This easy hot and sour soup recipe is a quick and hearty appetizer ready in just 30 minutes! The spicy and tangy broth is thickened with cornstarch and eggs for a luscious texture. Each spoonful is packed with shiitake mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, and chicken.
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Hot and sour soup is a classic Chinese restaurant-style appetizer, and you can easily make this at home. The authentic flavors deliver just the right proportion of spice and tanginess. It’s refreshing to the taste buds when done right. You’ll be surprised that the soup isn’t spicy from chilis, but rather the white pepper gives it the characteristic invited burn.
The key is to balance the savory, spicy, and vinegar notes. I use chicken thighs and shiitake mushrooms to enhance the chicken stock base. Using simple thickening agents like cornstarch and eggs instantly provides body to the soup. Put down that take-out menu and fire up the stove!
What is hot and sour soup?
This soup is a popular appetizer found at Chinese restaurants adored for its pungency and spiciness. White pepper and black vinegar add the characteristic taste. The base contains garlic, ginger, sesame oil, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and meat like pork or chicken. An egg is added to give a similar texture as egg drop soup. I like to garnish the soup with sliced green onions and cilantro leaves for a pop of color and freshness.
Use chicken thighs
Traditional recipes use pork to flavor the stock, but my version uses chicken thighs because it’s more flavorful due to the dark meat and fat. I also find that it doesn’t dry out as quickly when simmered. If you would like pork, use thinly sliced tenderloin, chops, or ground meat.
Mushrooms add a deep umami flavor that quickly infuses into the soup. I use thinly sliced fresh shiitake mushrooms. However, dried can be rehydrated in warm water and added to the chicken stock. Dried shiitake mushrooms are incredibly concentrated in flavor and will add a strong savory taste. Wood ear mushrooms are also traditionally used. They have a chewy and almost seaweed-like texture.
Use black vinegar
Chinese black vinegar creates a unique fermented and intense flavor. Depending on the brand, it may contain onions, sugar, tomato paste, carrot juice, and spices. It’s similar to Worcestershire sauce but with a more robust vinegar taste. You can find it at most Asian grocery stores.
White pepper adds spiciness
White pepper is the one ingredient you shouldn’t substitute with something else. It has a unique sharp peppery bite and slightly smoky taste. It’s added at the end of cooking because the taste can become bitter if overheated. I like to serve spicy chili oil on the side so that everyone can customize the heat level.
Thickening the soup
A cornstarch slurry is added at the end of cooking to thicken the soup. I use a ratio of 2-parts water to 1-part cornstarch. This ensures that the starches are appropriately dispersed in the water to prevent the starches from clumping together when it hits the hot chicken stock.
Make the soup vegetarian
You can swap out a few things. Omit the chicken and add more different types of mushrooms like wood ear or oyster for the savory flavor. Or you can add in 12 ounces of firm tofu, which won’t break down as it simmers. Use vegetable stock or broth instead of chicken stock. Disregard the eggs for a vegan version of the soup.
Can you substitute Chinese black vinegar?
Black vinegar gives the richest flavor and most balanced tanginess to the soup, but other types of vinegar can be used. I recommend distilled white vinegar or red wine vinegar. Start with 1 teaspoon so that you can gauge how strong the taste is, then gradually add more. Soy sauce can help balance the intense flavor with savory notes if needed. Worcestershire is another option, simply add in 1 teaspoon at a time and adjust to taste.
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Hot and Sour Soup
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon minced garlic
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 4 ounces boneless skinless chicken thighs, ⅛-inch thick slices
- 4 cups unsalted chicken stock
- 2 ounces shiitake mushrooms, ⅛-inch thick slices
- ¼ cup bamboo shoots, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 8 ounces firm tofu, cut into ¼-inch cubes
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- ¼ cup water
- 1 large egg, lightly whisked
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 2 tablespoons green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons cilantro
- hot chili oil, optional
- In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the garlic and ginger, saute for 30-seconds.
- Add the sliced chicken, saute until cooked through, about 2 minutes.
- Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce to a simmer over medium-low heat. Add the mushrooms, bamboo shoots, vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, honey, and salt, stir to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add tofu and cook for 1 minute.
- In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Gradually add to the soup, stirring constantly until the consistency is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and drizzle in the whisked egg. Use a spoon to stir the soup using figure-eight motions, until you see strands of cooked egg appear.
- Stir in the white pepper. Season with salt, pepper, and vinegar to taste.
- To serve, portion out the soup and garnish with green onions, cilantro and chili oil if using.
- MAKE IT GLUTEN-FREE: Substitute gluten-free tamari or coconut aminos for soy sauce. Use red wine vinegar or distilled vinegar if you are unsure that Chinese black vinegar is gluten-free.
- Make it VEGETARIAN: Add in more mushrooms or tofu to replace the chicken. Use vegetable stock or broth. Omit the egg for a vegan version.
- Black Vinegar Substitutes: Use distilled white vinegar or red wine vinegar. Add 1 teaspoon at a time, taste, and gradually add more as desired. Additional soy sauce can be used to balance the taste. Worcestershire sauce can be used, 1 teaspoon at a time to taste.
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