This is the first Chinese hotpot dish on TastyAsia, but it certainly won’t be the last. That’s because the variations on hotpot are limited only by your imagination and what’s available at your local markets.
Chinese hotpot has three main components. The first is the broth that you use to cook the food; the second is the actual food that you end up cooking. And the third is your dipping sauce.
Chinese hotpot restaurants will usually try to accommodate diners’ whims regarding the food to be cooked and the dipping sauce. For example, the menu might have more than one or two hundred items for cooking, including meat, poultry, fish, seafood, and vegetables.
Each diner is also encouraged to make his or her own dipping sauce from bases such as sesame paste, peanut butter, or infused oils, and then an almost infinite array of condiments based on aromatic herbs and spices.
But the cooking broths tend to depend on the chef’s regional preference and expertise. The picture below is from a Sichuan hotpot restaurant in Beijing. The red broth on the right was full of numbing-spicy (麻辣, má là) flavor.
The broth for this TastyAsia hotpot is intentionally mild, since the main ingredients are vegetables and seafood and their natural flavor should come through. For that reason I use just vegetable stock and a little soy sauce for the broth.
The centerpiece is steamed king crab legs, because that was what I found fresh in the market today.
The rest of the items are fairly straightforward: fish tofu, fish balls, and fresh vegetables.
To make the dipping sauce, start with Chinese sesame paste. Note that this ingredient is different than Middle Eastern sesame paste (tahini), because the Chinese version is made from roasted sesame seeds.
Each diner should assemble his or her own dipping sauce using the sesame paste as a base and then adding aromatics such as scallions, cilantro, garlic, chili paste, and shrimp paste; all to taste.
To put it all together, the broth is cooked to a simmer over the stove or a tabletop burner with the items that need to cook for a longer time (mushrooms, fish balls, fish tofu) being added right away. Later, each diner takes responsibility for cooking the items that cook for a shorter time. Often just holding the food in the broth for a few moments is sufficient. Think Chinese fondue.
INGREDIENTS and PREP:
- Gather the items that will cook for 10-15 minutes, including fish tofu squares, fish balls, baby portobello mushrooms, and shiitake mushrooms
- Gather the items that will cook quickly, including shelled steamed king crab leg, raw shrimp, shaved pork, and bok choy (油菜 (yóucài)
- Assemble a cooking stock made from about 4 cups vegetable broth and 1/2 cup soy sauce (or to taste)
- Each diner should make their own individual dipping sauce made from sesame paste, chopped cilantro, chopped scallion, minced garlic, chili paste, and shrimp paste; all ingredients should be used in proportions to suit individual taste; people should also use a spoon or two of the hot broth to thin their dipping sauce if they wish
- Heat the cooking stock (#3) to a simmer. Add the long-cooking ingredients (#1) at the beginning when the broth is cool and bring everything to a simmer together. This can be done on the stove and then removed to the table and placed over a table-top burner to keep everything bubbling and within reach.
- Each diner should simmer the quickly-cooking ingredients (#2) on their own, by using their chopsticks to hold the food in the hot broth for a few moments.
- Everyone then uses their own dipping sauce (#4) as desired.
VARIATIONS: This is yet another dish with about a hundred billion different options. Everything can be varied, from the cooking broth, to the dipping sauce, to the actual ingredients. I’ll continue to post suggestions as this blog goes forward.