April 1, 2018

Chinese Hot Pot Dinner 火鍋

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By Published: 2018-04-01
One of our favorite at home eats throughout the cooler seasons is the famous and fabulous Chinese Hot Pot dinner which translates from Chinese 火鍋 to the more dangerously delectable 'Fire Pot'.  

Brought into China long long ago by nomadic Mongolian horsemen who ate on the run, so to speak, this super fun, relaxed, healthy, body warmingly yummilicious way of making and eating dinner together at the table is an eating event that is great for family, friends or even a party!

Hot pot dinner is super easy to set up.  You just need a hot plate of some sort that is placed in the middle of the dining table.  A pot of clear soup is heated till bubbling at the table.  Traditionally the clear soup 清湯 is flavored with thousand year eggs 皮蛋 and cilantro.  

Arrayed in buffet style around the soup are plates full of raw seafood, meat and vegetables, all ready to be selected, dunked into the soup and cooked to that diner's satisfaction.  When all have feasted on all that they can eat there is still the soup to be slurped up, now wonderfully infused with the essences of all the meats and veg that have been cooked in it.  You can even cook a bit of noodles in the soup if you're still not full.  

It's an all in one, buffet style, cook it yourself dinner.  A smorgasbord of tastes and textures, a super fun eating event bound to please all and sundry!

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Here's our spread of hot pot treats all ready to go.  The wonderful thing about hot pot is that you can pretty much cook whatever you fancy.  You just have to make sure to slice things up so that they cook quickly and are bite sized.

A tip for hot pot newbies - a great way to score good eats for hot pot is to check through the frozen meats and seafood sections of the local markets.  There you'll find all sorts of wonderful things to toss into your hot pot!  Here are some of our favorites:

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Shrimp!  We're pretty shrimp crazy in this house.  These beautiful tiger prawns are perfect for hot pot cooking, quick to cook (just be sure not to over cook and get them too chewy) and extra delicious to eat.  An additional desirable benefit is the unique umami flavor the shrimp shells and shrimp heads impart to the broth!  (Tis also used to make the delicious soup for wonton noodles!)  

My dearest grandma 奶奶 used to make the most kick ass soup from leftover shrimp heads and a bit of ginger and spring onions.  OMG, it was sooo good!

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Oh the seafood!  That's the secret reason I love hot pot but don't tell.  For me it means a seafood indulgence par none.  All and every seafood is game on for tossing in the hot pot!  

Here's another favorite, squid, oh amazing squid, that is good every way it is done, boiled, stir fried, baked, grilled, dried...oh the list is endless!  Here, of course, it is boiled till soft and slightly chewy, just remember to cook briefly, you don't want it to get too tough.

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Yeah...now we're getting to the sexy!  Look at these oysters, I mean really!  How sexy is that?  Soft, succulent and sea fresh and sea sweet...how can one resist?!  There's something just so luscious and yielding with the oyster...  

The hot pot is a great place to cook these notoriously easy to over cook mollusks.  You can dip into the soup with control and have a perfectly just cooked oyster as a result.

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Enough of the seafood and onto other must haves!  This one is a total must must have for hot pot, the thinly sliced marbled beef.  Yum, yum...  This type of beef slice is so popular for hot pot that it is very often found sold frozen, thinly sliced and ready for the hot pot.  

Just let the beef defrost and then each diner can choose a slice and cook the beef as they prefer from rare all the way to well cooked.  I like mine just pink.

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These next two items are both tofu products that are soak up the soup and provide a delightful contrast of texture and taste sensation.  The one above is Oil Fried Gluten Puffs 油麵筋, crisp air filled balls of fried gluten that will slowly deflate in your soup to become soft and chewy and loaded up to the max with the flavor of the stock.  

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This is Fried Bean Curd Skim, also labeled as bean curd roll and soybean roll.  In Chinese it is called 響鈴卷 which translates delightfully into 'Loud Bell Roll.'  A super thin sheet of tofu skin is rolled up and deep fried to an airy puffiness.  I absolutely have to have these when we hot pot!  

These lovelies are a hot pot specialty and one of the reasons why hot pot is so much fun.  Just grab one with your chopsticks and then dip, hold 1-2 seconds in the soup and bring it up.  When you bite into it the outside of the roll it is soft and soaked with soup but the heart of the roll is still dry and fabulously crunchy.  That's why it's called Loud Bell in Chinese I think. 

Both of these tofu items can be found at your local tofu vendor at the wet market or in the Chinese grocery stores, usually in the section that sells fresh noodles or hot pot specialty items.

