Isn’t a good recipe the only thing better than a good recipe? When you don’t need one because something is so simple to make. It’s That Simple is a column where we walk you through the steps of producing dishes and drinks that we can create with our eyes closed.
A bright yellow, deeply delicious broth sprinkled with dreamy wisps of eggs, the egg drop soup is a delightful experience.
The soup’s roots, however, are anything but humble. The fine swirl of eggs was designed to resemble the gelatinous texture of a clear stock reinforced with rooster and Jinhua ham in Cantonese imperial courts: when done well, the fine swirl of eggs was meant to mimic the gelatinous texture of a clear stock fortified with rooster and Jinhua ham.
Made with quick chicken stock, thickened with a cornstarch slurry, and perfumed with sesame oil, white pepper, and a touch of light soy sauce, this notion has now evolved into the American Chinese takeout-style egg drop soup. It’s tasty, but egg drop doesn’t have to stop there.
Consider Hangzhou’s West Lake Beef Soup, a velvety beef consommé filled with shiitake mushrooms, ginger, and coriander and finished with egg white threads. Alternatively, there’s the Cantonese corn and fish maw soup, a brightly yellow seafood stock with sweet corn and egg drop. Alternatively, there’s the simple tomato and egg soup, a highly flavorful Northern Chinese specialty made with nothing but water, tomatoes, scallions, and a big egg drop.
In any event, most, if not all, soups might benefit from a last-second egg drop for added aesthetic and textural appeal. Any soup can and should be egg dropped.
Here’s how to go about it:
With a splash of any vinegar, neutral oil, and water, whisk together the freshest eggs you can find—about 1 egg per 1–2 cups of broth. Per egg, about 1 teaspoon each. Vinegar decreases the pH, allowing proteins to denature faster, resulting in thinner threads. Silkiness is provided by oil. The egg is thinned out with water to make the pour smooth. When it comes to actually dump the egg, there are a variety of options.
For egg strands that aren’t too long…
Begin by bringing your soup to a rapid boil. Pour in the egg mixture as gently as you can from a tiny pitcher or another instrument with a spout while continuously and decisively stirring the saucepan. If you stir it too vigorously, it will emulsify and become part of the soup. The little strands of eggs will almost instantly float to the top, revealing a lovely egg lattice if done correctly.
For a larger sheet of egg…
The egg drop should be created with an egg mixture that does not contain vinegar for a larger sheet of egg. Remove the soup from the heat—this is when you’ll need to be gentle. Pour a thin coating of egg in a circle around the pan after the surface of the soup is still. Wait for the egg to cook and firm before pushing it into the center of the pan with chopsticks or a spoon until a thin wispy blanket of the egg has formed.
You might be tempted to look beyond Chinese cuisine after your first foray into egg drop soups, and you’d find plenty of evidence for the beauty of egg dropped soups and stews all over the world. Colombians eat changua for breakfast, which consists of whole eggs cooked in milk with cilantro and onions. Sopa de Ajo, a Castilian garlic soup, is cooked with day-old bread, pimentón, and plenty of olive oil, then finished with a thinly spun curtain of a whole egg boiled and served in the broth. The Roman stracciatella, which features twisted threads of eggs, semolina, and Parmesan, is likely the most texturally similar to the Chinese egg drop soup. Alternatively, try egg-dropping in dishes that don’t call for it, such as a tomato sauce ready to toss with pasta that needs a touch of creaminess, a white bean stew that needs a bit more body, a robust Thai curry that begs for a touch of silliness, or a noodle soup that needs a flourish of egg that’s a little more elegant than a whole egg over the top.
The egg drop transitions from one cuisine to the next, allowing us to bask in the splendors of an extremely silky, delicious soup.