When most normal folks crave comforting soup, they head to their local deli and grab a pint of chicken noodle. Our know-it-all editor and my partner at Kaplifestyle, Stephanie, isn’t normal, folks. She takes a typical family’s winter situation and makes an otherwise easy solution difficult. She rehydrates (whatever the hell that means) dried mushrooms and goes exotic on us. We get it, Steph, you can cook (yawn).
Half the household is down for the count right now – one with the flu, one with a concussion. Between that and the cold, wet weather, everyone was in the mood for something warm and comforting for dinner. I made cassoulet the night before; it was good, but heavy. I wanted to go a bit lighter. Normally, my go-to in these circumstances is a Thai soup (Tom Kha), but after the post about experimenting in the kitchen, I felt compelled to try something new. I decided on the staple of Chinese takeout, hot and sour soup.
See how she casually throws in the cassoulet reference? “Look at me! I’m Stephanie. I can fix French and Chinese back-to-back!”
I had most of the ingredients already on hand, but not everything. A quick trip to the local Asian grocery store solved all my problems. Well, most of my problems were solved – the dried day lilies I needed were on the top shelf, so it required a few minutes of decidedly ungraceful jumping up and down to secure them.
Notice the quick attempt at self-deprecation to offset the audacious drop of “day lilies.” Steph, you know the readers are smarter than that.
The key to most of my cooking at home is using good homemade stock. The spaces in the freezer not filled with half a cow are taken up by veggie, mushroom, turkey, beef, and chicken stocks. In this case, however, I needed a bit more flavour in my base. I removed the breasts and legs from a whole chicken to save for later preparations, then hacked the rest of it to bits with a cleaver. I needed to break it down as much as possible since I wasn’t leaving my stock on for 48 hours. It went into a pot along with the salt pork left over from the night before, scallions, half an onion, garlic, and ginger. I added in a few chicken feet I stole from Lily’s (the dog’s) food to add additional body to the broth.
We know about Lily. You reference her in every post in which you appear. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
As the broth simmered, I rehydrated some dried black mushrooms (wood ear would work here as well) and the aforementioned dried lily flowers by soaking them in warm water. While those soaked, I prepped the other ingredients for the soup – shiitake mushrooms, sliced fresh bamboo shoots, and extra firm tofu.
After an hour of simmering, I strained my broth. I thickened it up with a cornstarch slurry, added my solid ingredients, and began seasoning. Salt, soy sauce (yes, both – we don’t eat much in the way of processed foods in the house, so sodium concerns aren’t a big deal), and sesame oil rounded out the base.
For the little wisps of egg so common to Chinese soups, I beat an egg with cornstarch, then slowly drizzled it into the barely simmering soup. It was just hot enough to set the egg after a few seconds, then I stirred to distribute all the ingredients throughout.
I’m sort of feeling jealous about the attention to detail in this post. Is your recall that good, or did you write while cooking? Either way, this is simply annoying.
At this point, I had a decently flavoured base, but you may have noticed that there was nothing in the way of the “hot” or “sour” parts of hot and sour soup. The heat comes from freshly ground white pepper (the difference between freshly ground pepper and the stuff out of a shaker is night and day); the sour is brought by a black Chinese vinegar. Both of these ingredients tend to lose their potency and aroma immediately, however, so I added them in at the very last minute.
I plated the soup with a garnish of thinly sliced scallions and ginger, then served it with sliced chiles, additional black vinegar, toasted sesame oil, and white pepper.
In the spirit of kitchen experimentation, the dish could use a few tweaks. I wanted to avoid the overly gloppy, slick mouthfeel that you can get from takeout soups, so I erred on the side of less cornstarch. Next time, I’ll either cook the stock down longer (thus getting more gelatin out of the bones and feet) or add more cornstarch. I would probably also make a hot chili oil to drizzle over the top for a secondary source of heat.
Overall, however, it was a successful experiment – one that deserves to be tweaked, rather than scrapped and never spoken of again. I always find value in trial and error in the kitchen. It’s a safe space, where the cost of even the worst failures is a call to the pizza delivery place down the street. When the experiments turn out, you have a very tangible sense of accomplishment.
Pretty sure I still have to make the Thai soup tomorrow though.
In all seriousness, how talented is this individual? She could be completely full of shit and have not even made the soup, and the descriptive picture painted would still be impressive.
- Whole chicken, breasts and legs removed, chopped
- 4-6 chicken feet
- 4 oz salt pork or other ham product
- 6 scallions, roughly chopped
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
- Half an onion
- 2 inches of ginger, sliced thinly
Put the chicken parts into a large pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. As soon as the pot comes to a boil, strain into a large colander and rinse the chicken bones and feet. Rinse the pot, add the chicken back to the pot and cover with water again. This gets out a lot of the bits with less flavour and questionable texture. Bring back to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add in the rest of the ingredients and simmer for at least one hour.
While the broth is simmering, prepare the rest of the ingredients.
- Dried black mushrooms (usually sold as “black fungus”; substitute woodear or other dried mushrooms)
- Dried daylily flowers
- Extra firm tofu, diced
- Bamboo shoots, sliced
- Shiitake mushrooms, sliced
- 1 egg
- Soy sauce
- Sesame oil
- Black vinegar
- White pepper
Put the dried mushrooms in a bowl and cover with warm water. Repeat this step with the day lilies. Allow to soak for at least 30 minutes. Prepare the rest of your ingredients. Once rehydrated, drain and discard the liquid from your dried ingredients. Slice your mushrooms and day lilies.
Once the broth has simmered for an hour, strain the liquid into a large pot. Add in soy sauce and sesame oil (I used about 2 tbsp. each, your mileage will vary). Salt to taste. Make your cornstarch slurry by mixing cornstarch (I used 1 tbsp., I would recommend more) and water until it forms an opaque liquid. Add to broth. Bring your broth to a boil – otherwise, the cornstarch won’t thicken the soup. Add in your mushrooms (both shiitake and black), day lilies, tofu, and bamboo shoots. Return soup to boil, then reduce to a very low simmer. Beat your egg with a couple of teaspoons of cornstarch. Be sure to mix well. Slowly drizzle your egg in a steady stream into your soup. Wait 20 seconds or so, then stir the soup.
Add in your white pepper and black vinegar to taste. I used about a tbsp. of white pepper and about half a cup of black vinegar.
Serve with additional ginger, white pepper, black vinegar, scallions, and peppers.