Hot and Sour Soup is bursting with complex, rich, spicy, savory flavors on your table in 35 minutes!
This healthy Hot and Sour Soup recipe is busting with authentic Chinese flavor but is easy to make at home with pantry friendly ingredients. It’s a meal-in-one that tastes like you’ve slaved away for hours but literally requires less than 15 minutes on the stove! This Hot and Sour Soup recipe is warm and satisfying, laced with peppery, vinegar, soy, garlic, ginger undertones bursting with juicy pork, delicate tofu, meaty mushrooms, mildly crunchy bamboo shoots and wispy eggs. It is easy to customize to your own tastes by swapping the pork for chicken, swapping the veggies and/or making it more or less “hot” or “sour.” Now get ready for restaurant delicious Hot and Sour Soup all cooked in one pot for an easy meal any day of the week!
What is HOT AND SOUR SOUP?
Hot and Sour Soup is from the Sichuan region of China and has become extremely popular in American Chinese Restaurants. It is a culinary masterpiece exemplifying yin and yang in both flavor and texture – and now you can be a culinary master by making it in your own kitchen!
In Chinese, Hot and Sour is called 酸辣 汤 (suānlà tāng) which literally means “peppered soup with vinegar.” This accurate description refers to the potent peppery “hot” flavor derived from ground white peppercorns and the “sour” from the Chinese Black Vinegar. The resulting yin and yang flavors are further complimented by the savory broth that typically includes pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and eggs, although there are countless variations.
The first traces of hot and sour soup date back to ancient China, about 200 BC. While the ingredients have varied and evolved, the signature “hot and sour” spicy, savory broth remains the same.
HOT AND SOUR SOUP RECIPE
QUICK AND EASY
While Hot and Sour Soup is a favorite at Chinese restaurants, it also happens to be quick and easy to make at home. From start to finish, this soup can be on your table in just over 30 minutes, and even less depending on your chopping skills. This means you can whip up some soup minutes before lunch or dinner but everyone will be blown away at your deceptively simple recipe boasting hypnotic flavor.
YIN AND YANG FLAVORFUL
Hot and Sour Soup is so palate pleasing because it laughs in the face of monotony. It is the epitome of yin and yang in both flavor and texture which translates into savoring each exotic slurpful: the spicy pepper and the tangy vinegar, the meaty pork and the delicate tofu and soft feathery eggs, the earthy, tender mushrooms and the tangy, crunchy bamboo shoots.
The yin and yang is further is further enhanced by layers of complexity from garlic, ginger, Asian chili sauce and sesame oil. The spicy, savory, pungent, tangy, tender and fluffy layers create a mesmerizing symphony that has proved the test of time.
I’ve made Hot and Sour Soup not only quick and easy to make at home but also accessible by swapping out obscure ingredients such as mustard pickle or dried sea cucumber without compromising the flavor.
I’ve also swapped obscure lily buds, or golden needle, which are the dried buds of tiger lily flowers, with canned bamboo shoots. Both are described as delicate, musky, earthy, and slightly tangy but canned bamboo shoots are easily accessible, don’t require rehydrating and also boast textual variety.
In my quest for pantry friendly Hot and Sour Soup, I’ve also swapped reconstituted dried wood ear mushrooms with easier to-find shitake mushrooms which offer superior flavor. Finally, I’ve offered an accessible substitution for authentic Chinese Black Vinegar with balsamic and red wine vinegar (although this is one instance in which I promote locating the real thing if you can).
The resulting Hot and Sour Soup tastes dynamically authentic with layers of complexity you will drool over.
FRESH AND VIBRANT
This homemade Hot and Sour Soup recipe is also 100% fresh which makes a world of difference. Many restaurants Hot and Sour Soups are not made-to-order but are rather made in large batches earlier in the day which can result in reduced, gloopy disappointments. This Hot and Sour Soup, however, is lightly thickened, but never mushy or gloppy.
Furthermore, fresh Hot and Sour Soup means fresh, bright, vibrant white pepper and vinegar. These star ingredients rapidly deteriorate in flavor and pungency once added to the soup, so for the best punchy flavor, they should be added when ready to serve, and you’ll get to indulge in all their hot, sour, pungent splendor.
