Hotpot! Steamboat! Firepot! Chinese fondue! Whatever you call it, it’s a great communal and social meal, particularly suited to colder weather. It’s also quite a celebratory meal suitable for Chinese New Year, the hotpot supposedly symbolizing the coming together of family and friends. We had one with close friends on Chinese New Year eve last Saturday and it was a good night, with everyone stuffing themselves silly. I love the interactivity of the meal, the casualness of it too, the time there is to chat while the food cooks.

I’m terrible at taking photos when I’m hosting but here’s most of the setup in the photo below (vegetables and noodles were on another table).

Chinese New Year Eve Hotpot Setup

I thought I’d throw together a general guide to having (Chinese) hotpot at home that’s mainly based on what I grew up with though I’ll also list some of the variations I’ve come across from my experience and in my research. Needless to say, this is not a be-all and end-all guide to hotpot – I don’t even cover the Japanese, Vietnamese or Thai variants!

First, the setup:

Setup: Pot on a butane burner, pot on an induction heater, electric hotpot, electric wok, rice cooker.

Base: Water, broth/stock, tom yum, Sichuan mala, herbal, mushroom, satay stock, congee.

I’ve had anywhere from 2 to 10 people around one large pot set in the middle of a table! I use a butane burner I purchased from a Korean supermarket and each of the butane canisters (about £1.50 each) last about 3 hours. I know friends who have a tabletop induction heater or electric hotpot. As students, we just brought out our rice cookers and used those!

For a base, I usually use water or a broth but it’s quite easy to go with a tom yum, herbal or mushroom broth too. I’ve not made a Sichuan mala base from scratch but there are packets you can buy from any good Chinese supermarket that you can just dump into water to generate your fiery inferno. Some people get one of those divided pots that let you have two different soup bases but having a dedicated pot for hotpot is not possible in our tiny flat!

The main benefit of having a water or broth base is the ridiculously rich broth you get after cooking all of your ingredients in there. At the end of the meal, you can toss in eggs, noodles and/or cooked rice to generate a fabulous soup.

I conducted an informal survey on Twitter on what broth is popular for hotpot at home and I thank everyone who answered! @GarySoup has a half and half pot, half Sichuan mala and the other half is just plain water. @hollowlegs also opts for two flavours: super spicy and a herbal broth. It’s also Sichuan mala broth all the way for @christineyeo. @mummyicancook uses a spicy seafood stock (yum!) or a pork and chicken and dried scallop broth. @applelisafood uses a kombu broth for the Japanese shabu shabu or tom yum or the ever popular Sichuan mala! @noodlesue goes simple with a clear chicken broth. @mangolisa also plays mix and match – sometimes it’s tom yum, other times ikan bilis (a broth using Malaysian dried anchovies) and most of the time it’s chicken. @food_blogger never uses ikan bilis and always uses a pork and chicken broth. Finally, @garlicconfit builds up lots of fresh flavour with chicken, ginger, spring onion and coriander. As you can see, there’s no one single correct hotpot base!

For my broth last weekend, I used a few chicken wings, a couple of dried scallops and some chunks of daikon for sweetness.

Now onto the ingredients.

Meats and Seafood: pork, beef, lamb, chicken, Spam, ham, minced meat for meatballs, fish balls, prawn balls, cuttlefish balls, fish cake, prawns, sliced fish, squid, octopus, cuttlefish, crab sticks, crab.

Vegetables: Chinese leaf, cabbage, broccoli, lettuce, gai lan, choi sum, tong ho, ong choi, bok choy, pea shoots, lotus root, spinach, shiitake mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, button mushrooms, straw mushrooms, taro.

Other: Soft tofu, firm tofu, fried tofu, gluten balls, eggs, quail eggs, rice vermicelli, mung bean threads, udon noodles, egg dumplings, dumplings, beancurd sheets.

Having all of those ingredients in those lists above is a bit of overkill! However, a good selection from the Meats and Seafood, Vegetables and Other would be what I suggest. Everything should be in relative bite-sized pieces so they’ll cook quickly and evenly. Meats are best when sliced thinly – it’s not that easy to do at home and so I purchase them ready sliced. These may be found at some Asian supermarkets (I’ve seen them at Chinese, Korean and Japanese ones) and try looking in both in the fresh and frozen food sections.

