Since my very first taste, too many years ago to admit, I’ve been wild about Hot & Sour Soup. I order it whenever I see it on a menu. Anytime I’m at a new (to me) restaurant, I find myself anticipating that soup, wondering what theirs will be like.
See, you never know what you’ll get until you’re served. Each chef, cook & restaurant has their own touches and style. Sometimes Hot & Sour Soup is refined with just a few thinly sliced, elegant ingredients, and sometimes it will be chock full of everything under the sun. Hot and Sour Soup might be very thick or very thin or somewhere in the middle. It might be very spicy and sour, but maybe not. No matter how it’s made, though, it’s always delicious!
About Hot & Sour Soup:
Winter’s here and it’s a great time to think about cozying up to a cup or a bowl of Hot & Sour Soup. It’ll warm you from the inside out. Just so you’re in the know, this soup is said to have restorative properties and will help to ward off any cold or flu. I can’t testify to that, but I know it tastes great!
When I first started making Hot & Sour Soup (decades ago!) I was only able to find one recipe in an old, battered 2nd hand-store Chinese cookbook! Now, not are there so many recipes but so many variations.
I know I have my own ideas about what makes the best Hot & Sour Soup, and I’m sure you do, too. There’s plenty of room to play with ingredients and still have an excellent Hot & Sour Soup. You can tailor your experience to your tastes and what ingredients are available in your area.
Making Hot & Sour Soup:
Follow the basic recipe, which is very simple: start out with a good store-bought broth or your own Homemade Broth. As far as flavor, you don’t have to use chicken broth as I do, you can use just about any broth you want or just water. There’s a touch of sweet (sugar) and a touch of heat and of course, the sour.
That heat comes from ginger, garlic, cayenne, and white pepper. The sour comes from the vinegar. The rest of the ingredients are usually tofu, some sort of mushroom (dried or fresh or a combination), thinly sliced bamboo shoots, and whisps of egg. You’ll often see some type of pork or ham and may see daylily buds, very thinly sliced carrot shreds, and less seldom, celery.
Be aware that some of the ingredients in this soup may be dried and may need to be soaked before adding to the soup. The soup itself takes just minutes to make; it’s the prep that takes a bit longer, especially if reconstituting dry ingredients.
Adjusting the Flavor & Seasoning:
- The main seasoning you might wish to adjust is the amount of white pepper. While we’re on the subject of white pepper, it is an ingredient that you’re not going to want to skip. Don’t sub in black pepper; they’re two different animals.
- Depending on your heat tolerance, or the tolerance of those you’re serving, you may wish to add slightly less white pepper to the recipe and pass a tiny little dish of hot pepper who want more heat.
- I chose two different kinds of vinegar on the suggestion of J. Kenzi Lopez because at the time I developed this recipe, dark Chinkiang (a.k.a. Zhenjiang) vinegar, which is often used in Hot & Sour Soup was not available. If it is available in your area, go for it!
- If you wish to tone down the sour aspect of this soup, again, start with a little less and add the remainder individually according to taste.
- Sesame oil can be very strong to some people, but it does diminish quickly. Generally, a small amount goes a long way, so be careful.
How to Store:
Store your Hot & Sout Soup for up to five days in the fridge. Heat up carefully. This recipe relies on cornstarch as a thickener and if heated too quickly, that soup may thin out. Add a bit of cornstarch slurry (cornstarch mixed with water) if that’s the case, and heat to boiling. This generally is not so much of an issue with single servings.
Do not freeze this soup, or really almost any recipe with cornstarch. The strength will diminish and it will lose its thickening power. This soup may suffer from strange textures after being frozen, especially the tofu and mushrooms.
Your best bet for saving money is to shop in an Asian market. If that’s not available where you live, you may find some big chain grocery stores that have many ingredients for this soup, especially in a geographic area with a diverse ethnic population.
In other words, if you’re making an Asian dish and want the best pricing on ingredients, shop where the Asians shop. Many of these items are not specialty items there and the price tag reflects that.Print
Hot & Sour Soup
- Total Time: 30 minutes + 30 minute soak
- Yield: 4 to 6 servings 1x
- Category: Soups
- Cuisine: Asian
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup dried mushroom (“wood ears” or “tree ears”)
- 1/2 cup dried lily buds (see note)
- 1/2 cup bamboo shoots (1/2 can)
- 4 to six ounces pork shoulder, cut into fine match sticks
- 1 1/2 quarts, about six cups, Chicken Stock or Broth
- 3 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch (2 for the soup, mixed with a small amount of water to form a slurry and one for the pork)
- 4 ounces firm tofu, cut into small (3/8th inch) dice (1/2 block of tofu)
- 1 to 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 2 tablespoons finely sliced scallion for garnish
Soak tree ear mushrooms in enough boiling-hot water to cover by an inch, about 30 minutes. Tree ears will expand significantly. Strain, cut into small pieces if large, and trim off and discard any hard nubs.
Meanwhile, soak lily buds in about 1 cup warm water until softened, about 20 minutes, then drain. Trim off tough tips of lily buds. Cut lily buds in half crosswise, then tear each half lengthwise into 2 or 3 shreds.
Rinse bamboo shoots with cold water, drain and cut lengthwise into small match sticks. (This can be a little fussy, try stacking them.)
In a small bowl, toss pork with one tablespoon cornstarch, set aside.
Have all ingredients ready. Bring chicken broth to a simmer, add soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic powder, cayenne pepper.
Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with a little water to form a slurry. Add to soup while stirring to prevent clumping. Toss the pork in cornstarch to the simmering soup along with any loose cornstarch, stirring as is it added. Immediately add tofu, then add the mushrooms, daylily buds, and bamboo shoots. The soup should thicken quite quickly, but working fast helps to ensure the thin slivers of pork don’t cook to a hard state.
Add the eggs in a steady stream, very slowly stirring as they are poured in. Turn off heat and right before serving, add the vinegar, sesame oil and white pepper.
Taste and adjust any seasonings to your liking.
Garnish with green onion. Pass a little extra white pepper and vinegar, if desired, for those who wish to add to the soup.
- If dried mushrooms are not available, sub in the fresh version. If no specialty mushrooms are available, you can get by with thnly sliced button mushrooms.
- I have often made this without daylily buds (they can be very hard to find) and it is still perfectly good.
- Note that I have used powdered ginger and garlic both for the intensity of flavor and to keep the broth clear.
- The vinegar, white pepper, and sesame oil can diminish quickly, so they’re added right before serving.
- J. Kenji Lopez (link below) recommends dark Chinkiang (a.k.a. Zhenjiang) vinegar – it’s not readily available in my area so I went with his suggested substitutions.
- Feel free to add your favorite ingredients – or remove any of mine! Sliced button mushrooms, shiitake, thinly sliced carrots, etc.
- This soup can be made without the pork. I have actually used leftover pork ribs or barbecued pork shoulder in this recipe with fantastic results and ham is great, too.
- Leftover tofu and bamboo shoots may be used in a stir fry or frozen to make another batch of this soup later.
Keywords: Asian, Bamboo Shoots, Bargain Meal of the Week, Chicken Stock, Eggs, Green Onion, Leftovers, mushrooms, Pork, Pork Shoulder Recipe, Soup, Tofu
I want to thank Bruce Cost for his recipe in Epicurious, J. Kenji López-Alt for his article and recipe on Serious Eats, and the Woks of Life for their lovely recipe. I pulled some elements for my soup from all these recipes.
33 thoughts on “Hot & Sour Soup”