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Chinese hot and sour soup 酸辣湯 – How to make in 4 simple steps

Chinese hot and sour soup 酸辣湯 is a traditional northern Chinese favorite packed with the acidity of Zhenjiang vinegar, the white pepper’s spiciness, and the sesame oil’s nuttiness.

The flavor becomes even more complex with the inclusion of bamboo shoots, dry mushrooms, and wood ear fungus and finishes with a beaten egg poured high above the soup to form multiple small egg ribbons floating on the thick soup.

You only need twenty minutes to prepare it. Make it at home to warm your family (and their hearts) with this utterly delicious soup with the iconic flavors of Northern Chinese cuisine.

This Szechuan hot and sour soup recipe is very close to the original hot and sour soup in Northern China, although I have left out ingredients such as ‘black tofu’ (see section 2 below), which is too exotic for most people.

It is way better than many substandard hot and sour soup that is merely a tasteless, gloopy mess of cornstarch paste.

Let’s take a look at how to prepare the Chinese hot and sour soup in detail:

Authentic hot and sour soup recipe Szechuan style. It is a warm and hearty by itself. Also suitable to serve with rice or use it as the base of soup noodles.

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Note: Hot and sour soup is also translated as Sweet and sour soup in some English recipes.

Step one- Preparing the meat.

You need some lean meat to make this soup. The meat can be either pork or chicken. Use the pork loin and breast if it is chicken.

  • There are two ways to prepare the meat.
    You can put the whole piece of meat into the boiling water and let it boil until it is cooked. Remove the pork from the pot, and keep the water as the stock for making the soup. Place the meat on the chopping board and cut it into julienne.
  • The second method is to cut the raw meat into the julienne and marinate it with light soy sauce, oil, and cornstarch. You only need to marinate the small pieces of pork for fifteen minutes. Marination enhances the flavor of the meat, and the cornstarch can make the velvety meat smooth. I am using this method in my Szechuan hot and sour soup recipe.

Are you a vegetarian?

You can omit the meat for a vegetarian version. Just add more of the other ingredients slightly.

Szechuan hot and sour soup with egg
Another version of the hot and sour soup with egg drops

Step two- Preparing other ingredients

There are many variations of this soup. However, tofu, mushrooms, egg, and wood ear fungus can be found in almost every recipe. Here is a list of the common ingredients for this soup.

Mushroom

The Szechuan hot and sour soup recipe call for Chinese dry shiitake mushroom. Soak the mushrooms in water until it is fully hydrated and become very soft and easy to cut. The time required varies from an hour to two or three hours, depending on the mushrooms’ thickness. If you have enough time, soak it in advance or even overnight. (Note: they will not be ‘over-soaked‘) Otherwise, soak the mushroom in hot water to speed up the process.

Remove the stem, and cut the mushroom into thin slices. Set aside.

Tips: the water for soaking the mushrooms has loads of flavor. Use it as part of the liquid to make the soup. You can also use some store-bought chicken stock to enhance the taste.

You can use fresh mushrooms as a substitute. The best alternative is button mushrooms. Cut the mushrooms into thin slices as the dry shiitake, minus the steps of soaking it.

Bamboo shoot

Bamboo shoot is the essential ingredient of hot and sour soup. I am using the vacuum pack bamboo shoot imported from China, but I know that some places sell it in cans. You may also be able to get it online.

Cut the bamboo shoot into thin slices. I use about two tablespoons of bamboo shoot slices. You can increase the amount if you like the crunchiness of the bamboo shoot. I remember a Chinese chef mentioned on a TV program that cutting it lengthwise instead of crosswise can increase the crunchiness.

Wood ear fungus

Word ear fungus (wood ear mushrooms, black fungus) is an ingredient used in many Chinese recipes. It should be available in the Asian market near you.

You must soak the dry fungus with water, just like the dry shiitake mushroom. The fungus will expand in size and turn soft once it is fully hydrated. Drain and remove the hard luster in the center. Cut the wood ear fungus into fine julienne. Set aside.

Wood ear fungus has a crunchy and slippery texture which is quite distinct from any other food ingredients I have ever known.

Chinese hot and sour soup

Tofu

The ideal tofu for this soup should be soft, but it can be challenging to handle. I usually buy the firm tofu and cut it carefully into two. Then use a chef knife to it into slices and then julienne it. The trick to cutting tofu by not breaking it is to use the ‘minced’ action, chopping it with an up-down movement, not slicing it.

Transfer the tofu strips to a plate and set them aside. You should add the tofu to the soup after all the ingredients (except the egg) are cooked since it can break easily.

