Chicken Hot and Sour Soup is my go-to food when I’m feeling a cold coming on. The rich, tangy, spicy brothy, and thick soup filled with mushrooms, bamboo shoots, and tender chicken pieces is seriously nutritious and healing. It’s also seriously delicious.
I’ve ordered Hot and Sour Soup at Chinese restaurants for decades. Some are very good, but many are disappointing.
When I lived in San Francisco, there was a place around the corner from my apartment (Eliza’s Chinese) that made a great Hot and Sour Soup that was spicy and tangy and totally curative.
It has been 15 years since I moved out of the city and, though I’ve tried, I haven’t found a really great restaurant version of Hot and Sour Soup in my neighborhood. Eventually, I gave up and decided I needed to create my own perfect pot.
This soup usually contains pork, but after some experimentation, I found that I preferred Chicken Hot and Sour Soup—the chicken pieces (I use boneless chicken thighs) stay nice and tender, unlike pork that tends to get a bit dry.
I like big flavors, which is why I love the whole idea of Hot and Sour Soup. The name promises big, contrasting tastes and I am here for it. It gets the “hot” from white pepper, fresh chiles, and fresh. The “sour” comes from sharply acidic distilled white vinegar. I really love this soup!
Why you’ll love this Chinese hot and sour chicken soup
- It’s quick and easy to make. This soup can be on the table in under 30 minutes, easily.
- Starting with a base of Chinese Chicken Broth gives the soup a flavor foundation that instantly places it in Chinese cuisine, but even if you use a basic store-bought broth, the soup is delicious.
- It’s loaded with flavor—white pepper, fresh ginger, and fresh chiles give it a kick. Distilled white vinegar gives it a tangy punch. Mushrooms, soy sauce, and sesame oil add umami.
- It’s a hearty soup with lots of protein from chicken, tofu, and eggs.
- It also delivers textural variation via mushrooms, tofu, chicken, bamboo shoots, and ribbons of egg.
Ingredients you need
There are quite a few ingredients in this Hot and Sour Soup recipe, but each plays an important role. Most are easy to find in the supermarket. Here’s what you need to make this spicy soup:
- Chicken: I use boneless, skinless chicken thighs because they are flavorful and stay very tender. You can substitute chicken breasts if that’s what you have, or use pork.
- Cornstarch: Use this in the chicken marinade to tenderize the chicken. You’ll also make a cornstarch slurry by mixing it with water to thicken the broth at the end of the cooking time.
- Salt: I use a basic kosher salt. The important thing is to use salt without additives.
- Chicken stock: I like to use a homemade Chinese Chicken Stock, but you can substitute a storebought chicken broth or any basic homemade chicken broth.
- Ginger: Use fresh ginger root. Peel it and mince it with a very sharp knife.
- Chiles: You can use fresh chiles or dried chiles. I have a prolific serrano chile plant in my garden that has beautiful, very spicy chiles year round, so that’s what I use. You can use Thai chiles or any type of hot dried red chile.
- White pepper: White pepper starts with the same berries as black pepper. The berries are picked before their ripe and then dried to make black pepper. To make white pepper, however, the berries are picked when they’re fully ripe, soaked in water, and fermented to remove the outer layer. The flavor of white pepper is distinct from that of black pepper—it has the same heat, but with a bit of funkiness from the fermentation. You can buy white pepper in supermarkets or Asian markets, or online. I like to use ground white pepper because it comes very finely ground, which is just what you want for this soup.
- Shiitake mushrooms: These add texture and umami. You can use sliced fresh shiitakes or use dried shiitake mushrooms that have been soaked in warm water for about 30 minutes and then drained and sliced.
- Woodear mushrooms: These squiggly black mushrooms are also called black fungus. You can often find them fresh in Asian markets. If not, you can use dried woodear mushrooms that have been soaked in warm water for about 30 minutes and then drained and sliced.
- Tofu: You can use any tofu here. I use medium or firm tofu because they are easier to handle for slicing than softer varieties.
- Bamboo shoots: You can buy julienned bamboo shoots in a can. Drain well before using. If you can’t find the julienned bamboo shoots, you can use sliced bamboo shoots and cut them into matchstick pieces.
- Soy sauce: You can use regular soy sauce or lower-sodium soy sauce.
- Vinegar: Use distilled white vinegar here. You want vinegar with a sharp bite. Rice vinegar is too mild for this soup.
- Salt and Sugar: I use kosher salt and regular granulated sugar.
- Eggs: Use 3 large eggs, lightly beaten with a whisk or fork before adding to the soup.
- Green onions: These are an optional garnish. I also sometimes like to garnish my bowl with a bit of chilli oil for extra heat.
How to make it
- Toss the chicken pieces with some cornstarch, water, and salt. This both seasons and tenderizes the chicken. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
- In a large pot, simmer the broth, ginger, chiles, and white pepper.
- Add the chicken and simmer for 10 minutes or so.
- Add the tofu, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, soy sauce, salt, sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil and simmer some more.
- Make a cornstarch slurry (cornstarch and water stirred together) and add it to the bubbling soup to thicken it.
- With the soup bubbling again, stir in a circular motion while drizzling in the egg.
- Serve hot, garnished with green onions and chiles if desired.
What to serve with this hardy Hot and Sour Chicken soup
This Chicken Hot and Sour Soup is really very filling and satisfying on its own, so it can be a full meal if you like. If you prefer to serve it as part of a larger meal, try some of my other Chinese dishes.
Wonton Soup is another one of my favorite Chinese soups!
Chicken Hot and Sour Soup
- 3 boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into strips
- 2 tablespoons water
- 4 tablespoons cornstarch divided
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt divided
- 8 cups chicken broth
- 2 teaspoons minced ginger
- 2 small dried hot chiles sliced, plus additional for garnish
- ¾ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 6 to 8 fresh shiitake mushrooms or dried and soaked, sliced
- 6 to 8 fresh wood ear mushrooms or dried and soaked, sliced
- 1 package tofu cut into ¼-inch, 2-inch-long strips
- ½ cup sliced bamboo shoots cut into matchsticks
- ¼ cup soy sauce regular
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- ½ cup white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 3 large eggs beaten
- 4 green onions thinly sliced, for garnish (optional)
- In a medium bowl, combine the chicken, 2 tablespoons water, 2 tablespoons of the cornstarch, and 1/3 teaspoon of the salt and stir to mix and coat the chicken well. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes.
- In a large pot, combine broth, ginger, chiles, and white pepper and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat.
- Add the chicken along with any liquid or cornstarch in the bowl. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
- Add the tofu, both types of mushrooms, bamboo shoots, soy sauce, the remaining teaspoon of salt, sugar, vinegar, and sesame oil and simmer another 10 minutes or so.
- In a small bowl, stir together the remaining 2 tablespoons of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of cold water.
- With soup bubbling, stir in the cornstarch mixture and simmer for a couple more minutes, until the broth thickens a bit.
- With the soup bubbling again, stir the soup gently in a circular motion while pouring the egg into the pot in a steady stream to create ribbons of cooked egg.
- Serve hot, garnished with green onions and chiles if desired.