I grew up outside of Chicago, heading down to Chinatown with my family at least once a month. Dim sum…YUM! The family of a dear friend had a Chinese restaurant in my hometown and I ate there frequently. My dad made Chinese cooking his hobby, to the gastronomical delight of his family. It also helped that our early 20th century Chicago Bungalow had a second gas stove in the basement. Kept the grease splatters out of the kitchen and away from kids underfoot; my brother and I were banned from the basement when dad was down there cooking. Oh, and the smoke detector was unhooked. There would be smoke. Delicious, fragrant smoke.
All this has made me a bit of a hot and sour soup snob. I love the stuff and I get it at every single Chinese restaurant I go to or order takeout from. Sometimes it’s really good, and I get excited thinking “I’ve found it!” And then I order it the next time and it’s miserable. Usually it’s miserable. And I get sad. At least my tears add flavor to the soup then.
This morning dad sent me his hot and sour soup recipe. I have it, totally forgot I have it. I haven’t made it in…forever. At least since A was born, so it’s been awhile. I used to make it in college and feast on it for days. Made me happy to go to the teeny tiny Chinese grocery store in Normal, Illinois (which, may I say, was quite the anomaly in Central Illinois), made me happy to fix it up and it made me happy to eat the entire pot. Because none of my roommates were enlightened enough to appreciate the feast of hot and sour soup. With toasted Sichuan peppers on top. And sesame oil. Mmmm… ; ) It’s the closest I’ve ever found to the perfect hot and sour soup, and it was completely designed and measured and figured out by a tall man of German descent. Go figure. He’s given permission to post it here, notes and all. This is his recipe, with his commentary (which I remember him writing in his precise, statistician’s hand). Enjoy.
(Maiden name hidden to protect the innocent)’S INFAMOUS HOT & SOUR SOUP
FROM THE PANTRY RAID
Salt of the earth
Sugar, white, brown, or what ever (don’t eat yellow sugar!).
Large pot, small bucket or foot tub, preferably clean, at least one gallon.
ROUND-EYES SHOPPING LIST
10 cups chicken stock, canned. If homemade, strain out feathers and feet.
1/2 lb ground pork parts (parts are parts).
White pepper or to taste the Cook.
2 eggs, optional in the shell.
Sherry, large, not optional, (one for the pot, one for the cook, one for the pot ….)
Corn starch, light, on hangers.
Green onions, roots on.
Fresh coriander, (if you have to ask, don’t cook this dish).
PEOPLE-WHO-KNOW-HOW-TO-EAT SHOPPING LIST
2 squares of firm bean curd.
Chinese red vinegar preferred (or rice vinegar, poor substitute).
Cloud, wood or tree ears, (ask the lady behind the counter).
Dried lily buds, required, no substitute. If not available, forget the whole thing.
Light (regular) soy sauce, Chinese if available, Japanese under duress.
Sesame oil, Chinese only, well maybe other dark sesame oil.
Black dried mushrooms (see cloud ear). Other dried can be substituted.
Preserved kohlrabi or Sichuan preserved vegetables, no substitute. (Ha, just wait)
Bamboo shoots, canned whole root if possible, sliced as a last resort.
Fresh ginger, no substitute, dare you to eat it straight.
Sichuan pepper, no substitute, almost not quite optional. Sorry, not optional.
Water chestnuts, optional.
Please note that the dried aged duck blood has been omitted. While this limits the authenticity, its really really hard to find.
Assemble a peanut gallery of gawkers and onlookers.
Boil some water. Tear up a sheet. Wait, don’t tear sheet, different issue.
Put pot on stove, sample sherry, pass bottle around.
On low flame, FRY:
1/2 lb ground pork parts until a real ugly gray.
10 cups chicken stock.
1 cup Chinese red vinegar or more to taste.
1 cup bamboo shoot, sliced.
Water chestnuts, sliced optional.
1 tsp sugar.
3 slices of fresh ginger the size of a double thickness quarter, diced.
2 squares of firm bean curd cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
2 tsp white pepper or to taste.
2 tbsp light soy sauce.
1 tbsp sherry for the pot, pass around, Cook first, wipe top.
1 tsp salt or to taste later.
WHILE THE ABOVE IS COMING UP TO A SIMMER:
Put in an almost clean bowl
1/2 cup dried cloud ears cover with boiling water let stand (or sit).
In a usually clean bowl put
1/2 cup of dried lily buds cover with boiling water, let the sleeping buds lie.
In a nearly clean bowl put
8 black dried mushrooms cover with boiling water let sit (or stand).
Cane 2 eggs Singapore style (they are baaad eggs) set aside, sip sherry.
Toast Sichuan pepper on high heat in a small pan or frying pan until fragrant, be cool and grind coarse of course.
Dice, slice or chop 1/2 cup preserved kohlrabi or Sichuan preserved vegetables. Dare you to smell it. Just think, you are planning to eat this. Gulp sherry.
Chop, slice or dice 4 green onions sans roots and tough stringy tops.
Drain your ears, buds and mushrooms and wizz out excess water. Sip of sherry and pass around.
Cut off hard parts of ears, (parts aren’t parts here) buds and stems of mushrooms. Cut buds in half. Cut other stuff into small whatevers. Add all, except the egg, to the pot. Go out and buy another bottle of sherry.
CLEAN AND CHOP Coriander, no stems.
MIX 4 tbsp corn starch and 1/2 cup water.
LET POT SIMMER ON LOW HEAT UNTIL SHERRY IS GONE.
Restir corn starch and add to pot, stirring until mixed well and thickened. Add beaten egg slowly while stirring. Taste and adjust for salt, white pepper and vinegar.
SERVE IN BOWLS AND TOP OFF WITH:
1/4 tsp sesame oil or more,
1/8 tsp Sichuan pepper or to taste and
chopped Coriander, handful or less.
Find something else to drink.