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! 🙂
Battle on – The Generalissimo
¼ pound ribeye steak, “velveted”:
Slice the beef into shreds (partially freezing the meat helps a lot). Be sure to cut across the grain of the beef.
To marinate the beef: use 1 tsp of soy sauce, 1 tsp of Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, 1 tsp of cornstarch and ½ tsp of ground white pepper.
Mix well. Set aside for about 30 minutes before cooking.
Heat a wok to very high heat. Add 6 tbsp of peanut oil, allow oil to heat through thoroughly, then add beef shreds. Cook until slightly pink, then drain and reserve the beef. Don’t overcook it!
1 ½ Tbsp soy sauce
1 garlic clove
1 tsp peeled ginger root (about 2 slices)
¼ cup bamboo shoots, shredded
5 dried shitake mushrooms, top-quality
1 cup mushroom soaking liquid
10 dried lily buds (also called golden needles) – buy them from Amazon here
4 dried tree ear fungus (also called cloud ears) or 1 tsp. dried and pre-sliced – buy them from Amazon here
4 cups homemade chicken broth
1 Tbsp Shaoxing rice wine or dry sherry
1 Tbsp Baoning Vinegar – buy it from Amazon here
1 Tbsp Chinkiang Vinegar – buy it from Amazon here
1 Tbsp. Rice Vinegar
1 Tbsp cornstarch, mixed with 2 Tbsp. water
½ cup diced extra-firm tofu
2 Tbsp rinsed and finely shredded Sichuan Preserved Vegetable – buy it from Amazon here
2 Tbsp finely slivered red bell pepper
3 sliced green onions
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil (Kadoya brand preferred) or to taste
2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon freshly ground Sichuan peppercorn
Tabasco to taste
Cilantro leaves for garnish
Soak mushrooms cloud ear and lily flowers separately in hot water for 25 to 30 minutes or until soft. Reserve mushroom liquid in amount specified above, discard any sand at bottom of bowl and combine with chicken stock.
Next remove stems from mushrooms; discard and thinly slice the caps. Pick off tough ends of cloud ear; discard ends; slice cloud ears thinly. Remove tough ends of lily flowers; cut flowers in half. Set aside until ready to begin cooking. Heat the chicken broth.
Mince the garlic and ginger with the shaoxing into a paste. Shred the bamboo shoots. Combine the cornstarch and the water. Lightly beat the eggs.
Add the beef and the soy sauce to the heated stock, cook for 1 minute more.
Add bamboo shoots, shiitakes, lily buds, Sichuan Preserved Vegetable, red bell pepper and cloud ears, stir quickly for 1 minute.
Stir in chicken/mushroom broth, shaoxing paste and Baoning/Chinkiang Vinegars.
Stir cornstarch/water mix one last time and add it to the soup.
Add the tofu and bring the soup to a boil.
Turn the heat to low, add the green onions.
Add the beaten eggs in a slow stream, stirring several times.
Turn off the heat and add the sesame oil, rice vinegar, Sichuan pepper and white pepper. Season to taste with hot sauce, garnish with Cilantro leaves and serve immediately.