This Hot and Sour Soup is easy to customize with your favorite ingredient or what you have on hand – the important part is to stay true to the pepper and vinegar to create the resplendent broth. Don’t have pork? Use chicken. Don’t like tofu? Leave it out. Don’t like mushrooms? Add zucchini. Want it spicier? Add more chili sauce. Want it tangier? Add more vinegar. Adjust this Hot and Sour Soup recipe as little or as much as you want to make it perfect for YOU!
What is hot and sour soup made of?
This Hot and Sour Soup is made with pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, tofu, and eggs in a savory, white pepper seasoned broth spiked with soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil. The alluring flavor combination is created with simple, pantry friendly ingredients. You will need:
- Pork: emerges buttery tender and flavorful in this soup. I recommend 8 oz pork tenderloin (for the juiciest) or you may substitute with boneless center cut pork chop.
- Tofu: use firm or extra firm tofu.
- Aromatics: ginger and garlic are essential in Asian cuisine and infuse the entire soup with flavor. If you are feeling extra lazy, you can substitute the fresh ingredients with powders. The typical rule of thumb is 3:1, so one part dried to three parts fresh.
- Green onions: we will use all of the green onions – both the white parts and green parts and add them to the soup at different times to maximize their flavor, so just separate them once chopped. I consider the “white parts” up to where they are noticeably green and beautiful for garnish.
- Mushrooms: shiitake mushrooms are optimal for the most flavor but you may also use baby bella/cremini mushrooms.
- Canned bamboo Shoots: should be easy to find at every grocery store. They add a crunchy, meaty texture. You will julienne them into thin strips.
- Eggs: any large eggs will do the trick. We will use both the egg yolks and egg whites, whisk them together then drizzle into the soup to make the signature egg ribbons.
- Chicken broth or stock: use low sodium chicken broth so we can control the salt level, especially because we’re adding salty soy sauce. You can also use vegetable broth but chicken broth is more flavorful.
- Soy sauce: use low sodium so your Hot and Sour Soup isn’t too salty.
- Chinese black vinegar: (often known in its most popular form, Chinkiang or Zhenjiang vinegar), is dark, complex and fruity with umami rich undertones. It is often compared to balsamic although it is less sweet, and ultimately so unique that I hesitate to even attempt to describe it. You should be able to find Chinese Black Vinegar at Asian specialty markets.
- Asian chili sauce: use your favorite chili sauce and add more or less to taste.
- Toasted Sesame oil: adds a depth of toasted, nutty yum that rounds out the soup – please don’t skip!
- Cornstarch: thickens the soup and creates beautiful silky body; it also helps separate the eggs and tenderize the pork.
- Oil: use a neutral tasting oil such as canola oil, vegetable oil or peanut oil to cook the pork and sauté the aromatics.
- White pepper: has less heat than black pepper but boasts a floral, earthy flavor and greater complexity. You can start with less and add more to taste.
What Can I use instead of White Pepper?
I don’t recommend substituting black pepper for white pepper in this Hot and Sour Soup recipe unless you are in a bind. When recipes call for just a pinch of white pepper, then black pepper is an okay substitute, but not when a recipe, such as Hot and Sour Soup calls for ½-1 teaspoon.
In fact, Cooks Illustrated conducted a side by side taste test in which they seasoned two pots of Hot and Soup with the different peppers – one pot with black pepper and the other with white pepper. Tastes testers hands down preferred the soup seasoned with white pepper, noting that while the soup with black pepper was more aromatic and spicy, the soup with white pepper shined with its floral, earthy flavor and greater complexity.
What can I use instead of Chinese Black Vinegar?
Chinese Black Vinegar is so unique that I recommend seeking it out BUT I also understand if you need a quick, handy substitution. Chinse Black Vinegar contains an acidity level of 1.18 percent whereas most American vinegars have an acidity level of 5-7 pecent, so this soup will require far less of an American substitution, about 2 tablespoon as opposed to 5. As far as which vinegar most closely resembles Chinese Black vinegar – I recommend a combination of fruity balsamic and robust red wine vinegar – one tablespoon each. Of course, if you taste the soup and want it more acidity, you can always add more to taste.
