What is Hot Pot?
Hot pot is a Chinese cooking process. A cooking pot is set in the center of the table containing boiling hot broth with a heating element underneath. Various raw ingredients are served around the pot, such as thinly sliced meat, seafood, vegetables, tofu, meat balls, and noodles. The guests cook the ingredients in the broth and eat them with a dipping sauce.
Broth / Soup base
There are many different styles of hot pot in China, depending on the region. The primary difference from region to region is the broth. Choosing the type of broth is one of the most important considerations when eating hot pot, because all the food will be cooked in this broth. So it’s essential to choose a flavor that you like.
- *Original Pork broth
It’s the most basic soup of light pork broth and some veggies. It’s also used to top up other soups in the pot as they evaporate
Sze Chuan spicy hot pot base – Red chili oil (made with vegetable oil) based spicy broth. Earthy, hot and full of spices and aromatics, this is one of the most popular soups for hot pot. It’s loaded with tongue-numbing Szechuan peppercorns, chilis, ginger, scallions, cinnamon, anise and fennel that flavour meats beautifully.
Chungking mala spicy hot pot base – Red chili oil base that is made with beef fat and very little spices. The aroma and flavor mostly come from the animal fat and chili peppers. The finished broth is usually more oily, spicier, and heavier than the Szechuan style.
*Tom Yum Goong broth
A Thai influenced soup made of lemongrass, chili peppers, fish sauce, galangal, lime juice and lime leaves. It’s hot and sour, and perfect for flavouring meats.
Other types – There are other types of hot pot base too, such as tomato, mushroom broth.
During the cooking process, the broth will reduce by quite a lot. When it’s reduced to about half, you should add more water and wait until it starts to boil again. Only cook ingredients when the broth is boiling, to ensure proper cooking.
The condiments is a mini-buffet on its own. Each person mixes his or her own dipping sauce from the array of sauces, herbs and aromatics that’s offered. This sauce, in addition to the broths, is what flavours the meats, veggies and noodles.
Essential to a hot pot dinner, thinly-sliced meat is the star of the event. After beef, lamb is the second most popular meat at hot pot. Both thinly-sliced beef and lamb cook quickly, about a minute, until there’s no pink left.
Whole, unpeeled shrimp is extremely popular, mostly because it doesn’t take long to cook. Another bonus is that the shells and the fat in the head flavour the broth and makes it perfect for noodles near the end of the dinner. The downside is that most people are too lazy to get their hands dirty and peel the shrimps throughout dinner. Mussels, clams, squid and sliced fish are all great options for those who don’t want to eat too much meat.
Regular selection includes: beef, squid balls, fish, shrimp, pork, beef tendon. These are cooked until they puff up (seafood balls will expand to the size of golf balls, while denser beef and pork balls will only puff up slightly), about five mins. Add these in the pot at the beginning so they get a head start and soak up some of the soup’s flavours.
Shiitake, Enoki, King Oyster, you name it; they are all great at picking up the flavours from the soup.
Firm, soft or oily tofu and other soy products, like Tofu skin, are great ways to lighten up the meal and should always be available.
Taro root is cut into bite-size pieces for hot pot. Taro breaks down if it cooks for too long, so you don’t want to put too many pieces in and forget about them, unless you want a muddy and thick soup.
Vegetables like spinach and watercress are convenient because they take no time to cook. However, they pick up a lot of the salty soup, so make sure you don’t leave them in for too long.
Napa cabbage and bok choy are all excellent for hot pot because of the thick stems. They can be cooked for a long time without falling apart.
Noodles like udon, ramen and rice noodle are staples, and are great for picking up that soup, which has been simmering for hours and saturated with the essence of the meat, seafood and veggies. Drop them in near the end of the meal when the soup is at its most flavourful.
A few important tips when cooking hot pot
1. Be patient and wait until the broth is boiling
I know you’ll be tempted to start cooking right away, but remember to be patient and wait until the broth starts boiling. This way the food will be cooked quickly and remain juicy.
2. Add a small amount of food each time
Only add the few pieces of food that you plan to eat in the next couple of minutes. Overcrowding the pot will cause the broth temperature to drop, so the all the food will be cooked more slowly and may not be properly done.
3. Do not overcook
This is the most important thing and a lot of first timers forget it. Always keep an eye on the food you’ve just added and take it out when it is ready. Meat cooked in a hot pot is supposed to be soft and juicy, not dry and hard like cardboard.
4. Sanitize your chopsticks
Since you’ll be using your chopsticks to pick up and cook raw meat, as well as serve the cooked food, it’s important that you dip the chopsticks in the boiling broth for a few seconds before picking up any cooked food. The hot broth will quickly sanitize your chopsticks to prevent food-related illness.