How to Hot Pot
As the winter months seem never ending in Alberta, one sure fire way to keep warm and cozy is to hot pot. A very popular form of Chinese style eating, hot pot is the Eastern version of fondue. Perfect for group gatherings, a hot pot can serve 6 people, or more, comfortably with very minimal labor involved for the host, because your guests cook for themselves! Here are some useful hot pot essentials including equipment and simple tips:
1) Purchase a butane burner. Sold at most Asian grocery markets around Edmonton, such as Lucky 97 and T&T, a butane burner will keep a much more stable rolling boil for your pot of soup versus an electrical stove top. You also prevent accidents with loose cords. Keep a back-up butane gas cartridge just in case dinner lasts longer than expected.
2) Proper utensils and sanitation is important here. Make sure each guest has 2 sets of everything – one for cooking and one for eating. I don’t want to sound like a sanitation freak, but by preventing cross contamination of raw and cook foods, you of course will minimize the accusations for food poisoning. Chopsticks and wire spoons are most effective. If you don’t want to spend money on wire spoons, slotted spoons will suffice.
3) Be familiar with doneness and cooking times. Use common sense when cooking your foods. Chicken takes longer to cook than pork or beef. If you’re worried about something being underdone, it’s better to be safe than sorry, and cook it a couple minutes more. Avoid adding too many items into the pot at once. The large volume of food will naturally lower the temperature of your broth, thus causing wait time for the soup to return to a boil. The enjoyment of hot pot is to eat slowly and take in the company!
4) If possible, offer a spicy and non-spicy broth base. Diluted chicken or fish stock easily does the trick. To spice things up you can purchase soup base with a kick, or tweak your own using chilli powder or chilli oils. Divided pots are available.
5) Condiments. If you’re worried about a bland soup base, a variety of sauces will cover that right up. Here are some typical ones:
- Soy Sauce – a staple in Chinese cuisine
- Sambal Chili Paste – one of the best chilli sauces around. The hotness level is moderate with a slight tang, and has texture from the chilli seeds
- Hoisin Sauce – great for beef balls or sliced meat
- Raw Egg – this may be for your more advanced hot pot guests. It’s common to scramble up a raw egg with some soy and Sambal sauce. By placing the steaming hot food into the dipping bowl, you begin to cook some of the egg, but understandably, is not for everyone
6) Pre-sliced meat. T&T offers a nice selection of meats from beef, to pork, to chicken, to lamb. No work required except for removing the plastic wrapper. Make sure to defrost if purchased frozen.
7) Fish balls and cakes are another flavourful choice. Typically found in the frozen section of your Chinese grocer, they cook relatively quick and are ready when they float to the surface.
8) Veggies such as lettuce or bok choy and/or vermicelli noodles. Save these for last because after all the meats are cooked, either of these will soak up all the flavours from the broth. They are also lighter so your guests don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of food.
You can make a hot pot dinner as plentiful or as scarce as you desire. These tips are to cover all grounds, but there are no set rules to the kinds of meats and condiments you offer. The beauty of this style of meal is you can cater to your guests with minimal work. Create a vegetarian dinner by simply changing the type of stock, or focus on beef by purchasing a variety of cuts. The possibilities are endless. If you’ve never hot potted before, I’m most certain you will be the talk of town once you’ve introducing this to your friends and family. Enjoy and stay warm this winter!