Do I have to add pork?
Pork is traditional in Hot and Sour Soup but I know it’s not as pantry friendly or as inexpensive as chicken, so feel free to substitute the pork with boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Leave the thighs in about 1-inch bite size pieces so they don’t overcook.
Do I have to add tofu?
Nope! You can omit it altogether without adjusting the recipe.
DO I HAVE TO ADD CORNSTARCH?
I do not recommend skipping the cornstarch slurry as it is important to Hot and Sour Soup for a few reasons:
- Thickens the soup. adds body and richness without making the soup too thick.
- Creates silky egg flowers. Cornstarch stabilizing liquid proteins when they’re heated and inhibits protein bonds from forming in the eggs which would result in rubbery eggs. The cornstarch promotes silky, lighter, softer eggs.
Can I make VEGETARIAN Hot and Sour Soup?
Absolutely! Simply swap the pork for 8 oz. tofu or additional mushrooms. I prefer chicken broth as the base of the soup but you can use vegetable broth as well.
Is hot and sour soup GLUTEN FREE?
Hot and Sour Soup is almost gluten free! The only ingredient that contains gluten is the soy sauce but that’s an easy swap. Substitute the soy sauce for tamari or gluten free soy sauce.
How TO MAKE PORK TENDER & FLAVORFUL
Many Hot and Sour Soup recipes simply call for adding the pork directly to the soup which is okay – but just okay. In order to tenderize the pork, protect it from overcooking and infuse it with flavor through and through, we first toss it with:
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce: the salt in the soy sauce helps break down the proteins for a more tender texture.
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch: acts as a binder and helps the soy sauce and sesame oil cling to the meat and protects the pork from overcooking.
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil: adds flavor and helps deliver the soy sauce to the inner channels of the protein.
Tossing the pork with these ingredients literally takes minutes – so while it is an optional additional step, I highly recommend it for the BEST Hot and Sour Soup.
HOW TO MAKE HOT AND SOUR SOUP:
You are going to LOVE how easy this Hot and Sour Soup recipe is! It does have a few steps, but each step is super quick and easy. To make Hot and Sour Soup:
- TENDERIZE PORK: Whisk soy sauce, cornstarch and sesame oil together in a medium bowl. Add pork, stir to coat; let rest while you prep the tofu and veggies (up to 30 minutes).
- DRAIN TOFU: Meanwhile, place the tofu in a pie plate, top with a heavy plate and weigh down with 2 heavy cans (to release water). Set aside for 10 minutes while you finish prepping the ingredients and begin cooking the soup.
- SAUTE MUSHROOMS AND PORK: Heat oil in a Dutch oven or soup over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté 3 minutes. Add the pork, white part of green onions, chili paste and bamboo shoots; cook and stir for 1 minute. A ginger, and garlic and cook for additional 1 minute or until pork is no longer pink.
- SIMMER SOUP: Add broth, soy sauce and a pinch of sugar; cover and bring soup to a boil; uncover and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, chop tofu into 1/2-inch cubes.
- THICKEN SOUP: Whisk in the cornstarch slurry, followed by tofu, green onions and sesame oil; simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.
- CREATE EGG RIBBONS: Reduce heat to a gentle simmer. Begin stirring the soup in one direction to create a “whirlpool” effect. Slowly drizzle the whisked eggs into the soup while continuing to stir the soup in the same direction. The raw eggs will cook almost instantaneously as they spread and feather into ribbons.
- ADD “HOT” and “SOUR:” Just before serving, stir in vinegar and pepper.
- ADJUST SEASONINGS: Taste soup, if you’d like a more “sour” soup, add additional vinegar, for a spicier soup, add additional chili sauce or white pepper.
Do I have to Drain Tofu?