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Enoki mushroom
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Chinese Pea Shoots 豆苗

Of course one must not forget the vegetables.  We always have some enoki mushroom, they're delicious in hot pot, slightly sweet and a lovely chewy texture.  And for the greens we go for a big bagful of fresh chinese vegetables like Chinese Pea Shoots 豆苗 (pictured above), Watercress 西洋菜 or Choi Sum 菜心.  

Just rinse your veggies, slice to bite size and drain and let the diners grab and cook what they want.  

That's really the fun of the hot pot, the individual choosing and cooking of the raw ingredients to your own preference.  It's a shared experience, everyone cooking and eating at the same table from the same pot.  And be forewarned, sometimes you will even lose your food in the soup pot and/or accidentally (or intentionally) steal other people's morsels of food instead!  

Chinese Hot Pot Dinner 火鍋  is a soul warming shared food adventure!

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Hot pot with an alternative tomato based soup..yum...
Chinese Hot Pot Dinner Recipe  火鍋
(hot pot for 4 persons)  Prep time:    Cook time:


   For the Soup 清湯

   For Cooking in Hot Pot
   (Suggestions only...you can cook whatever you like!)
  • 8 tiger prawn shrimps
  • 1 squid
  • 8 oysters
  • 10 oz thinly sliced marble beef, 300g
  • 10 Oil Fried Gluten Puffs 油麵筋
  • 1 box Fried Bean Curd Skim 響鈴卷
  • 1 bunch enoki mushrooms
  • 1 big bunch pea shoots (or whatever green vegetable you like)
  • 2 udon noodle packages

  • 3-4 tbsp soy sauce for dipping
  • 2 small chili peppers, chopped (optional)


Prepare the raw ingredients:

Shrimp: Devein by snipping 1/8" deep along the back of shrimp and remove the black vein inside.  Wash shrimp and cut off antennae.  Plate and place on the dining table.

Squid: Separate the squid into two by pulling the leg/head from the mantle.  It should come apart with a good tug.  Reach into the mantle and pull out everything, including the cartilage bone and rinse clean.  Remove skin if you like by picking at a corner until the dark skin lifts up and then slowly keep lifting until all the skin comes up.

Slice into 1/4" rings.  For the leg/head section cut away the eyes and discard.  Slice halfway into the top section of the legs and open to reveal the beak/mouth and remove.  Slice the legs lengthwise into 4 sections.  Plate and place on the dining table.

Oysters:  Defrost and rinse well.  Plate and place on the dining table.

Beef:  Defrost.  Plate and place on the dining table.

Fried Gluten Puffs and Fried Bean Curd Skim:  Place at dining table.

Enoki Mushrooms:  Chop off bottom 1-2" of the mushroom to remove all dirt stained bits.  Use fingers to tear into bite sized portions.  Rinse, plate and place on dining table.

Vegetables:  Rinse well and drain.  Place on dining table.

Noodles:  Have them on hand to add into the soup at the end of dinner if anyone is still hungry enough to eat them.

Prepare the soup 清湯:

Wash the clay/straw coating off the thousand year eggs, peel the egg, rinse and slice into eight quarters.  Wash and chop cilantro roughly.  Add in all soup ingredients to pot and heat until boiling.

How to have Hot Pot at the Dining Table:

Place hotplate in center of dining table with all the many plates and bowls of raw ingredients all around.  There should be a bowl and chopsticks for each diner as well as a sauce bowl filled with a bit of soy sauce mixed with chopped chili pepper (optional).  We like to have soy sauce with a bit of cooked oil* dribbled on.  

To make it easier to scoop the food from the hot pot you can also provide a hotpot scoop for each person.

After heating up the soup on your kitchen stove, bring the boiling soup out to the hotplate, turning the heat high enough to keep the soup at a low boil.  

Now each diner can choose their raw ingredients and cook it in the boiling soup to their preference.  You can hang on to your food morsel with your chopsticks as it cooks or let it go into the soup (it might get lost!) or cook it curled up inside your hotpot scoop.  

Once cooked, dip in sauce and eat hot and fresh.  There is no order to follow, it is up the to diner's preference.  The only two kinda rules are that the noodles are usually left for last, to fill in the corners so to speak, and to have a bowl or two of the soup, again near the end of the hotpot, after all the flavors of the cooked foods have been absorbed into it.  Enjoy your Hot Pot-ting!

Tip:  Have hot boiled water ready at hand to add to the hot pot as the soup level goes down.

*Cooked Oil is just oil that has been heated and then cooled.  It is a bit thicker and more aromatic.


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