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Chinese hot-and-sour mushroom soup (with shrimp)

Hot and sour soups are very popular in any Chinese restaurant, it is that perfect combination of chili and sour that make us like this soup so much. Most restaurant versions are goopy due to the amount of cornstarch used, this version is lighter and fresher. It uses two dried mushrooms, shiitake and wood ear fungus, that add deep earthy notes to the already delicious chicken stock.

This soup is beautiful on the palate. Silky in texture, instead of goopy, and loaded with mushrooms, bamboo shoots and tofu, and quick cooked shrimp (optional), this is a hearty soup. However, the use of the correct ingredients is essential to make this soup taste delicious.

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1/4 lb small shrimp

1 teaspoon Shaoxing wine or Chinese rice wine or mirin as a substitute

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon soy sauce

2 oz dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water overnight

1/4 oz dried wood ear (also call black fungus) mushrooms, soaked in the same bowl overnight

5 cups Asian chicken stock

5 cups mushroom soaking liquid strained + water

8 oz firm tofu, diced into small cubes

4 oz bamboo shoots, buy the shredded variety. Soak in water for 30 minutes, with 2 changes to remove the acidic preservatives

2 eggs beaten with 1 teaspoon roasted sesame oil and a pinch of salt

1/2 cup black vinegar or Chinese cooking vinegar

1 teaspoon white pepper

2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons chili oil

Cilantro, minced, to garnish

For the Asian chicken stock:

1 lb chicken thighs or drumsticks

8 cups water

1 small petal star anise

10 peppercorns

10 shallots, sliced, or 1/2 onion, sliced

1 carrot, chopped

2 cloves

2-3 Thai red chilies, sliced longitudinally into half

1 stem lemongrass, (only for Thai version)

1 large black cardamom pod

Salt, to taste

To make the Asian chicken stock:

Add all the ingredients to a stock pot and bring to a boil. Remove the scum that rises to the top and simmer gently for 1 hour. Remove from the heat and strain the stock. You should have about 5-6 cups.

Cool the meat and shred off the bones with your fingers and use in the soup. The stock can be stored in the fridge for 2 days, or frozen.

Marinate the shrimp with the rice wine, cornstarch, sugar, salt and soy sauce for 30 minutes at room temperature.

Meanwhile, cut the mushrooms into small strips or bite sized pieces. The stems of the shiitake mushrooms are discarded as they are too chewy.

Bring the stock and water to a boil. Add the marinated shrimp and simmer for 1 minute. Add the mushrooms, tofu, and bamboo shoots and simmer for 5 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, add the egg mix in a very thin stream all the while whisking the soup. You want the egg to not form clumps but get incorporated in very fine threads. This is a careful process.

Remove from the heat and add the vinegar, pepper, soy sauce, chili oil and cilantro. Stir in and taste for salt, spice and tartness.

Serve hot garnished with cilantro.

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