Drained tofu = flavorful tofu. Draining the tofu takes an extra 10 minutes, but all but the first couple seconds is hand-off draining – and SO worth it. Tofu is like a sponge – and fresh tofu is like a full sponge pumped full of water and therefore doesn’t have any capacity to absorb additional broth AKA flavor. Draining the tofu releases a substantial amount of water – about ½ cup – which frees it up to soak up the flavorful broth. So, you get tofu brimming with fragrant Hot and Sour Soup instead of flavorless water.
TIPS AND TRICKS FOR BEST HOT AND SOUR SOUP RECIPE
- Freeze pork. It is much easier to slice pork (or any protein) if it is partially frozen. Place it in the freezer for about 30 minutes prior to slicing.
- Marinate pork. This might seem like one extra step but is definitely worth it. It tenderizes the pork, protects it from overcooking and infuse it with flavor.
- Use firm tofu. Make sure you purchase firm or extra firm tofu, or the cubes may fall apart in the soup.
- Prep ingredients before you start cooking. While the pork is marinating, take the time to chop all your ingredients because once you start cooking, the ingredients are added in quick succession and if you have to pause, you will overcook the pork.
- Use pourable measuring cup. Whisk the eggs in a pourable measuring cup. The spout will make the eggs easy to pour in a thin stream. If you don’t have a measuring cup, you can add them to a anything with a spout like a pitcher or transfer to a plastic bag and snip a tiny corner off.
- Fully dissolve cornstarch off heat. Do not attempt to add the cornstarch slurry until the cornstarch is fully dissolved otherwise it will stay clumpy and never dissolve once added to the hot soup.
- Stir stock. Stir the stock/broth occasionally while it comes to a boil so the cornstarch doesn’t settle at the bottom.
- Stir stock slowly when adding eggs. You can stir the stock as rapidly as you like to create the whirlpool, but you’ll want to slow down once you start adding the eggs, otherwise they can dissolve into almost unrecognizable wisps.
- Speed of stirring = thickness of egg flowers. The speed at which you stir the stock when adding the eggs will determine how thin or thick your egg ribbons “egg flowers” are. For small, thin egg flowers, stir more quickly (but remember, not too rapidly), for thicker, even chunkier egg ribbons, stir more slowly. You can also vary your stirring speed to create a variety of thin and thick egg flowers.
- Slowly add eggs. You don’t want to add the eggs too quickly or it will lower the temperature of the broth. We want the broth to stay nice and hot so the eggs almost instantaneously cook which helps them feather into long ribbons and not clump.
- Add “hot and sour” only when ready to serve. Hold the vinegar and pepper until the very end and only add when everyone is literally gathered at the table and you’re ready serve. Even a few minutes of sitting can dramatically dull the vinegar and pepper and require freshening splashes and sprinkles to punch the flavor back up.
HOT AND SOUR SOUP RECIPE VARIATIONS
This Hot and Sour Soup can be a springboard for a number of variations. Here are a just a few ideas:
- Swap protein: shrimp, chicken and ground pork would all be delicious.
- Go vegetarian: omit the pork and add extra tofu or veggies.
- Add vegetables: corn, zucchini, broccoli, edamame, bok choy, spinach, bell peppers, etc. Keep in mind you will want to use additional broth/stock if you add either veggies or protein and the correct ratio of additional cornstarch.
- Garnish: get creative in the garnish by adding crispy wontons, crushed peanuts, etc.
In addition to customizing the veggies, you can also customize the taste to make it the best Hot and Sour Soup for YOU!
- Want it hotter? Add additional chili garlic sauce.
- Want it more sour? Add additional vinegar.
- Want it more peppery: Add additional white pepper.
Can I Make Hot and sour SOUP Ahead OF TIME?
Hot and Sour Soup is best served fresh so I don’t recommend making it entirely ahead of time. Instead, you can prep the ingredients in advance so it can come together in minutes – literally.
- Pork: slice the pork ahead of time and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. You may also marinate the pork up to 30 minutes ahead of time.
