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Crab, Shrimp, and White Fungus Soup

(Sup Nam Trang)

Don't be put off by the "white fungus" in this Vietnamese recipe. I wish I could tell you what it is, besides very pretty and vegetable--looking like delicate pieces of reef coral inside their hard plastic gift box ($3.99 for 8 ounces, Peony Mark Brand, which will make LOTS of the soup). In any case, if you can assemble all the ingredients, this is really a lovely soup: white on white, except for the pink of the shrimp and the touches of green garnish--but hot and spicy in some parts, crunchy in others, rich and chewy with the tang of the sea, all brought together under the light orchestration of the fine cilantro garnish. It takes practically no time to prepare. Serve hot to 4 people as a first course.

  • ½ ounce dried white fungus (about ¼ cup), reconstituted in hot water for about 10 minutes (until soft and expanded), then chopped coarsely after cutting away its hard knobs. In a pinch, you can substitute tree ears, but that would shoot the color scheme.
  • 1 teaspoon peanut oil
  • 1 large shallot, sliced thin
  • pinches of white pepper
  • 1 hot chile, seeded and sliced thinly
  • ¼ lb. medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • ¼ lb. cooked crab meat
  • 3 cups vietnamese chicken stock, or regular chicken stock simmered with a 1-inch piece ginger that has been crushed with a blow
  • 1 generous Tablespoon cornstarch, dissolved in 2 Tablespoons water
  • 1 egg white, lightly whisked
  • salt and white pepper to taste

Garnish: 1 Tablespoon cilantro, chopped extra fine; serve hot (piquant) chili sauce on the side (preferably the Vietnamese chili-garlic sauce(Tuong ot Toi Viet-Nam, if you can get it).

Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium high heat, then sauté the shallot and white pepper for about a minute. Stir in the shrimp and cook another minute, flipping after 30 seconds. Add the stock, then stir in the crab and fungus. Bring to a simmer, then thicken with the cornstarch liquid, stirring constantly.

When ready to serve, pour in the egg white in a slow, steady stream, stirring slowly to form ribbons. Remove from heat, season with salt and white pepper, and ladle into bowls. At the last minute, sprinkle with the finely minced cilantro--which will open up the flavor of the soup--and put on the table. Pass the chili sauce separately.