Chinese Hot Pot

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*

Sauce:
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!

72 thoughts on “Chinese Hot Pot

    • I’m glad you weren’t insulted. I find the smell fascinating! I once took my older daughter into an Asian market in Dallas and she screamed, “It stinks in here!” I was so embarrassed! Mrs. Chin prepared the sea cucumber for my mother and I and neither of us liked it. I’ve had a abalone fresh out of the water and it was fabulous.

    • No, I opted for the one, because you can make your soup as spicy as you want after the fact, as you know. Mine actually came with a little grill on the top, but I still haven’t used that.

    • Unless they’re endangered! I have no idea! I tasted one after Mrs. Chin cooked it somehow, and spat it out. I was probably 11. It was like trying to eat shoe leather, if I recall!

    • I don’t know how I could try it again. My tastes have definitely improved over the (many) years. Although it didn’t work with uni! Hot pot is just so fun.

    • Oh interesting! I had no idea there was something similar in Germany! But all I know of is spatzele and sausages that my mother made.

  • We love Chinese hot pot! And my version is quite similar. The main difference is that I put out a lot of components and everyone can make their own sauce by mixing up those. Love the story about your mum. I’m glad Kees is eating and appreciating all of my food!

    • I love that idea, but a lot of people wouldn’t know what to put together I think. Plus, for me, it’s the limitation of space. Too big of a table and you can’t reach the pot! I do it in two stages so the table isn’t too crowded, but with four people you still have to pass everything around.

  • We totally get it! What 14 year appreciates sea cucumber on their plate when they could be having chicken tenders or mac and cheese! Now you get it! Your mom moulded you to become a fabulous chef even before you knew you were a budding chef. Testing the boundaries and understanding other cuisines from around the world and learning other languages is our favorite thing. Stay warm and well with this delicious hot pot. Your mom would be proud!

    • She is! We’ve talked about it recently because i just discovered the electric hot pot. She didn’t teach us how to cook because she chased us out of the kitchen; we were a distraction. But I was subjected to a lot of cuisines and even exotic ingredients. And I have no interest in chicken tenders!

  • Another great way to cook together. Lots of protein in your recipe but overall it looks delicious. My memories (long time ago) of Pike Place Market besides all the beautiful large fish was Sur la Table – a floor to ceiling cooking store. It was within walking distance of our hotel and while Gene worked I visited the market every day. So happy they have a lot of stores now (two in my area). I am seriously thinking about a raclette grill and not sure about the Hot Pot (right now). No to the sea cucumber – it looks like a caterpillar with a bad hair day :)

    • Well you don’t have to eat all or any of the protein. I like having a choice, especially with four people. Mostly what I remember about Pike place is Mrs. Chin’s store, but next door was a German deli, and I’d always get a slice of German Chocolate cake!!! Priorities. This was the mid 60’s!

  • I love this idea, Mimi! Wishing I had a hot pot right now, it seems the perfect dish for our snowed-in pandemic time. Although I can’t imagine a better dinner party menu! definitely saving this recipe!

    • They’re on Amazon! You could put a pot on an electric grill for the same results. Just make sure the pot isn’t too deep or you can’t see into it!

  • wow your mum was dedicated! all that cooking… but no reason that you should have been thankful – after all you didn’t ask her to slave away at it. i guess she just liked to do it.

    • In retrospect I’m thankful, but our “family” meals were horrible. And then made worse cause we were blamed for all of the work she did. But yes, she was dedicated, passionate, and amazingly talented.

    • No, you wouldn’t. She’d scare the crap out of you. Trust me. But yes, I benefitted from her adventurous spirit in and out of the kitchen!

  • Your mom was a character. I haven’t made a hot pot in a very long time. Not that I need another kitchen appliance, but I like the idea of an electric hot pot. We actually have an electric wok, which doesn’t do a “correct” job, but is better than what we can achieve with either a wok or frying pan on our electric stovetop. Fun post — thanks.

