Nothing in Moscow comes easy and that is especially true when it comes to finding great Chinese food.
It’s odd, you can get a California Roll on almost every street corner — though you have to be careful it doesn’t contain mayonnaise — and a burn-the-roof of your mouth off Tom Yum is never far away, but a good bowl of hot & sour soup? Almost impossible.
Hot & Sour soup, as everyone knows, was invented in New York City and I practically lived on it when I was a university student there. To this day, nothing is as satisfying as a hot bowl of H&S: it warms, it soothes, and it gives you the courage to get back to whatever you were up to.
I tried making H&S for a number of years, but I could never get the taste nor the texture right. I had almost resigned myself to erasing H&S from the Moscovore carte du jour when I happened upon Laura Kelly’s blog, The Silk Road Gourmet. If you haven’t visited Laura’s blog, make a point of doing so — its a smorgesboard of color and great recipes from down in Central Asia. She has developed a fantastic recipe for H&S using a number of authentic ingredients, some of which are hard to source up here in Moscow, but what Laura has done, for which I will be forever grateful, is unlock the mysteries of making the Hot & Sour soup stock. I made a batch and waited anxiously for it to rest and cool, then tasted it and knew I was on the right track!
Two key ingredients Laura correctly identified — black bean paste and lilly buds are not lurking in my Moscow pantry (yet) so I turned to America’s Test Kitchen for some help with the contents of the soup. Their paired down Hot & Sour recipe didn’t have the complexity of Laura’s broth, but it did contain items that I could easily find in Moscow. The tricky part was finding Black Chinese Vinegar which I did ultimately run to ground at Perekrostek Zelyonii on Smolensky. Everything else is readily available.
This hybrid result is a keeper! HRH (my “Handsome Russian Husband”) had about three bowls of it and pronounced it the best he’s had outside of Manhattan. High praise indeed! Give it a try! And if you see any lilly buds, tell us about it right here!
Hot & Sour Soup
125 ml (1/2-cup) chopped scallions to garnish
For The Broth
2 yellow onions, peeled and roughly chopped
2 knobs of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
375 ml (1-1/2 cup) rice wine vinegar
4-6 hot, red, dried chili peppers (if possible, save the bone to add to the broth)
10-12 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1-2 whole star anise (not a tragedy if you omit, but a delightful augmentation to the taste layers if you do. Available at the market.)
For The Soup
350 g (12 oz) Firm or extra firm tofu
2-3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
75 ml (1/3-cup) cornstarch (this will be used in different doses while you assemble the soup.)
75 ml (5 Tbl) soy sauce
45 ml (3 Tbl) sesame oil
45 ml (3 Tbl) black chinese vinegar (available at Perekrostok Zelyoni – if you can’t find this, America’s Test Kitchen suggests a substitution of a combination of balsamic vinegar and red wine vinegar)
375 ml (1-1/2 cup) fresh mushrooms, slivered (shitake mushrooms are best, but you can use any fresh mushrooms available, or reconstitute dried mushrooms)
5 ml (1 tsp) white peppercorns, ground
10 ml (2 tsp) chili oil
Make the stock: in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot, combine the stock, vinegar, chopped onions, pork chop bones, garlic and bring to a boil over medium heat.
When the broth is boiling, add the ginger, chili peppers, peppercorns, and star anise. Let the broth come to a boil again, then reduce the heat until the soup is gently simmering. Cook, uncovered for 15-20 minutes.
Drain the broth into a clean soup pot through a fine mesh sieve or a colander with cheesecloth over it. Set aside. You can make this ahead of time. Allow to come to room temperature before refrigerating, covered.
Set the tofu on a plate and place a flat surface such as a cutting board or flat plate on top of it. Weight the flat surface down with tins or any heavy object. Set this aside and let sit for about 20 minutes. The tofu will release about 125 ml of liquid, making it firmer and less likely to dissolve in the soup.
Place the chicken breasts and pork chop into the freezer for about 15 minutes, then use a sharp knife to slice the meat into 1 inch long, 1/8 inch thick (3 cm long, 3 mm thick) matchsticks.
Whisk 1 Tablespoon (15 ml) of soy sauce, sesame oil, and 2 teaspoons (10 ml) of cornstarch together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Toss the chicken and pork matchsticks to “velvet” the meat. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.
Drain the bamboo shoots and rinse in cold water. You may want to slice them in half to make for easier eating.
Prepare two small bowls: 3 Tablespoons (45 ml) of both cornstarch and cold water. Mix to combine. 1-1/2 teaspoons (7 ml) of cornstarch and 3 teaspoons of water. Mix thoroughly to combine, then add the egg and whisk to combine. Set aside.
Bring the prepared broth to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to the gentlest of simmers, then add the bamboo shoots, mushrooms and cook for 7 minutes. Dice the tofu into 1/2-inch cubes, then add it and the marinated pork and chicken. Cook for 2-3 minutes until the pork turns from pink to beige.
Stir the water/cornstarch combination to ensure it is fully mixed, then add to the soup. Raise heat and stir as the broth thickens, taking on a more opaque shade. Stir in the vinegar, chili oil, white pepper and remaining soy sauce. Remove soup from heat.
Allow the soup to become still, then slowly and carefully drizzle streams of the egg, cornstarch and water solution over the surface of the soup. When finished, allow the soup to sit for a moment, then return to heat and bring the soup to a simmer. Remove from the heat, then stir to cut up the egg.
Serve with fresh scallions.
Serve, and enjoy!
Hey there readers! Do you hanker for a “salad days” favorite? Have you tried to reconstruct it? Tell us about it, by hitting the comment button below!
Welcome! I am a food and travel writer and cruise ship enrichment speaker. I collect and curate the most intriguing culinary and cultural aspects of the destinations I visit, and share them with you here. To read my full (and rather action-packed) story, click here.
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