. To thicken, dissolve two tablespoons of corn starch in a little bit of cold water and add slowly to the soup while constantly stirring.

Take the chicken breasts and shred or slice into cubes and add to the soup. If you want to be fancy, slice the chick and then serve in a shallow bowl and pour the soup over the chicken right before serving.

This is by no means a traditional version of the dish but I would put it up against any restaurant's recipe. Other versions have pork or beef as the base but chicken works well with the flavors.

This is also one of the best soups to fight off a cold or the flu. The heat helps clear the sinuses and the vinegar is reputed to have a cleansing effect.