poor scientist. will blog 4 food.

the culinary adventures of a self-described foodie

Recipe Lab: Hot and Sour Soup


Welcome to Recipe Lab! Hopefully, this will be the first in a series on the trials and tribulations (and subsequent elation and enjoyment) of the process of perfecting a recipe. Let’s get started, shall we?

Last year, LGS requested my recipe for hot and sour soup shortly after I featured it on the blog. Unfortunately, that recipe (version 1) was derived from a very random recipe that my sister got from a Chinese cookbook. (I think.) As with most random recipes, I usually alter them without actually making notes. Before this blog, that seemed to be OK, as I was the only one who had to deal with my poor documentation. But! As I wanted to give LGS a repeatable recipe, I decided to make the soup again and this time, actually document it.

Hot and sour soup, version 1

So, fast forward to two weeks ago. It was a cold, overcast day that screamed for soup. I had pho for lunch (of course) and decided to FINALLY make that hot and sour soup. I nixed the chicken blood, which I never used in the first place, and upped the amounts of ground white pepper (the hot) and black vinegar (the sour). It was good, but not great. I had a feeling I messed up the ratios of broth to water; it simply wasn’t rich enough. The pork was overcooked. Despite all of those shortcomings, I thought it was OK and was about to post the recipe when TC stepped in and said (in a most gentle, straightforward manner), “This soup isn’t blog worthy.”

Hot and sour soup, v.2. OK, but not blog worthy. I used enoki mushrooms in this version.

Woah. What?!

He explained that he’s loved every recipe that I’ve posted on this blog, but he just doesn’t love this soup. OK, that made me feel better, but I also felt challenged. I already knew it wasn’t great, so why not try again and make it better? So, in true scientific fashion, I got back on the (soup) horse, did a little recipe troubleshooting, and made another batch of soup on Sunday.

Last night, I sat by anxiously as I awaited TC’s verdict. “It’s better, but there’s something missing. It’s still not blog worthy.”

This time, I wanted a third opinion, because in my mind, this new batch was really good. So, I packed some up in a tupperware and brought it to lab. JL agreed to be the guinea pig. Her verdict? “The soup was great! TC is crazy.”

So, here it is! The recipe for hot and sour soup that 2 out of 3 people deemed blog worthy! I’ve made it mostly vegetarian, and it’s a cinch to make it vegan (see notes). As you can see, it’s a very easy soup to make. The most difficult thing will be to find the ingredients at your local Asian grocer, but it really shouldn’t be too hard. Enjoy!

Finally! Hot and sour soup, v.3 is a recipe that I can be proud of.

(2/3) Blog Worthy Hot and Sour Soup

Tofu, 1 container, firm or extra firm
Mushrooms: 1 cup wood ear, chopped finely; 1 cup cremini, sliced (these are just suggestions; use any mushrooms you like!)
Bamboo shoots, 1 cup (recommended: small can, already in thin strips)
Eggs (2)
Chicken or vegetable broth (4 cups)
Salt (1 tsp)
Soy sauce (3 Tbsp)
Corn starch ( 5 Tbsp)
Ground white pepper (1.5 tsp)
Black vinegar (4 Tbsp)
Sesame oil (1/2 Tbsp)
Water (4 cup)
cilantro (to garnish)
Optional: chili garlic hot sauce (2 tsp)

1. Bring water and broth to boil in a large pot. Reduce heat to medium.
2. Add chopped tofu, mushrooms, and bamboo. Scramble the eggs and set aside.
3. Put in all the ingredients except eggs and the condiments.  Add salt, soy sauce.
4. After it comes to a boil, add in diluted corn starch* until the broth thickens.  Turn down the heat and slowly stir in the egg.** Make sure you stir the soup continuously in one direction, while slowly dropping a thin stream of the egg into the soup.
5. In a separate bowl, combine white pepper, sesame oil, (hot sauce, if using), and vinegar. Pour mixture into the soup.
6. Garnish with chopped cilantro.
7. Serve with white pepper and black vinegar on the table, so that people can adjust the soup to their own liking.

Serves 6-8 as an appetizer.

* To dilute corn starch: measure out corn starch into a clean bowl. Add equal amounts of soup liquid to corn starch to reconstitute. (It may require more than an equal amount, and some vigorous stirring is required.) For thicker soup, add more cornstarch.
** Soup must be near boiling when putting the egg in, or else it won’t make pretty “egg droplets.” Instead, you’ll get a cappucino-colored soup, with tiny bits of egg, much like the photo above.
– For vegan version: Use vegetable broth, omit egg and use 2 more tablespoons of corn starch (or to desired thickness).
– Add noodles or rice for a more filling meal.

UPDATE (9/9/11): I just looked over the recipe in my Gourmet Today cookbook. It suggests straight up broth (only 4 cups though, WTF?), so those looking for a richer soup might want to tweek the broth/water ratio. It also suggested using dried wood ear mushrooms, which I would also recommend because the fresh ones are very mushy. All you have to do is reconstitute them with boiling hot water (covered). Finally, if you do want to add meat (pork is the traditional meat in this recipe), marinate the sliced pork in soy sauce and stir fry before putting it in the soup to avoid dry, overcooked pork, as in version 2.

Author: Jen

Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

6 thoughts on “Recipe Lab: Hot and Sour Soup

  1. I refuse to acknowledge this post!

  2. I didn’t know you scramble the eggs first. Does simply being in boiling water change their consistency? I always thought the egg drop/thread-thingies were made like poaching. Definitely going to try this though. I’ve always been mystified by making hot and sour soup.

    • Yeah, it’s super easy. Just make sure you stir the soup slowly in one direction (I prefer clockwise… does it say something about my psychology?!). That reminds me I should make that clear in the post. Let me know how you like the recipe, and if you have any feedback!

  3. Yum I want some now! Who cares that its currently 100 degrees outside? I will sweat profusely and enjoy every bite, like a proud Chinese eater.

    • Ha! So true. I remember a couple of years ago when I was in Taiwan. It was 90 degrees with 70% humidity and I still wanted to eat noodle soup!

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