The Holiday season is upon us, and while it's always a blessing to reunite with family and friends around the table, for those of us tasked with hosting duties, this can often be a stressful time.
Whenever we host big groups of friends at home, we like to look to the Chinese-perfected art of communal dining for inspiration. Perhaps there's a reason why hot pot is such a popular pastime in Sichuan- not only is it healthy and delicious, there's also something about the act of cooking your own food together over a steaming cauldron of hearty broth that makes the experience that much tastier. Plus, it's a cinch to prepare at home.
If you’re on the search for a quintessential Chinese food dining experience, then you’ll want to try tackling the hot pot at home. Hot pot isn’t just a dish. It’s a social affair that is best shared with loved ones.
Here at Fly By Jing, we’re dedicated to bringing you the ultimate in Chinese food home cooking. That doesn’t end with our sweet, spicy, and umami ingredients. We also want to share the culture and history surrounding classic Chinese dishes and all the best ways to begin making them your own at home today.
What Is a Hot Pot?
Hot pot dining is incredibly versatile and engaging. Not only can you cook up all of your favorite flavors and dishes, but you can share the experience with all of your favorite people, as well. A hot pot is a dining experience that centers around a large pot of broth. On the table, you will also have a wide variety of vegetables and meats that will be cooked in your favorite broth. It's similar to fondue in that you're dipping individual ingredients into a central pot, but you're actually cooking the raw ingredients.
It’s also a well-loved dish because it can be much healthier than the frying methods often used in Chinese cooking, and there are even hot pot restaurants that specialize in the dish.
Each region has its own customs and associated flavors when it comes to making a hot pot, which means it’s easy for new cooks and experts alike to begin exploring their favorite flavors and trying out the heat levels that work for them.
For instance, Sichuan dining traditionally has a higher heat level thanks to the Sichuan peppers that grow in the region and mala spice mix, but you can approach your hot pot with a lamb broth or herb broth, use a more seafood-centric fare, including clams and scallops, or even make the dish vegetarian with veggie broth and vegetable ingredients, like baby bok choy.
In the Cantonese version, the use of a raw egg is popular. In fact, hot pot has spread to other parts of the Asian continent, as well, so you might find Japanese, Vietnamese, or even Thai influences in recipes as well. You can play around with the ingredients that you choose, with everything from root vegetables like Daikon radishes and taro root to fried tofu.
Using your hot pot tools, you and your guests will cook your vegetables, dumplings, and meat in the broth over the course of dinner. Some hot pot dinners will have multiple broths of different heat levels and flavors, so you have lots of opportunities to make the dishes your own.
History of Hot Pot
There are many potential origin stories for the Chinese hot pot, but we can agree that the history of the hot pot dates back over 1,000 years. Traditionally, it was cooked in winter as both a way to make dinner for a larger group of people and keep warm during the chilly months.
Some trace the history of the hot pot back to ancient emperors, others to Mongolian warriors, who would use their helmets to cook their dinner over the fire while they traveled. Another story points to a boatman who was on the search for an inexpensive and warming way to cook.
Since, it has evolved and changed across regions and countries, becoming more popular with the rise of restaurant dining in China in the 1980s and expanding around much of Asia and, indeed, the world.
How to Cook Hot Pot at Home
Serving hot pot is a fun and exciting way to share great flavors with loved ones. Here's everything you need to host a very Sichuan Friendsgiving.
Tools and Ingredients
A Hot Pot and A Portable Stove (gas or electric): You have many different options when it comes to which hot pot is best for your cooking needs, but you’ll probably want to look for a pot with a separator, so you can make two hot pot soups in one dish.
Utensils: In addition to chopsticks, you’ll want to have tongs and strainers for putting food into the hot pot and taking it out when it’s cooked. Serving plates, bowls for eating, and bowls for sauces are all important, as well. Slotted spoons and individual sauce bowls will be helpful, too.
Hot Pot Ingredients: There’s no end to your hot pot kit cooking options, so explore the flavors and ingredients you like and serve your favorites. You’ll want to pick broth palates that match your meats and vegetables, and most hot pots have many vegetable options, meat, firm tofu, and noodles. You can also make your hot pot vegetarian or serve a sea-food-centric hot pot.
How to Serve Hot Pot
Once you have your ingredients ready, putting your hot pot together is relatively easy. Here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind.
First off, you have to make your broth. You can make a homemade broth or use a mix to fit your tastes. Popular broth combinations include cilantro and fish, a scallion and shiitake-based broth, or even just a broth based around chicken stock. This recipe, however, has served us well for many a holiday function.