I rather enjoy laying out the ingredients in a pleasing manner but if I do feel lazy, everything just gets dumped into a bowl.

What else should there be at the table?

Utensils: Chopsticks, spoons, bowls, small dishes for dips, hotpot strainers or slotted spoons, ladle.

Sauces/Dips: sesame oil, sesame paste, chilli oil, chopped coriander, minced garlic, soy sauce, black vinegar, sliced spring onions.

Set out chopsticks, a spoon and a bowl and a small dish for dips for each person. If you don’t have hotpot strainers, you can use slotted spoons though you’ll have to share and there may be impatience, especially when a choice item is scooped up.

For the sauces, lay out what you have – these are just suggestions! Lately, I’ve been mixing up a dip mixture of sesame paste or oil, chilli oil (and the sediment), coriander, a touch of soy and black vinegar.

Finally, how to partake of hotpot! Set your stock to boil in the pot and slowly add your ingredients. Try starting with the meats and seafood first and then finishing with the vegetables and noodles and eggs, when the broth has had time to develop. If you have some cooked rice, adding it to the rich broth at the end makes for a delicious soup, maybe even with a beaten egg?

Don’t put everything in at once. Add a few things, let them cook, fish them out, dip and eat. Repeat until you explode. As time goes on, you’ll likely need to top up the stock with hot water or more hot stock. You’ll also need to adjust the temperature of the pot to prevent it from overboiling or staying still and stagnant.

The photos below are of a hotpot setup from a previous year. This was just for two, which shows you that you can have hotpot for any number!

The Table

The Steamboat Setup

If you can’t be fussed to have it at home, many Chinese restaurants are now serving it (of course, it does end up being more economical at home!). To have hotpot in a restaurant in London, I recommend Sichuan restaurant in Acton for mala hotpot and Little Lamb in Chinatown. I’ve also heard good things about Tian Fu‘s all-you-can-eat mala hotpot and Mongolian Grill‘s wide range of broths in Clapham Common. The Randomness Guide to London also has an auto-generated list of places they’ve reviewed that serve hotpot.

I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. What else do you enjoy about hotpot and what ingredients or soup bases are a must in your home?

Call it food blogger dominoes if you will. Mr Noodles first dragged bellaphon to Little Lamb, and then meemalee paid a visit which prompted my calling up and making a booking. Then Sharmila also went, causing me to start drooling incessantly and checking each day to see if it was Sunday yet, dammit! I wanted hotpot (also known as steamboat)! If you’re not familiar with this fabulous meal for cold days, it’s essentially a big pot of boiling hot stock (can be mild, can be spicy) in the middle of the table and a whole lot of raw ingredients to cook in it. The meal becomes quite a long and very social affair in which the food gets cooked little by little (the whole lot would never fit in the pot at one time) and after all has been cooked and eaten, the broth is so lovely to drink as it’s taken on all the flavours. Of course, you shouldn’t dare drink it if it’s red and spicy, with a thick layer of oil on top!

Finally last Sunday came and six of us descended on Little Lamb on Shaftesbury Avenue, where I had reserved a table, which turned out to be a little tight for six but you know, we managed. Luckily for us, it was on the ground floor (there are tables downstairs) and next to the bar, which would prove a boon.

Like the previous foodie visitors, we opted for a huge twin flavours bowl of herbal tonic and spicy broths. And then we got to work deciding on the 30 dishes of raw ingredients we’d have between us. Yes, that’s right – 30 plates of food. For £20 a head, you get the broths of your choice plus five ingredients to toss in there. Multiply that by six and you end up with more food than your table can handle. Thank goodness for that extra space at the bar!

Twin Flavours Pot

It’s just easier if I list everything we had: classic lamb slice, special beef slice x 3, side pork x 3, ham (really luncheon meat) x 2, prawn on shell x 2, fresh squid, cuttlefish, crab x 2, beef meatballs, fish meatballs, Fuzhou fish meatballs, prawn balls, fried fish roll, pak choi, pea shoots, potato slice, dry tofu, tofu knot, Chinese mushrooms, needle mushrooms (enoki), oyster mushrooms, Mongolian flat bean noodles, soft noodles. This may not sound like a lot but it sure looked like a fair bit.