Carrot

You may also add some carrots to make the soup more colorful. Since other ingredients are julienne, the carrot is no exception.

Coagulated pig blood (a.k.a black tofu)

This item is not my favorite. The name does terrify some people, even the Chinese. So they invent a much more acceptable term black tofu (黑豆腐) to avoid mentioning it directly. The closest western food is the black pudding, the staple English breakfast.

It does look like a piece of tofu, which is an authentic ingredient for the traditional hot and sour soup of Northern China. So if you want the most authentic hot and sour soup, go for it. Otherwise, skip it, which is what most people do nowadays.

Ginger

Add a few slices of fresh ginger to the soup to make the flavor. Since we only want the taste of ginger, discard it after the cooking.

Egg

The egg is another must-have ingredient for the soup. I will elaborate on how to add it to the soup in step 4.

Dried lily buds

This item is optional. You must rehydrate it before use, just like the wood ear fungus.

You may also want to try Chinese Chicken and Corn Soup on this blog.

Hot and sour soup 酸辣湯

Step three- Preparing the seasonings.

The combination of vinegar, white pepper, and sesame oil creates a flavor iconic to the authentic hot and sour soup recipe.

Zhenjiang vinegar (Chinkiang vinegar)

Zhenjiang vinegar 镇江醋 is the best in this soup, and the close alternative will be the red vinegar 浙醋。 Zhenjiang vinegar has a sharp sourness note. Red vinegar is mellower than Zhenjiang vinegar and is used primarily as one of the ingredients for marinade and sauces. You can use any rice vinegar or white vinegar if you do not have Zhenjiang vinegar.

Vinegar should only add during the final step of cooking since it is volatile and loses its flavor after prolonged cooking.

Sesame oil

Add a teaspoon of sesame oil before serving. We want the flavor of sesame. So you should never substitute it with other oils.

Ground white pepper

The hotness of the soup originates from the pepper, not the chili. Ground white pepper is used for this soup by everyone, not black pepper.

The white pepper will release a bitter taste if heated for too long. Add it to the soup in the final step of cooking.

Note: Some readers reported too much pepper in the soup recipe. However, the amount is what we usually use locally, and it is entirely acceptable to reduce the amount should you prefer a milder taste.

Chili bean paste (Toban Djan) 豆瓣醬

This sauce provides the flavor of chili pepper and broad bean paste. It is a convenient way to add Szechuan flavor to any cuisine. However, some people will skip this by adding chili oil to the soup to provide the hotness of chili paper and create the signature red hue of the hot and sour soup.

Light soy sauce

Add some light soy sauce to marinate the meat and to the soup. Soy sauce is the magic seasoning ingredient for Chinese cooking, which is high on umami.

Dark soy sauce

A small amount of dark soy sauce helps to darken the color of the soup. You will see the familiar color of the hot and sour soup once you add the dark soy sauce and the chili bean paste into the broth.

Step four- Cook and serve

Cornstarch slurry

Add the cornstarch slurry before, not after, forming the egg drops.

The corn flour will thicken the soup and give the soup a smooth mouthfeel. Add the right amount of cornstarch slurry until you get the desired consistency.

Egg

Adding an egg can turn the hot and sour soup into an egg drop soup.

Pour the egg liquid into the soup by slowly dropping it at a high position in a circular motion. Wait for a second or two, and use the ladle to lightly push the egg strands around. The egg strands will break into short pieces and form many small ribbons.

Do not over-stir the eggs. That is why I adjust the consistency and flavor of the soup before adding the eggs.

Final adjustment of the flavor

Add the Zhenjiang vinegar, white pepper, and sesame oil to the soup. The three ingredients are added last, as prolonged cooking can reduce the intensity of their flavor.

You can now have the final adjustment of the flavor. Add more vinegar and pepper if you want a more intense flavor or some extra soy sauce for stronger umami. Add some chopped coriander on top to garnish.

Szechuan hot and sour soup noodles
The hot and sour soup noodles are served at Dragon-i Restaurant, one of my favorite Chinese restaurants.

Turn your hot and sour soup into a savory soup noodle.

Make a twist of the easy hot and sour soup recipe with some added lamian (Chinese handmade noodles) for a complete meal. The noodles behave like a sponge, soaking up all the flavors from the thick soup.

You can make the soup more concentrated by reducing the water or increasing the seasoning (vinegar, salt bean paste, soy sauce, etc.) as the noodles will dilute the flavor.

