Friday, January 23, 2009

Hot and Sour Soup with Asparagus and Wild Mushrooms

This recipe comes from Hugh Carpenter, a professional chef who specializes in Asian fusion cuisine; I took a class from him in Santa Monica a long time ago. He used to own a chain of dim sum restaurants in Los Angeles; I used to go to one in West Hollywood, back when Melrose Avenue was really hot.

This recipe is virtually foolproof; the only potential problem is overcooking the asparagus, which is why I tell you to add the asparagus at the very end of the cooking time. The other vegetables aren't as delicate, but of course you can add them gradually according to the required cooking time (carrots first, etc.).

1 small bunch asparagus, diagonally cut
4 oz. shitake mushrooms, stemmed and slivered
1/2 box bean curd (use very firm)
1 cup slivered carrots
1/2 cup slivered green onions
1 boneless chicken breast, skinned
6 cups chicken broth (of course, homemade chicken stock gives the best results)
2 eggs
2 Tbsp. cornstarch

Seasoning Mix

6 Tbsp. vinegar (white, red wine, or cider vinegar)
2 Tbsp. dry sherry
1 Tbsp. heavy soy sauce
1 Tbsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. finely ground white pepper
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. Chinese chili sauce

Advance Preparation

Prepare asparagus, mushrooms, bean curd, carrots, green onion. Cut chicken breast into very thin spoon-sized pieces; marinate it with some sesame oil for a couple minutes so it doesn’t stick together. Set aside broth, eggs and cornstarch. In small bowl, combine Seasoning Mix.

Last-Minute Cooking

Bring broth to low boil. Add chicken and give soup a vigorous stir to separate the meat. Add vegetables [except asparagus] and seasoning mix. Combine cornstarch with equal amount cold water. Bring soup to low boil and stir in the cornstarch mixture. Beat eggs well. Bring soup back to very low boil. Add 2 Tbsp. soup to eggs, then slowly pour eggs into soup while beating soup with a fork where the eggs hit the hot broth. [Add asparagus for the last few minutes of cooking.] Remove from heat and adjust for salt, spiciness and tartness. The soup can be made several hours in advance and just reheated. Turn into soup tureen or individual bowls. Serve at once.

Serves 4 as the main entrée, or 6 to 8 as the soup course.

Other possible additions: bean sprouts, red cabbage, bamboo shoots, peas

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