You’ll find various lists of the “top 10 most-ordered” foods for take-out Chinese, menu items such as orange chicken, pot stickers and wonton soup. Most aren’t easy to prepare at home, which is one reason, over and above global pandemics, why woks at Chinese restaurants are busy always.
But a couple of very popular Chinese restaurant menu items are easy to make at home — and might be better for it. But for a couple of special ingredients (such as toasted sesame seed oil or sweet soy sauce, increasingly available at mainline groceries), they are hot and sour soup and fried rice.
Tips for making Asian restaurant-style fried rice:
- This is universal advice for preparing rice. Always rinse raw rice before cooking it (except for making risotto). That removes a lot of surface starch from the grains and makes for more separable grains.
- For fried rice, try to use day-old (or older) refrigerated leftover rice. Put it loosely covered in the refrigerator overnight — or at least for several hours. That way, the rice kernels lose some of their moisture and firm up, helping to prevent fried rice that turns out mushy or clumped.
- Failing that, spread out a newly prepared batch of rice onto a baking sheet. As it rapidly cools off (at least for 1 hour), its clump-inducing moisture steams away.
- Better rices to use are medium-sized grains such as Thai jasmine. Longer-grained rices such as basmati tend to break down, mostly because they also are thinner. Break up the rice after it has cooled, but before frying it, to loosen its grains.
- Don’t go overboard adding in ingredients. A couple of aromatics (minced scallion or ginger), a vegetable or two (peas, spinach leaves, small broccoli florets) and leftover or raw protein (tofu, shrimp, rotisserie chicken) suffice. Also, easy on the sauces; each person can add more if they wish.
- Most of us don’t own a wok or, for that matter, a blast furnace restaurant-grade stovetop. But high heat is best for preparing fried rice; so, go for it. I have found a Dutch oven the best substitute for a wok: its heavy bottom can take the heat and its high sides prevent spillover as I toss.
- Prepare merely one or two portions at a time. If too much goes into the pan at once, you just end up with a big batch of mush.
Homemade Chinese Hot and Sour Soup
Adapted from cooking.nytimes.com and thewoksoflife.com. Serves 6-8.
For the pork:
- 6-8 ounces boneless pork loin, trimmed and cut into julienne or matchsticks
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon mirin
- 1/2 teaspoon cornstarch
For the soup:
- 6 dried shiitake mushrooms
- 6-8 dried wood ear or baby king mushrooms
- 14-16 ounces (drained weight) firm or extra-firm tofu
- 2 scallions, white and green parts only
- 2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled
- 2 large eggs
- 2 small dried red chiles, or to taste, seeded and crumbled
- 2 tablespoons chili paste
- 1 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons dark sweet soy sauce and 1 tablespoon regular soy sauce or 2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seed oil
- 1-2 teaspoons freshly ground white pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 cup plain rice vinegar
- 8 cups 50/50 mix of low-sodium chicken stock and vegetable stock
For the thickener:
- 6 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
In a small bowl, stir together the water, soy sauce, mirin and cornstarch and, in the mix, coat the pork pieces and marinate them for 15 minutes. Set aside.
Beforehand, in a heat-proof bowl, soak the dried mushrooms in very hot water to cover until they are well rehydrated and the caps or “meat” are soft (30 minutes to 1 hour). Drain or gently squeeze the mushrooms to remove excess water and trim them of fibrous stems or nibs and slice them into thick matchsticks. Set aside.
Drain the tofu. First cube or chunk it, then cut the pieces into thick matchsticks. Set aside in a separate bowl.
Small-dice the scallions on the bias and set aside in a small bowl. Julienne the ginger into 1/8-inch-thick matchsticks and add to the bowl with the scallion. In a small bowl or cup, combine the seeded chile crumbles, chili paste, salt, sugar, soy sauce(s), sesame seed oil, white pepper and rice vinegar and stir to blend. Set aside. Lightly beat the 2 eggs in a small bowl and set aside.
Arrange all the prepared ingredients, in their bowls or containers, close at hand to the cooking surface.
In a large pot, heat the stocks until they boil. Add a small ladleful of stock to the pork pieces and break them up, then add the pork to the boiling stock, assuring that none clump together. Cook the pork for 1 minute, stirring. Add the mushroom and tofu, 3-4 tablespoons of the scallion and ginger and the mix of the seasonings (chile seeds, pepper, etc.), stirring. Bring the soup to a simmer.
Meanwhile, in another small bowl, make a slurry of the water and cornstarch. With the soup at a simmer, use a spatula or ladle to form a slow-moving vortex or whirlpool and slowly drizzle in the cornstarch slurry.
Slowly stirring, bring the soup back to a simmer, skim for scum or foam and taste the seasonings. If you want the soup more “sour,” add a splash more vinegar; more “hot,” add more pepper(s). Take the pot off the heat and immediately make another slow-moving circle and drizzle in the beaten egg.
Serve, garnishing each serving with the remaining diced scallion and ginger sticks.
Cook’s notes: If you already have some leftover pork shoulder or other cooked meat (Peking duck, rotisserie chicken, or the like), you might use it in place of the fresh pork. Add it toward the end of the cooking, merely to reheat it. Dark sweet soy sauce often comes from Indonesia (it’s called “kecap manis”) and is available at Asian markets.