Sliced Meats

Ingredients

More Ingredients

Ingredients

We were particularly impressed by the lovely porky filling in the huge Fuzhou fishballs. Likewise the chewiness of the thick Mongolian flat bean noodles, the bite to the Chinese mushrooms and the slipperiness of the cooked dry tofu skins and knots were wonderful. I’m glad not to have missed the crab, which had meaty bodies and not so meaty legs. Less successful were the cuttlefish (not at its freshest) and the lamb slices (made the broth too lamby for me to drink).

And while I surprised myself by enjoying the herbal tonic broth (just a few Chinese aromatics tossed in the soup), the spicy side just didn’t have the same kick and burn as that at my local Sichuan place. Shame.

Steamy Hotpot

Little Lamb’s central London location is a winner though and the set menu deal is really good value. And overall, hotpot/steamboat is a great social dinner with arms darting towards the pot, chopsticks flying everywhere and everyone stinking of meat afterwards. I might take my brother there, he being a huge hotpot fan.

All the photos from the dinner are in this Flickr photoset.

Little Lamb
72 Shaftesbury Ave
London W1D 6NA

Little Lamb on Urbanspoon

Well, I hadn’t actually given much thought to what I’d do for Chinese New Year this year and so defaulted to my family’s usual meal of Chinese hotpot, or steamboat. Only thing was my family’s spread around the world this year and it was just going to be me and Blai. So, what goes into a hotpot for just two?

Ingredients for the Hotpot

Well, pretty much the same as in any hotpot only we stick to our favourites and keep the quantities manageable! Sliced pork (so paper thin!), beef balls, fish cake, enoki mushrooms, fresh shitake mushrooms, choi sum. Again, we cooked it as we always have in my family, in plain water, as the ingredients cooking in there will give flavour to the eventual stock. We’ll try simmering a few aromatics in there next time though.

Cooking

After all the food was eaten up and the cooking stock was then extra flavourful, we tossed in a small packet of mung bean vermicelli and a couple of eggs. That was some super soup!

Noodles and Eggs at the End

I have written about hotpot before and a general guide can be found at this post. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s actually healthy too! I’ll be making it again this winter so long as the weather stays cold.

As an attempt to unstress this past weekend, I even put together this lantern from some red packets (ang pow) that I received free when I bought the sliced pork (strange gift, no?). I remember doing something similar in school in Singapore when I was about seven years old but that ended quite unhappily as I managed to put a staple through my finger. Luckily, there were no mishaps this time.

Red Packet Lantern

Oh, and if you’re curious, the lantern is hanging from an ornamental saw, a traditional Thai instrument I got for Blai when I was in Chiang Mai.

Yesterday was my brother’s birthday and I chose this year to purchase everything I needed to have Chinese steamboat at home. One tabletop burner, a few canisters of butane, one Japanese donabe (I also wanted to use it for other dishes), and one trip to the supermarket at Oriental City later …

The Steamboat Setup

… and steamboat! Also known as Chinese hotpot. If you don’t have a tabletop burner, there are electric steamboat pots available or you can even use an electric rice cooker, as many Chinese students know!

The Table

Gather together all your ingredients – we had beef balls, fish balls, thinly sliced beef and pork, Spam, firm tofu, Chinese leaf/cabbage, choi sum, and enoki mushrooms. Of course, you can toss in many other things – fish fillets, prawns, squid, chicken, homemade meatballs, scallops, potato slices, and many other vegetables!

In my family, we like to use plain water to start with as all the ingredients cooking in there will leave you with a delicious broth at the end. Other people use broth or you can shake things up with a tom yum soup base or a Sichuan chili and spice base (find readymade packs at your local Chinese market). You can cook noodles in there or crack in an egg or even stir in cooked rice at the end to make a kind-of porridge, in the Japanese style. We chose to just drink up the thick, sweet broth at the end of our meal. Dipping sauces are quite popular with the cooked food too – we had chili oil and a Japanese yuzu and soy sauce. With a potful of rice in the rice cooker, there was plenty of food for the three of us.

Set the water to boil and add in the raw ingredients as and when you’re ready. Then fish them out when they’re cooked. It’s healthy, it’s a great social dinner, and it’s easy. Go steamboat now!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,956 other followers