Simple Sichuan Hot Pot Base:
50g Dried Chilis
2 tbsp Sichuan Pepper
1/2 cup vegetable oil
6 tbsp Sichuan Chili Crisp
2L Beef/Chicken Stock or dashi, home-made or store-bought
1 tbsp Salt
1 tbsp Sugar
Spices to taste: feel free to add star anise, cassia bark, cardamom pods to taste
Chop the chilis into 1/2 inch lengths, heat 2-3 tbsp of oil in a wok over medium heat, and stir-fry dried chilis until they turn a brilliant red, remove from wok before they burn.
Heat remaining oil in wok over medium heat, add Fermented Fava Bean paste and Sichuan Chili Crisp, fry until oil is red and paste is fragrant, add fried chilis, sichuan pepper, 1L of stock, salt and sugar and bring to boil. Lower the heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes.
Now you are ready to cook. Put this pot on the portable stove in the middle of the table and bring to boil when ready to add ingredients in. Add more stock as necessary as the stock evaporates.
Ingredients to cook (these are just some ideas but let your imagination run wild!):
thin slices of meats: chicken, pork, beef (you can buy these pre-sliced at Asian grocery stores)
shelled shrimp, sliced fish, and pretty much any other seafood
tofu (again, go to Asian grocery stores and get them in all shapes and forms, our favorite is tofu skin, or fried into balls)
meatballs, fish balls, fried bean curd rolls (find these at your local Asian grocery store)
all kinds of mushrooms, but we love enoki and shiitake
hard-boiled quail eggs
rice cakes, thinly sliced
potatoes, thinly sliced, sweet potatoes work great too
lotus root, thinly sliced
vermicelli or sweet potato noodles
napa cabbage leaves, spinach, any other leafy greens
broccoli and cauliflower florets
bamboo shoots, thinly sliced
Sauce (because you can't have hot pot without good dipping sauce and condiments):
Our go-to consists of Sichuan Chili Crisp with a vinaigrette of equal parts Chinese black vinegar and soy sauce, plenty of fresh garlic, thinly sliced shallots, chopped cilantro, and dash of sesame oil. You can also add white sesame paste or tahini for an extra rich kick.
Hot Pot Etiquette
Because a hot pot is a social dining experience, it’s particularly important to follow the guidelines and make sure you’re being polite and healthy while sharing a hot pot dish. Whether you’re making hot pot at home or dining out with friends, there are a few important things you’ll want to keep in mind about hot pot etiquette.
Don’t Melt the Forks
There are many utensils and tools you can find to make a hot pot at home. It’s important that you don’t use any utensils that aren’t specifically marked as heat safe. You don’t want the plastic or other materials to melt or leach into the larger pot of soup base, which can interrupt the flavor and cause health complications. Stick to ladles and tools made for your hot pot meal.
Don’t Mix Utensils
In addition to making sure you’re using the right utensils for the dish, you also want to be certain that they’re the right utensils for the food, as well. Because hot pot dishes start out with raw meat as one of their main ingredients, it’s very important that you check which tools you’re using to pick out and eat the cooked food to avoid cross-contamination.
Avoid Overloading the Pot
Certain ingredients take much longer than others to cook, especially if you’re talking about meat versus vegetables. It can take even longer if there are too many things in the pot at once, which can lower the temperature of the broth. Add in a few pieces at a time and adjust accordingly to ensure everything gets cooked properly.
Stick to One Broth
You can serve a hot pot with several broth options, which is a great way to enjoy all of your favorite flavors and to provide different heat levels for your guests. Because each diner has their own preferences, you’ll want to avoid dipping between the two or three broths and just stick to one.
Don’t Go Diving
If you lose track of your dinner, don’t worry! You may have an enoki mushroom or piece of short rib that escaped your notice and is now floating around somewhere. Rather than poking the dish with your chopsticks, grab one of the slotted spoons and pick it out quickly to avoid inconveniencing others.
Take Your Time and Enjoy
Like dim sum dining and many other Chinese food eating experiences, hot pot dinners are best enjoyed with ease and friendly conversation. Give yourself the time to engage with friends and family, and don’t worry about rushing to put the next great bite into the hot pot. Instead, savor the flavors and time spent with loved ones.
When it comes to a meal that will not only impress but give you the chance to bring loved ones together, the hot pot can’t be beat. It’s easy and inexpensive to begin making at home, and the versatile nature of the flavors and ingredients means there’s a version of hot pot dining that’s sure to fit everyone’s tastes. You can also pair the meats and vegetables with spicy or mild broth options, as well as your favorite sauces, oils, and spices.
At Fly By Jing, we want to offer the cultural context and history of our favorite meals, along with the ingredients you need to begin crafting Chinese dishes right at home. Explore new recipes and flavor profiles and begin serving a hot pot to your friends and family today.
Enjoy! Remember to take pics and tag us on Instagram @flybyjing :)