Hot & Sour Mandarin Soup

Soup is the cook’s trash bin. This is where all the leftovers from the mains (Chicken or Beef, sometimes fish) that accumulated at the walk-in fridges at the start of the week is dumped.  Others can be tucked in sandwiches and are considered in stir-fry meals, but otherwise, everything else end up in the soup or in the making of a stock. That’s one way of clearing-up and cleaning-up the fridge for inventory and daily or weekly deliveries.  That’s also one way of stretching the value of the meat or vegetable and lowering food cost thereby increasing the bottom-line. That’s also another way in which the cook becomes creative in concocting something delicious from remnants and debris of meals served a few days before.

Cooking for a group requires appropriate, but not exactly pinpoint ‘approximation,’ and usually these extras cover for unaccounted guest, the staff, or other third party who may have participated in the event; or already, for a cook’s case,  an already recurring, daily event in the kitchen. Cooks do make that little extra for good measure and somehow there are still leftovers to contend with on an almost daily basis. In my case, the soup is its final resting place.

I, myself, have learned to use each part of the celery, carrot and onion; the mirepoix of almost everything. Scraps are thrown into the stock pot while the core is used for basic roasting, braising and sautéing.  As much as I enjoy concocting a potent soup meal, I don’t have the time at home to produce or to be creative in this area. I’m tired coming home from work and I almost always head straight to working my own meal which I prepared the night before.  At work, making soup is just one of the other million things I cover for lunch and supper.  My prep work is almost two days ahead. If I’m not two steps ahead, I’ll be burned in the process.

However, ‘Houston’ was calling again, and she had an urgent crave for something Chinese. That’s an emergency! She requested me to make a Hot & Sour Soup, and I happily obliged. I love Chinese Hot & Sour Soup. It has about five major ingredients which makes it a meal in itself, and from experience, I have also made and served one. Unfortunately, the flavour was a bit too complex for the market, thus I scratched it off my list.  I divided the making of this soup into three parts and stages: the stock, the soup base (Hot & Sour), and the soup itself in the final stages with all the ingredients. An extra time has to be alloted for prep work. This is a totally different approach. I sort of cleaned the process, and made each slurp and each bite more ‘satisfying;’ to never stop slurping and craving for more.

Pork Stock:

  • Pork Butt or Pork Bones (I removed the meaty part of the Butt)
  • Garlic
  • Green Onion
  • Ginger
  • Star Anise
  • Black peppercorns
  • Bay Leaves
  • Coriander

Soup Base:

  • Onion
  • Green Chilis
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Bayleaves
  • Cane Vinegar (or White Vinegar)
  • Dark Soy Sauce
  • Light Soy Sauce
  • Shoaxing Cooking Wine
  • Oyster flavoured Sauce
  • Sesame Oil

Final Step:

  • Soft Tofu
  • Dried Black Fungus, soaked overnight
  • Dried Shitake Mushrooms, soaked as well
  • Green Onions
  • Lean Pork, boiled & chopped to bite size pieces
  • One Egg, beaten
  • Cornstarch slurry as a thickening agent

Boil the Pork Butt or Pork bones in a stockpot. Throw the first boil to remove all the scum that rose in the pot from the bones. Start another pot of cold water and boil the bones together with the aromatic and spices I listed under the ‘Pork Stock.’  Boil to simmer and strain the stock thereafter.

Sweat the onions, ginger, garlic and green chilis in a sauce pan. Add some of the pork stock slowly and begin working with the ingredients under the ‘Soup base.’  (I didn’t follow any exact measurement for this one. I tasted the base as I went to finish it off).  Strain into another pot.

When the right taste is achieved, begin adding in the other ingredients under the ‘Final Step.’ Chop the Black Fungus, green onion and lean pork, and remove the stems from the Shitake Mushrooms (cut in half). Cut the soft tofu into quarters.  Set the stovetop on medium-high and thicken the soup with the cornstarch slurry. Remove from the heat and slowly temper in the beaten egg.

I wanted the soup to be smooth, crisp, clean and clear. Instead of dropping the egg on high heat like an ‘Egg-Drop,’ I proceeded to tempering it instead.  The egg can also be cooked like an omelet and then sliced as garnish.

Soup is a basic item usually eaten with sandwiches during lunch here in North America. I approached it that way. I didn’t quite lean to the Asian ‘way’ of having soup firsthand and about eight more courses after.

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