Duly Noted

Forget Joyce’s Ulysses. More often than not, I find myself wishing for annotations on recipes I read. The offenders can be found everywhere: in cookbooks, online, in magazines…other blogs. I can’t be the only one who reads food preparation instructions with a raised eyebrow. Caramelize an onion in 15 minutes? I beg to differ.

As thrilled as I was to find a hot and sour soup recipe in a recent issue of the magazine Saveur, I was skeptical about the time it took, not to mention a seemingly out of nowhere addition of pork tenderloin. I’m a huge fan of this fiery soup and was excited to try out the recipe — with reservations.

And now, ladies and gentleman, I bring you Suan La Tang, Hot and Sour Soup, with my annotations in italics.

Suan La Tang –Hot and Sour Soup, Saveur #150 (November 2012)

For the pork:

1 tbsp. soy sauce

1 tbsp. brandy

1 tsp. cornstarch

4 oz. pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

[The addition of this animal seems completely unnecessary and without merit. I will ignore this direction and continue on with the rest of recipe.]

For the soup:

8 cups chicken stock

[Really, does it have to be chicken stock? Maybe we can just call it stock and keep it vegetarian?]

3 tbsp. soy sauce

3 tbsp. white wine vinegar

3 tbsp. corn starch

1 tsp. ground white pepper

[Um. White pepper? Is that really necessary? After checking a bunch of hot and sour soups online, it looks like an essential ingredient to the soup. Luckily, spices were 50% off at Star Market this afternoon. I will now have to find a dozen more recipes that call for white pepper, or, make this soup over and over and over.]

1 tsp. kosher salt

½ tsp. cayenne

12 oz. firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/4” cubes

[But tofu usually comes in 14 oz. packages. I’m not going to use all but 2 oz. of tofu. That just seems ridiculous.]

¼ cup cubed potato

[I peeled and cubed the potato while I waited  for the broth to thicken. There was a lot of waiting.]

6 shiitake or wood ear mushrooms, cut into 1/4 “ pieces.

[I wonder what people who don’t frequent Ocean State Job Lot do when recipes call for a random amount of shiitake mushrooms.  Even though the directions didn’t call for it, before I tackled any of the recipe, I set the mushrooms in a bowl of near-boiling water and lidded the bowl with an overturned plate. The mushrooms soaked until it was time to add them to the pot. This made them much easier to cut.]

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 tsp. toasted sesame oil

2 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro, to garnish

[Eh, I’m not going to bother with the cilantro tonight.]

Directions

For the pork:

[See above. I’m just going to completely ignore this part of the recipe and hope for the best.]

For the soup:

Whisk together stock, soy sauce, vinegar, cornstarch, pepper, salt, cayenne and ¼ cup water in a 4-qt. saucepan, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

[I don’t own a 4-qt. saucepan, so I’m going to use the huge pot I use for making pasta. Do people typically own 4-qt. saucepans? About the boiling: It seems to take a good 14-17 minutes to bring 8 cups of stock to a boil, just an FYI.]

Add pork, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens, about 30 minutes. Add tofu, potatoes, and mushrooms, and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

[As it turns out, the thickening took more like 50 minutes, rather than 30 minutes. The potatoes getting tender took closer to 25 minutes, rather than 15 minutes.]

Without stirring, slowly drizzle egg into simmering soup in a thin, steady stream. When egg strands float to surface, stir in the oil. Ladle soup into serving bowls and garnish with cilantro. Serves 4-6.

[Wow, the drizzled raw egg morphing into floating streams was almost instantaneous. So cool. I want to do it again.]

The verdict: This soup was excellent and worth sharing. With annotations. I started it at 5:30 and it was a little after 7 before we sat down to eat. Will definitely make it again, but will keep in mind for the next time that this soup takes about an hour and a half to prepare.

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14 thoughts on “Duly Noted

    • You’re so right about pig ending up in a ton of Asian dishes. From what I’ve learned in food studies classes, raising a pig takes much less land space than a cow. This recipe is definitely a keeper. Looking forward to my leftovers for lunch on this dreary day.

  1. Ha! You were simply doing what all good cooks do–casting an appraising eye over a recipe and deciding on the spot what you liked and didn’t, what looked as though it would work and what wouldn’t–and then adapting. Re: the white pepper. The French use white pepper a lot, particularly when they don’t want the pepper specks to show (fondue, croque monsieur). As for the random amount of shiitakes, as a local alternative to the Ocean State Job Lot, you might consider the large Asian grocery store in Allston, where Brighton Ave. splits off from Comm. Ave. – they often have loose Asian mushrooms and (not that this is relevant to your recipe) an unbelievable array of bok-choy-like vegetables in various shapes and sizes. Very funny piece. You’ll have to excuse me–I need to get back to proof-reading my next post. Ken

    • Yes! I’m a huge fan of Super 88/Hong Kong Market. We actually live in Lower Allston and I work at BU, so I oftentimes take a lunch break for a cheap banh mi. I’ve read that the amazing Asian grocery store, H-Mart, is coming to the old Harvest space in Central Square. (Which just moved across the street from its old location.) I’m a huge fan of OSJL for pantry items like canned tomatoes, capers and pasta.

      Thanks for the white pepper tip. Will now examine the Pepin cookbook Santa gave me this year.

  2. 1. I like the tag of “Molly judging things” — and don’t fear, you are not the only person who looks at recipes and knows they know better.
    2. A dash of white pepper is also great in lazy black beans. #Debisnotfancy
    3. Really enjoyed this entry.

    • I have actually sat in as a judge in a few cooking contests, which is why the tag exists. However, Rich will tell you with a shake of his head that I could probably use that tag every day. When I put this post together last night I asked if he thought the tag would be appropriate. When is it not?, he asked with a wink.

  3. Curious what you’d think about subbing beef (veal?) for the pork. (I think that’s what they do at the kosher Chinese places.) (We could experiment with this in my kitchen since you don’t do meat in yours…)

  4. Wow…so much to comment on. First – I saw that recipe and ripped it right out of Saveur and into my “need to make” file. (I just can’t keep holding on to years of magazines…and the file is very large). Second – I have a huge thing of white pepper that I bought for a recipe years ago. Hope it doesn’t go bad. Third – we used to make egg drop soup at home (more like dump a pile of yellow-colored, green-speckled MSG and then crack an egg it int) – I love the swirling egg. Finally, a tag for “Molly judging things” – no surprise there, though perhaps I should add that one to my blog. Can’t wait to judge that next cooking contest with you!

  5. Can you do an experiment and make the version with pork and have Rich do a taste test?

    Pork is such a large part of Chinese dishes I would think it would make a difference….

    • Hey Jack,
      I’m all for kitchen experiments, but can’t help out with this one. Our house is a pig-free zone. I’m also not the right person to run any sort of experiment involving meat as it’s something I’m very unfamiliar with. Maybe someone will see this comment and try it out and can report back to us?

  6. Hey Molly,

    I saw this recipe on Saveur and made it over the weekend as well! Ground white pepper is actually quite common in Asian recipes; my parents always had a bottle in the house, but it was also my first time cooking with it on Sunday. Did you think the soy sauce was a bit overwhelming? If I make this again, I will probably use a bit less soy sauce.

    • I was OK on the soy sauce level, but now I’m wondering if I have a low-sodium soy sauce in the house…Did you use the pork like the recipe originally called for? Also wondering if there was an added layer of salt with the meat. Someone else mentioned that white pepper plays a large role in French cooking. I love getting hints and tips from people and since I hate buying an ingredient for just one recipe, I’m going to make sure to explore a bunch of cookbooks to get some more mileage out of my new spice.

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