Blanch the noodles in a pot of water until the noodles are soft and al dente. You can refer to the instruction on the packaging as it varies from brand to brand. Drain the noodles and place them in a large ceramic bowl. Ladle the hot and sour soup and garnish it with some chopped scallions (green onions).

You can vary the ingredients of the soup too. For example, use scallops or shrimp in place of meat for the seafood version. Also, omit the meat and add some firm tofu if you prefer it to be vegetarian.

Related Szechuan recipes

If you like this Szechuan hot and sour soup, you may also want to try some other Szechuan recipes on this blog:

Szechuan spicy wonton (红油抄手) is spicy and savory thanks to the combination of a myriad of herbs and spices. The sophisticated flavor has earned it an indisputable place on the restaurant menu.

Twice cooked pork (回锅肉) is simmered in water, followed by pan-frying, and enrobed in a glossy thick gorgeous sauce. It has a rich, savory flavor and is slightly spicy, which is the hallmark of Szechuan food.

Dan Dan Noodles (担担面) is a dry noodle dish with a strong savory flavor due to the combination of Sichuan peppercorn, chili oil, minced pork, vinegar, and siumiyacai (green mustard pickle).

Yield: 3 people

Hot and sour soup

sour and spicy soup

Hot and sour soup 酸辣湯 is a traditional northern Chinese favorite packed with the acidity of Zhenjiang vinegar, the spiciness of the white pepper and the nuttiness of sesame oil.

Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes

Ingredients

Ingredient (A)

Ingredients (B)

Ingredients (C)

Ingredients (D)

  • 2 1/2 tablespoons corn starch
  • 1 tablespoon water
  • 1 egg, , beaten

Ingredients(E)

Instructions

  1. (Ingredient A) Cut the pork loin into fine julienne. Marinate with the light soy sauce, vegetable oil, and cornstarch for 15 minutes.
  2. (Ingredients B) Soak the dry mushrooms and wood ear fungus until they are soft and fully hydrated. Cut them into fine julienne. Cut three slices of ginger and set aside. Cut the carrots into julienne. Cut the tofu into strips.
  3. Bring the water to a boil. Cook the meat for half a minute. Then add the remaining ingredients in (B)into the pot and boil for two minutes.
  4. Add ingredients (C) to the above.
  5. (Ingredients D) Thicken the soup with the cornstarch slurry (corn starch mix with water), Then follow by adding the beaten egg.
  6. Remove from heat. Add ingredients in (E). Mix well and serve.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

3

Serving Size:

3 servings

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 300Total Fat: 12gSaturated Fat: 3gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 8gCholesterol: 92mgSodium: 2055mgCarbohydrates: 29gFiber: 4gSugar: 6gProtein: 21g

This data was provided and calculated by Nutritionix on 5/23/2019

Jason

Friday 26th of March 2021

110/100

David

Sunday 15th of November 2020

Kwan,

Do you have suggestions for making this vegetarian other than just leaving out the pork or chicken? The egg is OK with me. Thanks!

KP Kwan

Sunday 15th of November 2020

Hi David, You may leave the meat out from the recipe. You can use vegetable stock if you want to make it tastier. Basic Chinese vegetable stock can be prepared with bean sprouts, sweetcorn, tomato, cabbage, carrot, and mushrooms. You need to briefly stir-fry the bean sprouts and then add all the ingredients into a pot ad and add water sufficient to cover it. Simmer for 60min and remove the vegetables, and it is done.

KP Kwan

Willie

Tuesday 7th of July 2020

Thanks for the redipe... my favorite soup of all the soup that I tasted

John

Friday 1st of May 2020

Thanks for the recipe, will you post more recipes that are Keto friendly?

KP Kwan

Friday 1st of May 2020

Hi John, Thanks for your question. This food blog is about Asian Food, and no specifically for keto or any health-related group. It is a coincidence if the recipes are keto, vegetarian or diabetic friendly, etc. Thank you KP Kwan

Evan

Sunday 19th of April 2020

I used your recipe last night. Thank you. 2 suggestions. In the egg section you recommend making the egg ribbons after the cornstarch is added. In the general directions you ask to add ingredients in group (B) which contain the beaten egg before you direct to add cornstarch. Also you call for ground coriander as a garnish....I assume you mean chopped fresh coriander? Thanks.

KP Kwan

Monday 20th of April 2020

Hi Evan, Thank you so much for taking the time to read my recipe and pointed out the error I made. I have amended it immediately. I remove the egg from ingredients B and place it at ingredients E, which is supposed to be. Also, rewrite the instruction to make it easier to follow. Thanks again, KP Kwan

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