Hot and Sour Beef Noodle Soup

hot-sour-beef-noodle-soupI’m a big fan of Chinese hot and sour soup and make it every once and while. Learning to make hot and sour soup taught me that the two key ingredients that contribute the most to its flavor profile are finely crushed white pepper (the hot) and Chinese black vinegar (the sour). You can get the Chinese black vinegar in any Asian grocery store, a well-stocked big-box grocer, or at Amazon. It is expensive on Amazon–I pay less than $4 for a bottle locally. Any mom and pop Asian grocer will have it. Beware there isn’t a rational substitute. Search this ingredient out, it is important!

This quick, one-serving recipe isn’t hot and sour soup in the most conventional sense, but if you are hungry for hot and sour soup and want something quick and delicious, this soup is great. I frequently cook with Asian ingredients, so I always have sambalwoodear mushrooms, and Chinese egg noodles on hand (in a pinch the noodles from a package of ramen noodles works fine-but don’t use the seasoning package). The mushrooms and noodles keep nearly forever in the freezer. If you don’t have an ingredient recommended here (except for the black vinegar) use something else! Part of the point of this soup is that it should be quick and easy to make. Oh, and very tasty.

In this variant, I use beef and beef broth (but another possibility is chicken broth and pork or chicken). For a recipe such as this I use “Better Than Bouillon” beef base. This isn’t a product I would normally have ever considered using for anything. However, an article in Cook’s magazine recommended it and I’m glad it did. For basic recipes, the beef and chicken versions of this product provide my go-to quick broth. It seems a little expensive, but it really isn’t compared to canned or boxed broths. The recommended usage is one tablespoon for a cup of water (but as the Cook’s article pointed out) one tablespoon for two cups of water works just fine (and is less salty and makes the base go farther).

For the beef in this recipe I generally rely on leftovers. Flank steak, NY strip, or rib eye works fine–but pretty much anything works. I use about 12-15 thin strips of beef (about four ounces) per two cups of broth. If the meat isn’t cooked, give it a quick flash in the pot before starting the soup. Don’t overdo cooking it. It will finish cooking in the hot soup.

Start the mushrooms soaking first thing and you can be eating this delicious soup in less than 15 minutes!

Hot and Sour Beef Noodle Soup
Recipe type: soup
Cuisine: Chinese-inspired white guy
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 1
A quick ramen-like soup with the flavor profile and full body of hot and sour soup.
  • 2 cups of beef broth (see text)
  • I portion of Asian egg noodles
  • 12 thin strips of beef
  • ½ cup of woodear mushrooms (or shitakes in a pinch)
  • ½ finely-diced carrot (it's not going to cook very long so no big chunks here!)
  • 1 tablespoon of Chinese black vinegar
  • ½ teaspoon of finely crushed white pepper
  • 1 tablespoon of soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon of sambal chili paste
  • a couple of sprinkles of red chili flakes
  • several scallions for garnish
  • a couple of sprigs of cilantro for garnish
  1. If you are using dried mushrooms, put them in a bowl and pour boiling water over them and let them sit until rehydrated (about 15 minutes)
  2. Slice beef into thin strips. If the meat isn't cooked, give it a quick flash in the pot before you start the soup.
  3. Bring broth to a boil in a small pot
  4. Add noodles, diced carrots, sambal, soy sauce and chili flakes
  5. Add the mushrooms, cut into thin strips, when fully rehydrated
  6. When the broth comes to a boil, add the noodles and cook until the noodles are al dente
  7. Remove the pot from heat and add the meat
  8. Serve garnished with thinly sliced scallions and a couple of sprigs of cilantro


Kung Pao sauce

I really like to make Kung Pao dishes. But I have never found a bottled Kung Pao sauce that suits me. When you get a Kung Pao dish from a great Chinese restaurant (and “great Chinese restaurant” can be a pretty grim looking, from the outside, mom and pop shop) it has the perfect combination of zing, flavor, and body. None of the bottled sauces I’ve ever tried provide that–in fact, most are just plain bad. So I spent a couple of months zeroing in on a Kung Pao sauce recipe that suits me. This one isn’t quite there yet, but it’s very close. I want to try grating a little fresh ginger into it. I think that might help round it out a bit.

I don’t like to add garlic to this sauce–and I put garlic in everything! I prefer to add the garlic to the primary contents of the meal. That way, when I am making a meal that uses this sauce, I can add as much garlic as I want knowing that this sauce won’t push the garlic needle too far into the red zone!

I make this sauce in advance and keep it in the freezer. It never fully freezes but lasts for a long time in its “nearly frozen” state. Having it readily available makes it much quicker to whip a Kung Pao-based meal together.

Kung Pao sauce
Recipe type: Sauce
Cuisine: Asian
Cook time: 
Total time: 
This Kung Pao sauce is easy to make and vastly better than any bottled variety.
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • ⅔ cup soy sauce (or maybe a little more--but watch the saltiness)
  • ⅓ cup rice wine vinegar
  • ⅓ cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons of water
  1. Add all ingredients except cornstarch and water to a sauce pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Bring to a boil, stirring frequently with a whisk. When the sauce starts to boil, reduce heat to bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 15 or 20 minutes.
  3. Mix the cornstarch and water in a small bowl. After 20 minutes or so, bring the sauce back to a boil. After the sauce starts boiling, and add the cornstarch/water mix.
  4. Stir vigorously with a whisk until the sauce thickens. When the sauce covers the back of a spoon (the sauce will continue to thicken a bit as it cools), remove from heat and use immediately or freeze for use later. No matter how hard I try, I almost get a few few pasty clumps from the cornstarch, so I usually strain the sauce as I poor it from the pan.
This recipe makes enough for two or three dishes. It freezes well.