Citizens, the Hirshon Sichuan Hot & Sour Soup – 酸辣湯 (suan la tang) – is a recipe that is both authentic in provenance and taste to its Sichuan roots. 🙂 This is NOT the pathetic brown slop with barely a hint of sour or heat found in cheap Chinese restaurants – this is of far nobler lineage indeed!
You may not be aware of this, but suan la tang was originally a Chinese prescription for when you were sick! The original recipe included health tonics such as duck blood and sea cucumber, which are no longer used in the modern recipe.
Suan La Tang still has medicinal ingredients that are unfamiliar to most western cooks: “Cloud Ear Fungus” (云耳; yún’ěr,) and dried lily buds, aka “Golden Needles” huang hua cai 黃花菜. These inclusions have as much to do with texture as health and flavor and along with bamboo shoots and Chinese dried Shitake mushroom, are essential to the character of Suan La Tang.
First things first – I decided to use beef as the shredded meat, rather than the customary pork. Sichuan cuisine is unusual in that beef is the usual choice of meat in that province, as opposed to pork. I’ve velveted the meat to add some additional savor and flavor prior to using it in the soup.
Second – I added shredded Sichuan preserved vegetable, which being both hot and sour complemented the various tastes, in my humble opinion.
Using the hard to find but authentic smoky Baoning Sichuan vinegar also added a new dimension of flavor – adding Chinese Chinkiang black vinegar and rice vinegar helped balance out the tastes. Using the dried mushroom soaking liquid also really adds some smoky undertones to the soup.
Adding the garlic and ginger as a minced paste with Shaoxing helped to spread the flavors and avoids fiber in the soup.
Adding heat via white pepper and a “ma la” (numbing and spicy) effect using freshly-ground Sichuan peppercorns worked well for me. The original Suan La Tang added heat by ‘barbarian’ pepper (aka white or black peppercorns), not by the much later to arrive Chili pepper.
That said, I do amp up the heat with Tabasco, which having a vinegar base makes it a perfect spicy foil for the sourness of the soup.
Citizens, this recipe is not all that difficult and will prove to be a true taste revelation for you! 🙂 The ingredients are a bit unusual – you can buy lily buds here, dried tree ears here, baoning vinegar here, Chinkiang vinegar here, and Sichuan preserved vegetable here.
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