Deep dive into Hu La Tang, aka Hot Pepper Soup, from the Ne Han Province of China, via Souped Up Recipes' youtube channel
. I did the prep over a couple of days, starting with the spice powder, which Mandy says is a critical, signature component of the dish . . .
Powdered ginger root (the one item here that doesn't get toasted, and is already ground)
, Sichuan peppercorns, long pepper, black peppercorns, white peppercorns, fennel seed, nutmeg, cinnamon, star anise, angelica dahurica root, licorice root, amomum villosum pod, black cardamom and green cardamom (subbed in for white)
. Everything here, other than the ginger, gets toasted for 4-5 minutes, until it's fragrant. Then it's all cooled and ground into a powder.
After the heat, before the grind.
Hu La Tang Spice Powder
Ground, sieved, ground again and sieved again. The powdered ginger root is now mixed in.
The next step, described by Mandy as a traditional one, is one that I wanted to try. It involves making a dough from high gluten flour, then rinsing that dough in water to create starch water and a ball of gluten strands, both of which are used in the final product. You can buy wheat gluten and wheat starch separately but I wanted to try this since I'd never done it before. Of course, I used my stand mixer to make the dough, so it's not like I stuck to the completely traditional method.
300g flour, 175g water are kneaded for 10 minutes, then rested for 30 minutes.
Gluten And Wheat Starch
Once the dough has rested, you just start kneading it very gently in the bowl of water. After about 15 minutes, most of the starch floats out into the water and what remains is a ball of gluten strands. The gluten ball is eventually torn into small bits and cooked in the soup as dumplings. The starch water is ultimately used to thicken the soup in the final step of the cooking process.
Here, you can see the stratification, with the starch having sunk to the bottom. Mandy recommends letting it sit for at least 6 hours. Having done the prep over a couple of days, what you see here sat overnight. Before adding this to the soup, the top water is carefully poured off and the remaining starch at the bottom is added into the soup, a little at a time.
Mandy ended up adding about 1.25 cups to her soup. I used about a cup.
This was rinsed and squeezed numerous times before being torn into little pieces and added to the soup. Even with all those passes, you can see that it probably could have benefited from even more rinsing but I was ready to move on.
Next, up prepping the beef and the rest of the ingredients . . .
Just over 4 pounds of bone-in shanks, crammed into the 7.5-quart pot. The pot is filled with water and brought to a simmer.
After about 15 minutes, a bunch of scum rises to the top and is removed.
At this point, Mandy recommends starting over with a fresh pot of water but I decided to just add some cold water on top and keep removing the scum throughout the cook. These would simmer for another ~2.5 hours.
Cooked Beef Shanks
Still steaming hot after I removed them from the pot, I let them cool for a few moments before separating the meat from the bones and harvesting the marrow.
Used the two-fork method to shred this up before immediately adding it back to the pot to build the soup. I figured there was a lot of stirring ahead, so I didn't want to start out by breaking it up too small.
There is a series of other ingredients that also goes into the soup including some seasonings and aromatics . . .
Seasonings + Aromatics & Konosuke HD Western Gyuto, 210mm
Scallions, garlic, ginger, dark soy sauce, soy sauce and salt.
A set of other ingredients gets reconstituted/soaked in water for a couple of hours before each of them eventually gets incorporated into the soup . . .
Sweet potato starch noodles, day lily, kelp, unsalted peanuts (recipe calls for raw but I only had roasted)
and black fungus.
Reconstituted & Soaked Ingredients
After the meat is removed for shredding, it's the peanuts that go back into the pot first, since they take the longest to soften. Was very surprised how voluminous 10g of compressed black fungus became when reconstituted. I actually had to move them to a larger bowl to complete their soaking.
After the soaked peanuts are added back, the shredded meat goes in, followed by the aromatics and seasonings, reconstituted ingredients, the spice powder and lastly, the reclaimed starch slurry, about 1/4 cup at a time. Once the soup thickens into a glossy, almost gravy-like consistency, it's ready to serve.
Hu La Tang, garnished with cilantro leaves and homemade chili oil. This is typically served with fried dough but aside from the fact that the soup contained noodles and dumplings (and plenty of starch, overall), I just didn't have it in me.