This easy hot and sour soup recipe is a quick and hearty appetizer in just 30 minutes! Each spoonful is packed with shiitake mushrooms, tofu, bamboo shoots, and chicken.
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Hot and sour soup is a classic Chinese appetizer you can easily make 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; the white pepper gives it the characteristic heat.
The key is to balance the savory, spicy, and vinegar notes. I use chicken thighs and shiitake mushrooms to enhance the chicken stock base. Simple thickening agents like cornstarch and egg ribbons enhance the texture. If you enjoy making this, you’ll want to try my wonton soup recipe next.
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 rice vinegar add the characteristic taste. The base contains garlic, ginger, sesame oil, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and meat like pork or chicken.
A beaten egg is slowly poured in to give a similar texture as egg drop soup. It’s usually presented in a small bowl with sliced green onions, black pepper, 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. Use thinly sliced tenderloin, chops, or ground meat if you want pork.
Mushrooms add a deep umami flavor that 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 robust, 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 intense 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 by stirring it in the soup because the taste can become bitter if overheated.
I like to serve spicy chili oil on the side so 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 and a simple circular motion to mix it. This ensures that the starches are appropriately dispersed in the water to prevent them 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 different types of mushrooms like wood ear or oyster for the savory flavor. Or you can add 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.
Serve this with
Yes, a serving of soup is a healthy appetizer. My version has tofu, chicken, and eggs for extra protein. The soup is thickened with a cornstarch slurry for a lower-calorie way to add viscosity to the chicken stock base.
Umami-rich mushrooms are added to the hot and sour soup. This can be fresh or dried shiitake or wood ear (also called black fungus or cloud ears). They can be found at Asian grocery stores. The sliced pieces of dried mushrooms will give a dark brown to black appearance to the mushrooms in the soup. Don’t worry, it’s delicious!
Some versions add meat, like chicken, to the soup. If you prefer a vegetarian option, omit the poultry. You can increase the amount of tofu in the soup.
Can you substitute Chinese black vinegar?
Black vinegar gives the best flavor and most balanced tanginess, but other types of vinegar can be used. I recommend distilled white vinegar or red wine vinegar. Start with 1 teaspoon to gauge the taste, then gradually add more. Soy sauce can help balance the intense flavor with savory notes if needed. Worcestershire is another option: simply add 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
- Cook the Aromatics – In a large pot, heat the vegetable oil. Add the garlic and ginger, and saute for 30-seconds.
- Saute the Chicken – Add the sliced chicken, and saute until cooked through, about 2 minutes.
- Simmer the Soup – 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, and stir to combine. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add tofu and cook for 1 minute.
- Thicken the Consistency – In a small bowl, whisk together cornstarch and water. Gradually add to the soup, constantly stirring until the consistency is slightly thickened, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the Egg – Turn off the heat and drizzle in the whisked egg. Use a spoon to stir the soup using figure-eight motion until you see strands of cooked egg appear.
- Add White Pepper – 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 your Chinese black vinegar is not gluten-free.
- Make it VEGETARIAN: Add 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.
Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000-calorie diet. All nutritional information is based on estimated third-party calculations. Each recipe and nutritional value will vary depending on the brands you use, measuring methods, and portion sizes per household.
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