Here’s a wonderful recipe for colder weather, as it will keep you nice and warm for hours. I don’t know how other Chinese people prepare their hot pot (or steamboat), but this is how my mother does it, so I’ve described it the way we’ve always had it at home. Naturally, there are many variations based on personal preferences and regional differences, but ours follows the Hong Kong Cantonese style. I’ve had Beijing and Mongolian hot pot in China and these were definitely different. There is also the fiery Sichuan style, which you can read about in my post What is Sichuan Hot Pot?
Once you’ve prepared it a few times, you can experiment with different ingredients and condiments, depending on what you like. It’s perfect for family and friends, and a lot of fun as it will keep your guests entertained and busy for hours.
Hot Pot Equipment:
An essential is a small portable gas ring, usually run on small gas cylinders. Make sure you place it on something that is completely heat-proof (as I learned today, when a thick plastic chopping board underneath the gas ring ended up all warped!). My mother used to use an old-fashioned electric rice cooker (the ones with completely detachable lids), but as modern rice cookers usually have lids that are connected, they are not as practical for this purpose. There are also shallow pots specially designed for hot pot that you can buy. I use a large Columbian clay pot on the gas ring, but you can use any large pot or container that can withstand a lot of boiling.
You’ll also need personal sets of chopsticks for each person, small bowls to eat from, small dishes for the dipping sauces, wire sieve ladles (you’ll find these in any large Chinese supermarket), a larger sieve ladle and several pairs of longer wooden chopsticks for communal cooking.
Hot Pot Preparation:
This is all in the cleaning and chopping of the ingredients. Larger, chunkier pieces are better, otherwise they will simply disintegrate during the cooking process.
With hot pot, anything will work, but typical ingredients include meat (lamb is excellent, as is beef), firm types of fish like salmon or hake (chopped up chunks of boneless fillets rather than whole fish), squid, prawns, mussels, Chinese fish balls (the spicy ones are delicious), Chinese fish slices, any mushrooms including shitake and enoki, any type of Chinese leafy greens (Chinese tong ho, or edible chrysanthemum, is perfect for hot pot), tofu (the rougher Chinese version will survive the hot pot more than the delicate Japanese one), fried tofu puffs (see photo above), ho fun noodles (the wide, flat rice noodles that you can buy fresh), and Chinese vermicelli or glass noodles (usually sold in dried form). Any meat should be thinly sliced so that it cooks quickly, as you really don’t want to be fishing out chunks of overboiled meat! It can also be bought thinly sliced.
How To Make The Hot Pot Base or Broth:
Chop peeled carrots and white radish (Japanese daikon) into large chunks. Add to the boiling water with chopped spring onions and ginger and let it simmer for a while. If you are using Chinese cabbage or lettuce, then chop the head off and add to the base, as this will add a lovely sweet flavour. Season with salt and white pepper. The longer you let this simmer, the more flavoursome the soup base will be. A little vegetable oil can be added before the cooking starts, although the fish and meat will release plenty of natural oils. We allowed the base to simmer on the stove for about 20 minutes before transferring the pot to the gas ring (otherwise the gas canister will run out more quickly).
Hot Pot Dipping Sauces:
This varies according to region, but at home, we always have a very simple mix of soya sauce with a bit of vegetable oil, sesame oil and chilli sauce (optional). I also like hot pot with XO sauce (a spicy seafood sauce from Hong Kong that’s great for cooking as well as dipping). You can buy this in jars at Chinese supermarkets. It’s expensive but you don’t need much. Alternatively, you could make it yourself as one of my uncles used to, but I think the shop-bought version tastes a bit stronger (with added preservatives?!). Today when we had hot pot with friends, we all experimented with different condiments and I think I’ve finally found my favourite dipping sauce! See my post How To Make Hot Pot Dipping Sauces.
I’ve also been to my cousin’s home for hot pot, where raw egg was added to the dipping sauce, to reduce the ‘heat’ absorbed by the food and to avoid developing a sore throat afterwards (according to Chinese health philosophy).
Hot Pot Cooking and Eating:
Once everything has been chopped up and laid out on the table, then the fun begins. Everyone can do his or her own cooking (the handles of the wire ladles can be bent so that they hook over the edge of the pot to stay in place), keeping an eye on the ingredients they have placed into the pot. Fish, seafood, tofu and meat are best cooked in the wire ladles, otherwise they will get lost in the pot and end up overcooked. Often though, one person will place larger amounts of food like vegetables and fish balls into the pot, so that people can help themselves. There are no hard and fast rules!
It’s important to use the general chopsticks for placing things into and fishing them out of the pot, to avoid the spreading of germs, particularly from uncooked ingredients. Then use your personal chopsticks to eat the food, dipping it into your own sauce bowl. Also try to avoid adding other ingredients while waiting for meat to be cooked, so that you’re not eating things that might be coated with uncooked meat juices. Wait until you’ve eaten the meat and the soup has started boiling again before adding more food.
As the soup stock decreases, more boiling water from the kettle can be added. Don’t worry about it becoming watery, because you’ll be constantly adding ingredients to it. Wait for the water to boil before adding more ingredients. I don’t really know why, but we always save the ho fun noodles until almost the end of the meal, and we eat them with the rest of the tasty soup base. And once in a while, we throw in a small handful of chopped fresh coriander.
You’ll be amazed at how much you can actually eat during this meal. Because the food is eaten slowly over the course of a few hours, you can take digestive breaks, then have some more! And it really isn’t as complicated as it might sound. Let me know how it goes when you try it, and if you have any suggestions to improve the experience!
If you feel it’s all too much for you to prepare (and you happen to live in London), you can have Sichuan hot pot (very spicy, so you’ve been warned!) at Snazz Sichuan near Kings Cross or another Sichuan restaurant called Angeles (405 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7QE, Tel 0871 4746681). My post on What is Sichuan Hot Pot? has more details.
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