- Drain tofu: drain tofu and chop up to days ahead of time; store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- Vegetables and Aromatics: chop the mushrooms, grate the ginger, mince the garlic and chop the green onions and julienne the bamboo shoots. Store the mushrooms in a separate airtight container and the ginger, garlic, white part of green onions, and bamboo shoots in a separate container (because the mushrooms are cooked first and then the rest of the ingredients are added).
HOW DO I STORE HOT AND SOUR SOUP?
Hot and Sour Soup should be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
CAN YOU REHEAT HOT AND SOUR SOUP RECIPE?
Hot and Sour Soup is best eaten right away as the eggs don’t maintain the same texture when reheated. That being said, you can still reheat the soup, just be aware it’s not like most soups that get better with time.
Take care when reheating to not heat at too high of heat – you don’t want to scramble the eggs or they can get rubbery. Low and slow is the name of the game.
- Stove: heat over medium low heat, stirring occasionally until heated through.
- Microwave: transfer individual servings to a microwave-safe bowl and microwave for 30 seconds, stir, then warm at 15-second intervals, as needed, taking care not to over-heat.
CAN I FREEZE HOT AND SOUR SOUP?
No, I don’t recommend freezing Hot and Sour as the egg flowers as well as the mushrooms become an unpleasant texture when frozen and reheated.
IS HOT AND SOUR SOUP HEALTHY?
Hot and Sour Soup is very low in calories and carbohydrates with a nice boost of protein. If you want to add more nutrients, simmer some vegetables in the broth before adding the eggs. Here are some health perks of Hot and Sour Soup:
- Pork tenderloin is certified by the American Heart Association’s as an extra-lean, heart-healthy protein. A 3-ounce portion of pork tenderloin, for example, contains less than 3 grams of fat and 120 calories. Pork tenderloin also is also an excellent source of thiamin, vitamin B6, phosphorous and niacin.
- Tofu is naturally low in sodium, high in protein and cholesterol-free but bursting with flavor as it soaks up the flavorings of the soup.
- Shiitake mushrooms boast the most fiber of all mushroom varieties (at 2g per serving), are a good source of riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B6, potassium, and are one of the richest vegetable sources of selenium, which may protect against cancer and heart disease. Research suggests that eating shiitake mushrooms daily lowers inflammatory markers and improves immune system function.
- Water chestnuts are full of nutrients yet low in calories. They are a great source of fiber and provide 12% of the daily fiber recommendation for women and 8% for men. Research shows that eating plenty of fiber may help promote bowel movements, reduce blood cholesterol levels, regulate blood sugar levels. Water chestnuts also contain high amounts of potassium, manganese, copper, vitamin B6 and riboflavin.
- Chicken broth has long been rumored to help with the common cold but there is actual science behind it! Chicken broth prevents the movement of white blood cells or neutrophils that are responsible for inflammation – symptoms which include congestion, mucus build-up and coughing.
WHAT TO SERVE WITH HOT AND SOUR SOUP?
This Hot and Sour Soup is easily a meal-in-one full of protein and veggies, but we also love it with a fresh, crunchy salad such as Chinese Chicken Salad, Crunchy Asian Salad, Chinese Salad, or Asian Pineapple Salad.
You can transform this Hot and Sour Soup into a feast by serving it with appetizers! We love it with any of the following Asian appetizers, even though some of them aren’t Chinese:
- Pineapple Cream Cheese Wontons
- Crab Rangoon
- Pork Egg Rolls, Sesame Chicken Egg Rolls, Sweet and Sour Chicken Egg Rolls
- Chinese Chicken Wings or Korean Chicken Wings
- Chicken Lettuce Wraps
- Chicken Satay with Peanut Sauce
- Korean Meatballs
- Vietnamese Spring Rolls
LOOKING FOR MORE ASIAN SOUP RECIPES?
- Egg Drop Soup
- Wonton Soup
- Tom Kha Gai
- Thai Chicken Noodle Soup
- Miso Soup with Chicken and Noodles
- Laksa (Thai Coconut Soup)
- Curried Butternut Squash Soup
- Thai Soup with Chicken and Wild Rice
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Carlsbad Cravings© Original inspired by Cooks Illustrated