Hot & Sour Udon Noodles with Szechuan Chicken & Vegetables
Feeling nostalgic for one of those old-time "hot & sour" soups that we used to love in the 80's, I decided to read up a little on the recipes and origins and found that spicy soups are enjoyed all over Asia- not only in China- who knew? The many variations I looked up, (there were even Indian recipes listed), all had one thing in common- they all made use of vinegar and more often than not, were made hot by using pepper. Armed with this knowledge, I decided to improvise and hot and sour soup of my own... gotta love those one-pot meals!
I decided to use lovely, thick and juicy Udon noodles to make this hot-pot- quick to cook, silky-smooth to eat and nice and filling too! I used a malt vinegar and Szechuan pepper, along with ginger and chili paste for the signature hot and sour flavors... and with star anise and 5-spice powder, cooking up this amazing one-pot meal was really child's play! I made it like this...
I started off by briefly sautéing the chicken breast in a little sesame oil with crushed garlic and sliced ginger- at a high heat, but just for a couple of minutes from each side, in order to get some good aromas building up in the pan and to give the chicken a hint of color. I then added the spices... 5-spice powder, my first good pinch of freshly ground Szechuan pepper, black pepper, a little chili paste and a good tablespoon of tomato paste, and stirred them all in well for a minute or so, then deglazed the pan with a good splash of malt vinegar, swiftly followed by enough boiling water to cover the chicken. Make sure to not be too close to the pan when add that vinegar- or at least hold your breath, as the vapors will get you otherwise! There is no danger of course- but it will take your breath away!
So at this point I had the basis for a nice broth bubbling away and could begin to add the vegetables to make it richer still. You can vary the vegetables you use to suit your own taste and preference, but I like to have at least one kind of greens in there and in my case I had a couple of those sweet and tender mustard greens- I laid them in the pan around the outside edge as they are rather long. I then added a little carrot, red pepper and some green beans, a star anise, a handful of finely chopped cilantro and a generous splash of soy and fish sauce- which of course replace the salt in this recipe. I then popped on the lid and let it simmer away at a low heat for 15 minutes.
After that time, I added the Udon noodles and a handful of spring onions that I had cut into 2" lengths and split down the middle... the noodles and the onion only needed a further 4-5 minutes at the most... and then they were ready!
I served up my hot pot by first laying the mustard greens together in the center of my bowl, then slicing the chicken breast and setting that on top. I then fished out the other ingredients and set them out individually with a slotted spoon... you obviously don't need to go to the trouble... but it really is no trouble and does look so much nicer- haha! You- and your family, sweethearts, friends or guests are worth it! Then spoon the broth over everything, add a couple of fresh leaves of cilantro and a final sprinkle of crushed Szechuan pepper as a garnish... and enjoy! And I promise you... you WILL enjoy!