Let's blame the cornstarch. Restaurants and recipes inevitably use it as a thickener, and we accept this without asking why. (What's our problem?) Yes, cornstarch plumps up the broth, but in doing so puts a hazy, viscous layer between us and the sour, spicy sting we crave. Flavors go muddy and dim, like listening to Les Mis with cotton balls in our ears.
Luckily, Joanne Chang has never been shackled by everyone else's expectations (at Myers + Chang, she makes genius scallion pancakes out of pizza dough). Her mother's version of hot and sour got her off to a good start: "No cornstarch, lots of egg to thicken, really bright and pungent," Chang told me.
She took it further and made it her own, loosening tradition without compromising all that's good about it. She subbed button mushrooms for the traditional wood ear, ground pork for strips of loin, and skipped lily buds and bamboo shoots altogether. "I didn't always have easy access to Asian markets," Chang said. "The important part to me was the broth."
And the broth is everything you want it to be, but can never find. Don't get stressed out by the ingredient list -- all the effort is in gathering, and chopping and slicing a few things. Once you start cooking this soup, you're nearly done. Just watch.
First, sauté ground pork in garlic, ginger, and a lot of minced scallions. It's going to smell cozy and cleansing. (If you keep kosher, ground chicken or turkey would be a reasonable substitution, but don't go too lean.)
Pour in chicken broth; warm all that up. Next add your tofu and mushrooms, heat them through too.
Next go in all your hot, sour, and salty seasonings -- Sriracha and soy, rice vinegar and sesame oil, a lot of black pepper.
Whisk in egg while it's still very hot, watch ribbons form and spin through the broth. Done.
So if your bones are cold: Make this soup. If the house is, suddenly, just a little too quiet: Make this soup. If you're looking for comfort and adrenaline and strength: Make this soup.
Adapted slightly from Flour, Too (Chronicle Books, 2013)
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 garlic clove, smashed and minced 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger 4 scallions, white and green parts, minced, plus more for garnish 8 ounces ground pork 4 cups store-bought or homemade chicken stock 1 pound soft or firm tofu (not silken and not extra firm), cut into 1/2-inch cubes 4 or 5 medium button mushrooms, wiped clean and thinly sliced (or substitute dried, rehydrated wood ear mushrooms) 1 teaspoon granulated sugar 2/3 cup rice vinegar, or to taste 3 tablespoons soy sauce, or to taste 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or to taste 1 tablespoon sesame oil, plus more for garnish 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce, or to taste 2 large eggs White or black pepper for garnish
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I'm an ex-economist, ex-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."