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CHINESE SOUPS are extremely varied, ranging from light to heavy, from simple to complex, and from sour-pungent to sweet. Light, delicate soups, which are quickly cooked, usually accompany family dinners. Thick, hearty soups call for slow simmering and often are more solid than liquid. (These, along with rice and a vegetable dish, are sufficient for light lunches or suppers.) Sour-pungent soups--also called hot-sour soups--set off sharp flavors with bland ingredients in an unexpected way and are festive for dinner parties. Sweet soups are closer in spirit to desserts and are eaten as snacks and at formal dinners.
The simplest and lightest soup of all is the Celestial Soup or Soup for the Gods. Designed to accompany rich, heavy foods, it's simply water that has been freshly boiled, then poured over minced greens, and seasoned lightly. The most complex and magnificent soups are the famous bird's nest and shark's fin dishes. These appear as prestige courses at formal banquets. Chinese soups are prepared by cooking meat, poultry or seafood and vegetables in either stock or water. As a rule stock is preferred.
Although stock can be served as a soup by itself, more often it becomes the base for other soups. (For details on its preparation, see "The Basics: Stock".)
Thick, hearty soups are prepared like stock, with their solid and liquid ingredients added to the pot at the same time, then cooked slowly until they blend together. Dried ingredients are invariably included in such soups for a more full-bodied flavor.) By contrast, light soups are cooked quickly so that the color and texture of their ingredients are retained: the stock is brought to a boil, then the meat and vegetables added. Cooking time is generally determined by the type of meat and the way it's cut. Vegetables are added to light soups near the end of cooking so that they won't become overcooked or soggy. Tender green vegetables are added at the last possible moment and cooked uncovered to retain the fresh brightness of their color, while the tougher vegetables, such as carrots, string beans, turnips, etc., are either parboiled or shredded first to reduce their cooking time in the soup.
Light soups must always be clear. They shOuld never be cooked too long or too violently: Overcooking injures flavor; boiling makes them dull and muddy. When soup comes to a boil, the heat must be reduced immediately so that the soup will simmer gently until done.
NOTE: Should the soup boil over, turn down the heat immediately, remove the pot lid, and add a small amount of cold water. Under ordinary circumstances, when more liquid is needed for soup, only boiling water or stock should be added. (If cold liquids in any quantity are added during cooking, they will damage the flavor of soup.) ENRICHING SOUP: The flavor and aroma of soup can be enhanced by any of the following: meats--a few thin slices of fresh lean pork or smoked ham, seafood, a few dried shrimp or scallops (soaked first) or several fresh shrimp, shelled, deveined and diced; vegetables--some slices of bamboo shoot, a few thinly sliced mushrooms, a bit of minced scallion stalk, a few sprigs of Chinese parsley; seasonings--a few drops of sesame oil or ginger juice, a bit of minced garlic clove, a dash of vinegar, a tablespoon of sherry or a small quantity of soy sauce.
NOTE: Soy sauce should be used discreetly in light soups. If possible, it should be the light soy. (See "Glossary of Chinese Ingredients.) The dark variety can destroy a soup's lightness and clarity; its strong taste can overwhelm delicate flavors. There's nothing sadder than seeing diners in Chinese restaurants dump quantities of dark soy sauce into their soup in the misguided belief that they're improving its flavor.
THICKENING SOUP: Thickening a soup is a matter of taste and preference, although some, like fish soups and hot-sour soups, usually are thickened.
This is done by adding cornstarch paste at the end of cooking, and stirring it in over high heat until the soup becomes thick, smooth and velvety.
GARNISHING SOUP: Soups may be garnished with meat--strips of smoked ham or roast pork; with vegetables--Chinese parsley, chopped scallions or blanched snow peas; or with eggs. The egg garnishes may be: egg threads or cubes, i.e., eggs fried as thin omelets, then cut into strips or cubes; egg flowers, i.e., eggs that are beaten, then stirred into the soup at the last minute, the heat being turned off immediately (as in egg drop soup); or poached eggs, i.e., eggs poached to medium softness right in the soup or separately poached and added just before the soup is served. (The poached eggs are then pierced to let the yolk run out: this gives the soup a mild, soothing quality.)
From <The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook>, ISBN 0-517-65870-4. Downloaded from Glen's MM Recipe Archive, .
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