How to hot pot

17 Nov

My language school holds cultural activities every month, with hot pot making the flavour of November. A great dish to warm up as the weather gets colder. I love hot pot, and am a huge fan of the communal way of dining. Although you may put some meat, cabbage and tofu in there, you may pick out a fish ball, mushroom and lettuce. It’s all a lucky dip if you and your friends are randomly cooking things. To begin with, we made the delicious sesame paste, which you dip your cooked foodstuffs into. Huo guo, in Chinese – huo means fire, guo is pot. So fire pot. Although many hot pot places will now have a cooker built into the table, there are lots of places you can have hot pot where the pot still sits above a little flame.

Sesame sauce:

1 jar of sesame paste – this is quite thick, like a smooth peanut butter almost. It came in a jar with a thick layer of oil on the top. You mix it in a bowl and add water and keep mixing until it takes on a smooth consistency.
Soy sauce
Fermented bean curd – this came in a jar, it was tofu-like cubes in a red sauce, which we mixed into the sauce and broke up into the sauce – about 6 pieces/squares and some of the red sauce from the jar
Leek flower sauce – a few tablespoons. A little garlicky, and zesty flavoured, it’s a dark-green coloured sauce that we mixed in.
Some sugar
Chili sauce if you want
Coriander on the top

Mix all this (with chopsticks of course!!!) until it’s a smooth consistency. I guess you could garnish also with sesame seeds.

Hot pot stock:

Into the hot pot water we added star anise, dried Chinese mushrooms, dried chilies, dried peel, Sichuan peppercorns and dried Chinese red dates (jujubes). We let that simmer for a little and (here’s the cheat’s part) added a packet of spicy hot pot mix into the water. It was a little hot, not too bad. It obviously had oil in it, as well as lots of chili and Sichuan peppercorns.

Wait for this to come to simmer/boil and then you’re ready to cook.

Meats you can use include very thinly sliced beef, pork, chicken or lamb (sliced like sandwich meat so it cooks quicker) and fish balls. Despite looking like pink, orange and white marshmallows, they taste really good cooked. Just don’t ask what’s in them! Squid is nice in it, as are prawns.

All types of tofu are delicious in it – the deep fried bean curd soaks up stock flavours perfectly, and the dried long varieties hold together nicely. Vegetables are only limited by your imagination, but some of my favourites are napa cabbage, sweet potato, lotus root, lettuce and mushrooms (any and every kind – Chinese black, enoki, shiitake). Noodles are also a great addition, with thick potato noodles taking a little longer to cook, and a little bit of patience to fish them out of the stock, but it’s definitely worth it.

Cook these all in the stock – times will vary. Meat takes a few minutes, sweet potato and thick noodles take around five to eight minutes, depending on the thickness. Scoop them out and dip/dunk them in sesame sauce.

Don’t overcrowd your hot pot with things though, otherwise they won’t cook so quickly.

And if you can’t be bothered doing all this at home, my favourite hot pot in Beijing is at Little Sheep on Ghost Street. It’s a Mongolian hot pot restaurant and you can order the large yin and yang-shaped pot with a herbal stock on one side and a spicy, ‘mala’ (mouth numbingly spicy) stock on the other.

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