The Perfect Time to Hot Pot

I can’t believe another year has gone by! 2014 was quite the year – full of celebrations, new friendships, stronger relationships, bucket list checks, and a growing number of readers like you, who motivate me even more to write and blog. I returned from my long-awaited trip to Europe recently and I can’t wait to look through my 3,000+ photos and share the experiences with you! That will surely take some time, so for now, here’s the first food entry of the year, dedicated to hot pot!

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Contrary to what people think, hot pot and shabu shabu are NOT the same. Hot pot consists of a hot pot (literally!) of stock simmering in the middle of the table and people place ingredients to cook as they eat. Shabu shabu, though similar to the Chinese hot pot, originates from Japan, where beef is thinly sliced and boiled in water, then usually dipped into ponzu and served with a bowl of rice.

Since it is cold nowadays, many families and friends gather together for this fun, creative meal, and some families even eat in this style to launch the new year. Let me warn you though, that everyone has a different style of “hot-potting.” Ask two people in the same family and they may both have a different answer for you regarding what type of stock to boil and what sauces to dip with. The fun thing is, with every person you hot pot with, you’ll learn something new to add to your method!

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The first thing you’ll need is a burner, gas cans, and a pot to cook in. Then you’re reading to go shopping for the meats you would like – the most popular meat is the “fatty beef” you can pick up from the Asian grocery stores. Lean is an option too! As long as you like the meat, you can just about pick anything – I wouldn’t recommend lamb though until last because it changes the flavor of the soup very quickly!

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Then you have the options of picking vegetables and other goodies to throw in and cook. Some popular ones include fishballs, tofu, noodles, spinach, turnip, yam leaves, Chinese broccoli, watercress, taro, and cabbage.

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While you’re at the store, pick up some drinks for the table too! Besides beer that goes along well with the dinner, there are a variety of Chinese drinks to choose from – some people believe drinking herbal teas help balance the hot pot meal. Chrysanthemum tea is cooling and soothing, making it a great match to the hot and spicy hot pot. It tastes delicious too.

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Now you’re ready to start hot potting!  Cook a hot pot of water until it boils. While you can buy packets of sauce-base, you can also just boil hot water with cut up turnip and fish balls for flavor. Here below are two different soup bases I’ve had with friends:

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Herbal soup base with red dates for a sweeter taste

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Hot spicy soup base

Then wash and cut all your bought vegetables to put on the table ready for serving. There’s no “one way” of presenting things but you can usually put your ingredients in different bowls and surround your hot pot with them. Now you’re ready to pick what you want to eat and cook it in the pot!

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Lastly, the sauce is one of the best parts of hot pot!  While I usually just set aside a plate of soy sauce to dip my meat and vegetables, some people love being creative with their sauces. In the photo below, you have a variety to mix and match. From left to right….

– Chinese barbecue sauce
– Hoisin sauce
– Sesame oil (or hot sesame oil if you like spicy)
– Oyster sauce
– Sriracha hot sauce
– Soy sauce

and top with cilantro and/or parsley for extra flavor. Two other ingredients to help make your sauce is a raw egg and peanut butter. You’ll have to be really daring to add those in my opinion! If you’re not sure how to mix and match, try this simple non-spicy mix that I use for dipping:  soy sauce, a drop of sesame oil, a small teaspoon of the barbecue sauce, and a sprinkle of parsley/cilantro.  Ta-daaaa!

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Hot pot can be such a wonderful way to get together or just have a simple dinner if you’re too lazy to stand in the kitchen and cook!

What’s YOUR style of hot potting? I would love to hear from you!

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