Dip into the Lunar New Year with Asian hot pot cooking
“Hot pot cooking is kind of like a buffet,” said Van Chiu, owner of Best Asian Market. A steaming pot of fragrant broth is placed on the table surrounded by meat and vegetables, and guests select and cook what they like. “Hot pots are popular at any family gathering, even weddings,” said Chiu, who is of Chinese descent and grew up in Vietnam.
Local Asian markets have all the supplies you’ll need to create your own festive hot pot meal. It’s healthy, fun for the whole family and gathering around a steaming hot pot is a great way to add some spice to the dark, cold days of winter.
Pick your pot
A hot pot can be made in a traditional fondue pot, an electric wok, or you can buy a single butane burner for around $20 and use your own cooking pot. A large electric hot pot with a heating element contained in the base sells for $40 to $45.
Chiu explains that some families prefer to use a hot pot that is divided down the middle to hold two kinds of broth. “Some people are vegetarian or like it (the broth) more sour or spicy,” he said, or one half can be filled with water for cooking noodles and the other half with broth.
You’ll also want to have some chopsticks on hand and some small metal strainers to retrieve the food from the broth. Have a ladle ready to scoop the broth out at the end.
Brew some broth
“Traditional broth takes a long time to make,” said Sam Song. Song is originally from the Shandong province in China and occasionally teaches Chinese cooking classes on behalf of the Sister Cities Association of Spokane. (Jilin, China, is one of Spokane’s sister cities.)
Song recommends an easier version – starting with commercially prepared chicken stock diluted with water. Add some scallions, slices of ginger, garlic cloves and bring it to a boil. Let the broth simmer until it’s flavorful.
In China, Song’s family used water for hot pot cooking. The meat and vegetables add flavor as they are cooked. “The broth in the end is so rich – it’s the best,” Song said.
“Pork broth is the most popular in Vietnam,” said Hong Pham, who owns Vina Asian restaurant. She offers several hot pots on her menu, including a spicy Thai hot pot made with a curry base and Thai basil. “When you cook it at the table it’s really fresh,” Pham said.
There are plenty of packaged soup bases available at Asian grocery stores, and miso mixed with water can also be used. No matter how you make the broth, make sure to allow plenty of time to enjoy the occasion. Hot pot cooking is as much a social gathering as a meal. “We laugh and cook. If you are in a hurry it’s not fun,” Pham said.
“While you are eating add more water so it (the broth) doesn’t get too thick,” Chiu recommended. After everyone is finished cooking, you can add some ramen noodles to the pot and drink the soup.
Make your meal
“The base is not so important,” Song said. What’s important, he said, is to use high quality ingredients. Just about anything can be cooked in the pot, including thinly sliced meat, vegetables, tofu and noodles.
It’s easier to slice beef, chicken or lamb paper-thin when it is frozen or you can ask your butcher to do it for you. Make sure to keep the meat as thin as possible so it will cook quickly. Pre-cooked meatballs and fish balls are also popular. Most items take from 30 seconds to just a few minutes to cook.
“We have hot pots fairly often,” Chiu said. “It’s healthy because it encourages eating more vegetables,” he says. If you prefer, cook just vegetables, tofu and dumplings. Chiu likes to add taro, a potato-like vegetable, because it makes the broth sweet.
The order in which you cook the ingredients is important to maximize the flavor of the dish. Start with the meat or fish, Song recommends, because the juices will flavor the broth. Next cook the vegetables and then the tofu, which will absorb the flavor of the broth.
Bean thread noodles (also called vermicelli) can be added anytime. “Soak them first until they are soft – about 15 to 20 minutes in hot water,” Chiu said.
Place all of the ingredients on plates around the pot and let each diner choose and cook his or her own meal. Items can be dipped with chopsticks or dropped into the pot and retrieved with strainers. You’ll want to provide a small bowl for sipping soup and plates for any discarded seafood shells.
