Thursday, September 24, 2009

Sour and Spicy Soup

I went to Anderson Junior College in Singapore and there was a famous food stall in school that sells primary stir fry meat with rice and a sour spicy soup. It always has long Qs and most of us make it a point to spend 30 minutes of our break time to Q up for our lunch at this stall.

Came across this book at the city library and totally fell in love with it. Simply designed with a white background and titled 'Sichuan cookery', it was by this lady Fuchsia Dunlop. On first glance, I was somewhat skeptical about Chinese cooking written by someone with an English sounding name, but she actually spend time taking private classes at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine and after trying a few of her detailed recipes, I am declaring this a winner and I'm getting the book from Johan as a Christmas present (yes, he knows I'm terrible at waiting for surprises so he tells me some first).

So here's one of the first to come, one soup that will warm your tummy up for the upcoming autumn. Surprisingly, (or not) the spiciness from this soup comes from the fresh ginger and pepper, not any famous Sichuan pepper.

Serves 6-8

Preparation and cooking time required around 30 minutes, you basically just need a pot.

200g tender, lean pork, sliced into thin strips

Marinade the pork with:
1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons potato starch
2 teaspoons cold water

Other ingredients
4-5 Chinese dried mushrooms
1 can of tinned bamboo shoots
a 10g piece of fresh ginger
4 button mushrooms (optional)
100g cooked ham (you can use the breakfast or picnic ham slices)
3 spring onions, green parts only
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon groundnut oil
1.2 liters of meat stock (I use chicken cubes)
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine
1 teaspoon light soy sauce
1 teaspoon dark soy sauce
salt to taste
ground white pepper or black pepper to taste
4 tablespoon potato flour mixed with 4-6 tablespoons cold water
3-4 tablespoons Chinkiang or black Chinese vinegar

  1. Soften the dried mushrooms in plenty of hot water to soak, refresh the tinned bamboo shoots by blanching them slightly in lightly salted boiling water.
  2. Marinade the pork in a small bowl, peel and thinly slice the ginger. Cut the button mushrooms, bamboo shoots (if they are not already sliced), Chinese mushrooms and ham to about the same slices as the pork slices. The idea is that you want to achieve the same kind of consistency for the soup with all the ingredients. 
  3. Prepare the serving bowl by sprinkling thinly sliced spring onion greens and drizzle over with the sesame oil.
  4. Heat the oil in the pot over high heat. Fry the ginger for about 30 seconds until it is fragrant but not brown, add the bamboo shoots, ham, dried and fresh mushrooms and stir fry a few time. Add the hot stock or add hot water and add 1 cube of chicken stock. Bring to boil.
  5. When it is boiling, skim away any scum and discard. Add the Shaoxing wine, light and dark soy sauce and season with salt and pepper. (If you like it spicier, add more pepper!) The final taste should give you a well-salted soup with the pepper giving you a spicy kick without overwhelming the other flavors.
  6. Add the pork strips and use a pair of chopsticks to separate them, when they are just about cooked, stir in the potato starch mixture to thicken the soup. Remember to stir the mixture and add in gradually till you reach the consistency you desire.
  7. Finally, turn off the heat and add the vinegar to give the soup a nice mellow sourness without it tasting vinegary. Pour it into the serving bowl with spring onions and serve immediately!

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