My French mother went through a long Chinese cooking phase, starting when we moved to Seattle, Washington. An avid scuba diver, Mom made a deal with Mrs. Chin, who owned a Chinese cooking store and school at Pike Place market in Seattle. In exchange for sea cucumbers picked off of the Puget Sound’s sandy floor, Mom received cooking classes. This is a photo of a sea cucumber – a Chinese delicacy.
I can’t stress enough that this was not stir frying. This was serious Chinese cookery. Mom had pots and woks and steamers and cleavers and a lot of required utensils and dinnerware. Our kitchen smelled like an Asian food store. (Think fishy.)
We were not the perfect diners during those years. My step-father was distant. My sister and I wished we were anywhere else than at the dinner table. And my mother, having the disposition she had, resented doing all of the work she did, with us not appreciating it.
But, let’s just say she was never one to understand our side of things. We were kids. We didn’t ask her to slave away in the kitchen prepping winter melons and steaming buns. And when you’re 14, you definitely don’t appreciate the work your mother does, right?! Especially when my friends got to eat Cocoa Puffs and Mac ‘n cheese, while I was staring at a deep-fried Tiger lily.
However, there were a few times when I appreciated and enjoyed a meal at our house, and that was when my mother prepared Chinese hot pot. This is a photo of my mother’s old hot pot. One actually put coals in the bottom compartment, and in the round basin went the broth in which everything was cooked. I think at least one table got ruined from the extreme heat.
On the table would be plates of beef, shrimp, and chicken, all thinly sliced by mom and her giant cleaver. I remember she’d hold up a slice of shrimp and it I could see light through it. There were bowls of eggs and tofu and green onions and cellophane noodles. In front of each of us was our own bowl, and our own sieve, for cooking, and porcelain spoon, for eating. And then we’d start.
Just for the heck of it, I recently searched Amazon for an electric hot pot, and lo and behold, it exists! No need to burn my table.
To remind myself how to have a hot pot night I turned to my trusty Time-Life Chinese Cookbook and checked a recipe called Chrysanthemum Fire Pot. It’s pretty much what I remember.
From the recipe, one starts by cooking the meat, fish, and seafood in the stock, dipping that into the sauce, and eating.
From the recipe, “When all of the meat, fish, and seafood have been consumed, a little of the stock (now a rich, highly-flavored broth) is ladled into each guest’s bowl and drunk as a soup. The noodles and vegetables are then dropped in the stock remaining in the fire pot, cooked for a minute or so, and ladled with the broth into the bowls to be eaten as a last course.”
The following is not exactly a recipe for hot pot, but somewhat of a guide for having your own.
Chinese Hot Pot
Adapt according to your tastes
Shrimp, cleaned, sliced through the middle from tail to head
Chicken breast, thinly sliced uniformly
Beef tenderloin, thinly sliced uniformly
Halibut or other white fish, thinly sliced uniformly
Tofu, excess water removed, cubed
Cellophane noodles, prepared
Eggs, whisked in small bowl
Green onions, sliced
A chiffonade of spinach leaves
Approximately 3 quarts good chicken stock*
1/2 cup soy sauce
4 tablespoons sesame seed oil
4 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or pale dry sherry
Place the shrimp, chicken, fish and beef on one large platter or individual plates with tongs.
Place the tofu, noodles, eggs, spinach, and green onions, in individual bowls with serving utensils.
Prepare the sauce by mixing the 3 ingredients together. Place a small amount in each bowl, and serve the rest in a cruet.
Pour the broth in your electric hot pot, straining if necessary, and turn it to high.
Place what you want to cook into the strainer, place the strainer in the broth for as long as it takes to cook to your liking. Remove to a plate. Using chopsticks, dip in sauce. Eat. Repeat.
When it’s time for the soup, first add the noodles and spinach to the broth and let simmer for a few minutes. Then ladle some into your main bowl, add egg, some dipping sauce, green onions, tofu, plus some chile pepper oil, if desired.
All of the ingredients are optional, just make the soup to your tastes.
Here is a photo of hot pot for four, which works well if you put out the beef, chicken, fish and shrimp out first, with the dipping sauce.
After you’re done with part 1, remove those ingredients, add the spinach and noodles, plus more broth if necessary, to the simmering broth, and bring the soup ingredients to the table. You can also save some of the cooked protein for the soup.
I used Shichimi Togarashi on the protein, even the tofu. It’s a wonderful seasoning mixture. It’s Japanese, but we also enjoy sake with hot pot, and the chile pepper oil is Korean, so consider this a fusion meal!
* The day before I served the hot pot, I simmered some high-quality chicken broth on the stove with a thawed chicken carcass, some dried Chinese chile peppers, Szechuan peppercorns, a few sprigs of cilantro, ginger, garlic, about 1/2 teaspoon of Chinese 5-spice, and a couple of bay leaves. I also soaked dried Shitake mushrooms in hot water for about 10 minutes, and added the mushroom liquor to the broth. It was perfect!