Don’t forget to dip
“The dipping sauce is very important,” Song wrote in an email. “There are no rules to follow. Be brave and try adding things you like.” In a restaurant or in the host’s house, a variety of condiments (see suggestions on cover) are set out along with a small bowl for diners to mix their own dipping sauce. Cover all of the bases by including salty, sweet, sour and spicy condiments.
“The best thing (about hot pots) is to have friends around the pot, sweating from the spicy food,” says Song. “It’s a fun thing to do and it’s not that hard.”
Here are some recipes to get you started.
Chicken Ginger Broth
Recipe adapted from suggestions by Sam Song. This mild flavored broth is the perfect starting point for any hot pot. Feel free to add more garlic or add some chili sauce for a spicy broth.
6 cups water
1 tablespoon granulated chicken bouillon (or three bouillon cubes)
2 green onions (green part only) cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 star anise (optional)
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic (or more to taste)
3 coin-sized slices of ginger
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
Place all of the ingredients in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if desired. Keep hot and transfer to fondue pot, electric wok or other hot pot cooking device.
Yield: 6 cups of broth
Hot Pot Dipping Sauce
Courtesy of Sam Song.
1/3 cup peanut butter
2-3 tablespoon hot water
1 teaspoon roasted minced garlic
2-3 drops soy sauce
2-3 drops sesame oil
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
Fermented chili bean curd – 1 teaspoon of juice from the jar plus 1/2 of a cube of bean curd (Find it at Asian markets)
Mix all of the ingredients together, mashing the cube of fermented chili bean curd to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste. Serve in a small bowl for dipping items cooked in hot pot.
Yield: Enough for one person
Asian Fish Hot Pot Fondue
From “The Fondue Cookbook” by Gina Steer. Serve this fish fondue with steamed rice and a green salad for a light, healthy meal. You’ll need a fondue pot or other hot pot cooking device and fondue forks for this dish.
2 pounds assorted fish such as cod, salmon and scallops
1 large carrot, peeled and sliced
1 large onion, peeled and sliced
2 Thai chilies, seeded and sliced
A few fresh parsley sprigs
4 star anise
1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon grated ginger
3 cups water
4 tablespoons dry sherry
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Fresh cilantro sprigs and lime wedges for garnish
Skin the fish, reserve the trimmings and discard any bones. Clean scallops. Cut fish into cubes, place in small bowls and garnish with cilantro and lime. Cover and refrigerate until serving time.
Place the carrot, onion and chilies into the fondue or hot pot with the fish trimmings, parsley, remaining spices and water. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 20 minutes or until broth is reduced by about one third. Strain and return to pot. Stir in sherry and soy sauce.
Heat the broth, place over lit burner in fondue or other serving pot. Spear the fish onto fondue forks, cook in broth for 2 to 3 minutes.
Yield: 6 servings
Quick Satay Sauce
From “The Fondue Cookbook” by Gina Steer.
6 tablespoons smooth or chunky peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon hot chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon dark soy sauce
2/3 cup coconut milk
Blend all of the ingredients except coconut milk until smooth. Slowly stir in the coconut milk and then pour into a pan and heat gently. Cook 2 to 4 minutes or until heated. Serve warm or cold, according to preference.
Yield: 1 1/4 cups
From Emeril Lagasse, foodnetwork.com
3 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
3/4 cup dried mustard powder
2 tablespoons sesame oil
3/4 teaspoon cooking oil
2/3 cup rice wine vinegar
Place garlic in a mortar. Mash with a pestle. Add sugar and stir until it dissolves. Add water, mustard powder, oils and vinegar, stirring between each addition.
Yield: about 1 1/2 cups
Ginger Soy Sauce
From Emeril Lagasse, foodnetwork.com
1/4 cup ginger, minced
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3/4 cup soy sauce
In a small mixing bowl combine ginger and honey and stir until combined. Add the sesame oil and soy sauce, stirring between each addition.
Yield: About 1 cup
Kirsten Harrington is a Spokane freelance food writer. Contact her at kharrington67@ earthlink.net or visit her website, chefonthego.net.