Cooking With Foxfur: Hot & Sour Soup


Can you run a knife? Drive a stove? Hang onto a spoon? Yeah? Well then, kitten, you can make a mighty mean pot of hot and sour. In terms of ease it’s the split pea soup of China. Easy prep, easy cook, and you’d have to really apply yourself to screw it up.

Don’t let the hot part scare you off. It’s not hot in the conventional sense. The “hot” comes from white pepper which is identical to black pepper but for one detail. Peppercorns for black pepper are harvested from the tree when nearly ripe and allowed to dry in the sun so that the outer skin, the pericarp, oxidizes and turns black. That’s what gives the black pepper its black. White pepper is made from peppercorns that have been dried and then lovingly rubbed by silky handed virgins to remove the pericarp. White pepper still tastes very similar to the black but seems, to my palate, a bit more refined. Think of it as perfectly pampered pepper. It’s used extensively in Asian cuisine because it won’t feng your shui.

This is a dish that will convince guests and loved ones that you are a closet chef. Of its many pluses, the plussiest plus is that you can make it using ingredients that have a decent shelf life and won’t require a special trip to market right before making it. A block of tofu, a can of bamboo shoots, a can of shiitake mushrooms are the most exotic ingredients required.

Hot & Sour Soup

2 Quarts (8 Cups) chicken broth (I use powdered granules)
1/2 Cup soy sauce
1/2 Cup white vinegar
1/2 Teaspoon white pepper
1 Pound firm tofu cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 Can bamboo shoots
1 Can shiitake mushrooms (or 4-6 dried, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes) 3 Well beaten eggs
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with 2 Tablespoons cold water

Put the broth on the stove and set it to medium for a slow simmer. Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and black pepper.
Dump the tofu in and and stir it up real good.
Cut the mushrooms into thin strips, about 1/8 inch wide, the size of matchsticks and toss ’em in the pot. Cutting the canned variety is like slicing jellyfish, careful!
Slice the bamboo shoots into 3 or 4 matchsticks from each flat slice as they come from the can. Heave ho, into the pot they go.
Increase the heat up to medium-high. Pour the cornstarch water in and stir to distribute. This will thicken the soup almost imperceptibly but your tongue will notice the slight velvety texture. Just see if it doesn’t…
Now crank up the burner to sorta not quite high to get a good almost boil going on.
Stir the pot so you get a good cyclone going and pour the eggs in a stream over 5 to 6 seconds. Stir a bit more to incorporate the eggy goodness.

Serve some up in a bowl and drizzle in a li’l bit of sesame or chili oil if that kinda thing pleases you.

Wanna get all fancylike with it? Throw in some crispy fried pork matchsticks, slivers of bamboo shoots, grated carrot or daikon, gold leaf, etc.

Survey says? You’re a genius!
After eating, I leave the pot on the stove top overnight. The flavors magically mingle and and magnify when you’re not looking. It’s a great breakfast on a cool winter morning.

The perfect accompaniment to hot & sour soup is crab Rangoons, A.K.A. crab puffs. I will publish that recipe soon…

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Split Pea Soup By Email


Aargh!
One reason my posts have been infrequent as of late is that of connectivity. My truck was out of action for five weeks due to a thrown timing belt, wrecked cylinder head (bent valves), and a dud of an oil pump. Since we live in the middle of, no, at the far end of nowhere, our only internet connection is by dialup. Yep, an old timey telephone modem that connects at the lightning combat speed of 24kbps and that’s when there’s a decent tailwind blowing the bits along. WordPress pages take forever to load and I’m unable to access the dashboard to submit new posts. I usually drive to town and visit the library to use the free high speed WiFi. I finally figured out that I can submit new posts by email, so, here we go, split pea soup by email!

As seems to happen every year, the crappy, rainy weather has descended upon us in the Pacific Northwet. Nothing says “Fuck you, rain!” quite like split pea soup and cornbread.
I grew up eating Mom’s pea soup, something I thought (and indeed was) magical. It doesn’t take chanting or any major incantations to make, is inexpensive and nourishing, and the preparation complexity is on par with finger painting.

It can be as simple or as gastronomically complicated as you wish and is highly tolerant of many questionable ingredients, like me! I don’t get all fancy with organic, free-range split peas or top-shelf spices. I get the main ingredients out of the bulk bins at the warehouse discount supermarket. I bagged up a couple tablespoons of thyme and sage and at checkout the gal said they wouldn’t register on the scale so she gave them to me for a penny a bag!

