Long term followers will be aware already of my obsession with a little Sichuan takeaway in Bristol called Chilli Daddy. Chilli Daddy was my first taste of Sichuan food and it has sparked a passion that just keeps growing. This month I decided to have a Hot Pot evening at home and have shared my findings below.
About Hot Pot
Hot Pot is one of the most popular meals in the Sichuan region of China, both in terms of eating out and for home cooking. A spicy oily broth is kept heated over a ring in the centre of the table. This can vary from a specific table with a built in gas ring, to your own dining room table with a camping stove on top! You can choose to just have one spicy broth on offer or you could purchase a specialised Hot Pot with a divider in the middle, allowing for two different kinds of broth (typically one spicy and one mild). A plethora of ingredients are served alongside the broth and are to be cooked at the leisure of the diners themselves by dipping them into the Hot Pot. A variety of dips are typically also provided
In order to try Hot Pot at home, you will need:
Gas burner - ie. a camping stove
Heavy based saucepan
Slotted spoon / mesh scoop
The only specific ingredient you need is the Hot Pot broth itself. You can make this yourself or most Chinese supermarkets will sell the Hot Pot base that only needs to be diluted with boiling water or with chicken stock for extra flavour. Then you just need to decide on your items to be cooked!
The following are all suggestions to get you started - I recommend a mixture of the below:
Mushrooms (a variety of different kinds)
Meat slices (you can buy these in Chinese supermarkets - they are sliced very thinly to make them ideal for cooking quickly)
Noodles (ie. ramen, egg, rice)
Tofu puffs (my absolute favourite)
Typically in a Sichuan household or restaurant, lots of different kinds of offal will be served for cooking in the Hot Pot so feel free to experiment.
Anything goes for the dipping sauce. I would recommend serving a selection of different ones, but for a classic Hot Pot dipping sauce, just combine:
Black vinegar - 1 tablespoon
Garlic - 1 teaspoon
Sesame oil - 1 teaspoon
Soy sauce - 1 tablespoon
Typically the ingredients for cooking will all be served on their own individual plate. Give each guest a bowl and a set of chopsticks (you can choose to give each guest two sets of chopsticks - one just for meat, although this isn’t strictly necessary as the boiling stock will remove any raw meat traces).
Let the Hot Pot come to a boil before adding any items. Some items can just be dipped in using chopsticks until cooked but some will take a little longer. Make sure you can let guests know roughly how long items will take to cook - you could even make little labels for the plates. For example, eggs will take about 6 minutes whereas the thin meat slices just 15 - 30 seconds.
If you can get a hold of little mesh scoops these are great for fishing out any tasty morsels that have gone missing in the pot! Otherwise, a slotted spoon for the table does this job just fine.
Take your time and make an experience of it! The broth will slowly boil down and get more intense and spicy as the evening goes on - you can counter this by topping up with boiling water from time to time.