This time-honored cooking method has the potential to be your new go-to dinner party move.
Chances are, if you'e experienced the fun, communal dining experience of Chinese hot pot, it's been at a restaurant surrounded by simmering basins of fragrant broth and platters of perfectly sliced meats and vegetables. However, creating an authentic hot pot experience in the comfort of your own home is easier than you might think. Whether you've never tried hot pot before, or you've only attempted it at a restaurant, this time-honored cooking method has the potential to be your new go-to dinner party move.
In essence, hot pot is a cooking method in which raw ingredients—such as thin slices of meat, vegetables, seafood, and tofu—are cooked in a simmering pot of flavored broth right at the dining table. Although hot pot has experienced a rise in popularity in the West over the last couple of decades, this method of dining has been practiced for centuries. In fact, the origins of Chinese hot pot go back more than 1000 years to the Han dynasty. For many years, hot pot was considered a luxurious eating experience enjoyed by emperors in times of celebration. Now, it's a more affordable, approachable dining method enjoyed by people from all walks of life.
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Although hot pot originated in China, this popular cooking method has spread, and is commonly practiced in Japan—with methods known as Sukiyaki or Shabu-Shabu—as well as Cambodia, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and beyond. One of the benefits of this crowd-friendly dish is that it can be personalized to each region, each household, and each individual. Whether you're a fan of spicy, Sichuan pepper-laced broth or a more neutral soup that lets the various ingredients shine, your hot pot can be personalized to you and your guests' tastes.
While this cooking method has become popular across the world thanks to the versatility of the ingredients and ease of the cooking process, it's also the perfect way to bring together friends and family through a shared communal dining experience. Though a trip to a hot pot restaurant can be a financial investment, it's more than possible to create your own authentic hot pot experience at home through a few simple steps.
Equipment and Ingredients
Before you begin your hot pot experience, you'll have to assemble the proper equipment and ingredients for your guests to cook. While you'll most likely assemble your broth in a larger pot, you'll want to serve your hot pot in a wide, relatively shallow stock pot that allows multiple people to dip ingredients simultaneously and prevents ingredients from getting lost at the bottom of the broth.
In order to keep your broth simmering, you'll rely on an electric heating plate in the center of your table, which your pot will rest on. Serious hot pot enthusiasts might also want to consider investing in a hot pot-specific vessel that's made for this purpose. If you don't have a heating plate, you can also opt to use a crockpot (more on that method later).
While your ingredients will vary depending on your tastes and dietary preferences, some common options include sliced beef, pork, chicken, shrimp, mussels, scallops, clams, tofu, fish balls, mushrooms, daikon radish, and leafy greens like bok choy, spinach, and watercress. Many hot pot experiences also include noodles, and while just about any noodle will do, some more traditional options include glass noodles, ramen, udon, egg noodles, and rice noodles. If you want to go above and beyond, you can also serve homemade or store-bought dumplings and rice cakes.
Crafting Your Broth
Prior to your guests arrival, you'll prepare in advance a flavorful broth that will be used to cook your ingredients. Since there's no one right way to craft a hot pot broth, this is your chance to get creative and play around with various ingredients until you've achieved your perfect balance of flavors and spice.
To craft a homemade broth from scratch, start with a simple base of meat bones, vegetables, herbs, and seasonings. Add your base ingredients to a pot, cover in cold water, and simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally and skimming off any fat that forms on the surface. Then, carefully strain your broth through a fine strainer into a large bowl and transport back to your pot to ensure it stays hot.
When choosing the base ingredients of your broth, start with pork, chicken, or beef bones—or leave out the bones for a vegetarian option—and add vegetables like scallions, garlic, mushrooms, and cabbage, along with herbs and spices like ginger, star anise, whole dried chilies, fennel, cloves, bay leaf, Sichuan peppercorn, and more. If you're short on time or just want to make your life a little easier, you can opt to use a store-bought chicken, beef, or vegetarian stock, rather than making one from scratch with bones. You can also choose to use a pre-made hot pot soup base from an Asian market, grocery store, or online if you're nervous about recreating those traditional hot pot flavors, or simply want a shortcut that guarantees a flavorful end result.
Prep and Serve
While your broth is slowly simmering to flavorful perfection, prep your ingredients by slicing them into thin pieces that will cook easily. While some ingredients, like leafy greens, will only need a quick rinse, others will require more intensive prep. Your raw meat should be sliced very thinly, to ensure each piece can be fully cooked by the broth and won't pose any health threats that come with consuming undercooked meat. Large, dense vegetables should also be sliced into smaller, thinner pieces that will fit easily in the pot and cook quickly.
You'll also want to provide a variety of condiments and sauces for your guests to dip their cooked ingredients into. Some commonly used hot pot condiments include soy sauce, satay sauce, chili oil, hoisin sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil. You can also provide green onion, chopped garlic, kimchi, fermented tofu, minced peppers, crushed peanuts, and toasted sesame to round out your toppings.
When your ingredients are sliced and your broth is piping hot, set up your table (ideally in a circular formation) with the hot plate in the center, surrounded by your sliced ingredients and condiments. Provide everyone with their own chopsticks for dipping, as well as a bowl and spoon so that they can enjoy some of your carefully crafted broth on its own, or with noodles. Transfer your broth into your wide, shallow pot and place it atop your hot plate, inviting everyone to dig in. Keep your extra broth at a gentle simmer on the stovetop, so that you can refill your hot pot whenever the liquid gets low.
The Slow Cooker Method
For those who don't have a hot plate, you can also opt to use your slow cooker to recreate the hot pot experience. Begin by crafting your broth on the stove, as in the original method, before transferring the simmering broth to a slow cooker preheated to high heat. This is a necessary step, as attempting to cook your broth solely in the slow cooker won't get the broth hot enough to properly cook the meat.
Depending on the size of your cooker, it might be harder for many people to add ingredients to the pot at once, however this DIY method works well in a pinch. In order to keep the broth at a high temperature, be sure to put a lid over your slow cooker when not in use to keep the soup at a simmer.
The best part about hot pot is that whichever heating method, broth, and ingredients you opt for, the end goal isn't perfection, but rather creating a memorable shared cooking experience that will bring your loved ones together.