Most recipes I’ve seen use plain water as the soup base. A base ain’t a base unless it has flavor. What? I can haz flavor? Yes. Yes you can.
I love to use chicken broth, er, loved to use it. Then I found Knorr ham boullion cubes at the Vietnamese / Thai market hole in the wall market I visit from time to time. These are cubes the size of a pat of butter and make 2 cups each, less unwrapping, more cooking. The hammy goodness that this broth brings to the soup blast it into another dimension and will, if you’re as normal as I am, render all other pea soups unpalatable.

Another ingredient you won’t find in Paula Deen’s cookbooks is mushrooms. Again, no exotic spotted grotto cave mushrooms picked by silky-handed virgins and transported to the store with Bach sonatas serenading them. Plain old white mushrooms folks. I’ve made it with criminis with no discernible difference. I recommend sauteing these in butter with some minced garlic. After they pull off their shrinkydink trick and get nice and brown, pour in a few tablespoons of dry sherry or wine. Cook and stir until most of the liquid is gone.

Bacon! If you have the time to include bacon, include bacon!

Most recipes call for you to add the produce in its raw form. I’ll do this when I’m short on time or out of wine and lack the inspiration for a long makeout session with the stovetop. Sauteing the veggies, preferably in bacon fat (except the mushrooms), really deepens the flavor and will reduce the overall cooking time.

Foxfur’s Split Pea Soup

8 cups chicken or ham broth
1 pound green split peas
2 to 10 strips of bacon, cut up into 1/2 inch pieces (optional) 1 carrot, diced
1 onion, chopped
1 shallot, diced (optional)
10 – 12 white mushrooms sliced and then cut in half
2 tbsp butter
1/2 tsp sage
1/2 tsp thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced OR 1 tsp minced garlic from a jar
1/2 tsp salt

Put 8 cups or 2 quarts (quarts are tastier!) of water in a biggish pot on the stove. Add your bullion cubes or powder. Set it to boil while you sort your peas as described below.

Put the dry peas in a bowl and cover with cold water. Stir with your paws to make any hulls float up and pitch ’em. Pick out discolored, shriveled, and otherwise unsavory characters. Pick out any gravel that may be in there. Why is there gravel in split peas? Do they sweep the peas around parking lots to get the hulls off? Tumble ’em in a cement mixer to do so? Who knows…
Rinse the peas in a colander and toss in the pot of boiling yum. Boil for around 5 minutes and then turn it down to a low simmer. A proper low simmer has a small amount of small bubbles bubbling up at a small frequency.

Add the sage, thyme, pepper, salt, and half the garlic to the pot. Simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.
While it simmers you’ll prepare and add the veggies.

Throw the bacon in a frying pan set on medium. Fry to your preferred texture. For soup I’ll cook half of it floppy and the other half crispy. Toss in the pot and stir.

Pour all but a couple teaspoons of bacon fat out of the pan and add onions and shallots. Leave on medium and saute until translucent. Add the carrots and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes. Toss in the pot and stir.

Drop the butter in the pan. Allow it to melt completely then add the remainder of the garlic. Fry it up for 10 – 20 seconds then add the mushrooms. Stir or flip to distribute the butter amongst the mushrooms. Cook until the water in the pan is gone and the butter is soaked up. I like to add a few tablespoons of dry sherry or wine and cook down until the likker is pretty much soaked up. Toss in the pot and stir.

Remember, sauteing the veggies is optional. The mushrooms, if you decide to add them, really must be sauteed.

After an hour the peas should be getting mushy. This is the way I like mine and is the only way to make true split pea soup. If the peas are simply tender and still intact then it’s just pea soup. Know the difference.

Let it go until it reaches your standard of goodness. I let mine simmer for 1.5 to 2 hours. If it’s too thin, simmer a bit longer. Too thick? Add water.

Ladle into a mug or bowl and suck it down! Stir in a pat of butter if you’re feeling decadent or a tablespoon of mayonnaise if you’re feeling weird.

There are all kinds of things you can add to the soup as it cooks; ham, Spam, whole peas, corn, diced potatoes, cream, Tabasco or other hot sauce, etc.
Once done I like to add a small pinch of dill leaves that have been scrunched up with the fingers. It’s Germanish and wonderful. You can omit this your first time if you wish or add if you really like dill. It is far more delicious when accompanied by cornbread with butter and honey.

There you go. Homemade split pea soup. Try it, you’ll like it!