I warned you I’d be on a bit of a soup kick here after the holidays. But don’t worry, I’d never want to dull your senses or leave you in a dismal state of winter drear or anything. Not on the first day of a brand-new year! So prepare your taste buds…this is no ordinary stew, but it will still be the perfect way to start to feel slightly…lighter after so many holiday festivities. And if your holiday festivities aren’t quite over yet, this is a quick way to warm bellies and feed many for one last holiday hurrah!
I kind of feel like this soup needs a brief introduction:
I’m starting to learn a couple of things about the homestyle cooking here in the Sichuan Province of China.
The first is that these people like to use similar seasonings with different ingredients to create completely different dishes. It totally works for them considering they also have something like 27 different ways of using their woks.
Now I’m sure the culinary geniuses of the region use many, many more herbs and spices, but I’m talking about what the typical local will prepare after work or stop by and grab on his way home.
And the second thing I’ve learned-starting with my cooking class where we made this Spicy Crispy Chicken, is that you have to be ultra-prepared when you set out to make a Sichuanese dish in your mean lean, multi-tasker of a wok. See, woks heat amazingly fast. And that equals burning if you’re not careful. It also means if you pour a sauce on too soon, it might not ever get a chance to flavor your meat before it evaporates. If you’re not careful, of course.
So, often times, you end up with as many as four different bowls. The main star bowl. The garlic, ginger and chili bean paste bowl. The sauce bowl. And your serving platter (or bowl).
Anyway, this soup recipe was taken pretty much directly from Saveur. I did, however, spend about 30 minutes staring at Google Images to try to find a coloring that matched what I’ve had in the little restaurants near our school.
Interesting cultural note: if you stop into one of these little restaurants, often opening out onto the sidewalk, you can sit down at what looks like the mini tables of a school cafeteria. If it’s crowded, never fear…just sit down next to the nearest Chinese person who’s got the bowl tipped up and is slurping the tasty broth from the bowl. Yup, in these restaurants you can look into the deep soulful eyes of a complete stranger, although chances are, he’ll be much more interested in staring at you, the foreigner.
Anyway, the soup gets its salty, sweet, and spicy flavoring from the douban jiang, typical of many local dishes in the region. There is a deeper richness from the pork broth, which loses that gamey flavor because of the light soy sauce that is added to the broth.
I also finally discovered why none of my noodle soups have not been working out for me….I always add my noodles to the soup. I’m assuming this not only thickens my soup, but it also overcooks my noodles. So, here I learned that you cook the two separately and then combine at the last moment. The noodles keep their delicate, stringy figures and the soup stays brothy.
Garnish this with the green tops of scallions or some chives and a few slices of pickled chilies.
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1½ lb pork shoulder or pork tenderloin cut roughly into 1-11/2 inch cubes
- 1 2" piece ginger, preferably young ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons chili bean paste
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- ¼ cup rice vinegar
- ¼ cup oil
- 3 tablespoons cornstarch, mixed with 3 tablespoons water
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 6 cups water for broth
- 12 oz. thin Chinese wheat noodles (ramen will do just fine)
- 3 scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
- Pickled red chilies, drained and chopped, for garnish
- Prepare three separate bowls. In one combine the garlic, ginger and chili bean paste, in the second dissolve the sugar into the soy sauce, and rice vinegar. And in the place the cubed meat into the third bowl. Organization is key to making Chinese dishes.
- Heat the oil in a wok and when heated swirl it to coat the sides of the wok. This will help avoid sticking. Then add your garlic, ginger and chili bean paste and stir quickly for about 30 seconds. Then add the meat and let it brown slightly for 5-7 minutes. Do not let the garlic burn! If you need to add the soy sauce mixture a little before, that is okay. When the meat is browned you may add the soy sauce mixture and let it cook another 2-3 minutes. Then add your water and bring the pot to a boil. Add in the cornstarch and water mixture and let simmer for 20-30 minutes.
- In a separate pot boil water and cook your noodles.
- When you are ready to serve the soup, take a bowl and add the noodles first and ladle the broth and meat over the top until the noodles are almost covered. Garnish with the green parts of a few scallions or some cilantro.