    • Aw, thanks John. And that’s why I don’t have an air fryer. Fortunately I have a basement with shelves, but this will probably be the last gadget I buy. It works great, but so would a shallot pot of broth on a little burner!

  • Wow, that is a serious setup there; you really go all-out for hot pot! I absolutely love it but have never made it at home, which seems like such a sad oversight considering that I only stuff mine with vegetables. It’s dreadfully overpriced at restaurants, as such. Perhaps it’s time I invested in my own hot pot set; I feel like it would pay for itself over time, by comparison.

    • It would certainly pay for itself if you bought one. and it’s so fun with a special someone! Four is the max for me, otherwise you’d need two hot pots!

  • Wow, your Mom truly was dedicated to her craft! This was a beautifully worded post, Mimi. I felt all of the emotion from both your mother and your teenage self. I get it. As a teenager, you certainly didn’t want some elaborate Chinese meal when all of your friends were eating junk food! But as an adult, it seems you can really appreciate the love.

    • Thank you. I can still remember the first time I had Cocoa Puffs at a friend’s house in middle school. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven! She didn’t teach us how to cook because we really weren’t allowed in the kitchen, but we had the benefit of being exposed to many unique ingredients and cuisines, which helped a lot. Plus traveling and living in France. She was the ultimate farm-to-table cook, and the stories of her foraging adventures are insane – way beyond having a garden. I unknowingly followed in her footsteps, making everything from scratch. My girls accused me of micromanaging their meals when they were growing up, and I did, and I’m proud of it. I never bought Bisquick or cans of soup, and never ever did I take them to fast food unless there was a birthday party there. I still don’t
      get” junk food. Sorry, rambling. Yes, I have so much respect for how capable my mother was in the kitchen. She was an amazing artist as well, and I remember her coulibiac (sp?) which was a whole fish in pastry, and she’d carved scales and fins and everything to make it look exactly like a fish! Way beyond what i can do and what I want to do. She’s almost 93 now and can’t see well enough to cook anymore. But she put in her time!

    • Isn’t it fantastic?! I’m new to it although I bought a package for a recipe, don’t even remember which one now, and forgot about that and bought this little jar! So now I can refill it!

  • This looks and sounds absolutely fantastic, Mimi! I would so happily be eating at your table for this meal! This brings back fond memories of visiting Japan 20 plus years ago. Shabu Shabu was one of my favorite meals there, and this sounds similar.

    • I think it is similar, because when I was looking for a pot I kept seeing shabu shabu pots too! It’s really a fun way to eat.

    • It was tough living in the states and not allowed to be “normal.” Of course now, I know it was good that I was never fed junk food, we never had fast food or frozen food, and my mother never even opened a can! I was appalled when I moved to college and experienced cafeteria food! And this was in California, which was way better and healthier than most.

  • What a meal, Mimi! It’s a production, and a delicious one at that. I would LOVE this, I know it. I definitely didn’t really appreciate my mom’s cooking until after my childhood. Sure, I loved eating it all, but I didn’t really get how much time, effort and love went into it until later. I’m sure sea cucumbers are a delicious delicacy when prepared well — my only knowledge of them however, if from the ocean floor in Tahiti on a trip when I was a kid. My brother and I tried very hard not to step on them! LOL. Lovely post and beautiful photos. :-) ~Valentina

    • Thanks, Valentina! Funny, i assumed they only lived in cold water because of where I knew they lived. Obviously not. And not very pretty! No, my girls had no idea what work I did for them to keep them nourished, but I also didn’t take it out on them!! My mother was something. Still is. Almost 93, doesn’t cook anymore cause her eyesight is bad. She’s one of those people who are mean to waiters, if that sums up her personality for you. But I was certainly exposed to many different foods, and that all helped me become a better cook along the way.

  • You have such amazing stories to tell about your mom – not just this one, but so many others. I’m glad you’re capturing sonme of it in this blog, but you should write a book, and then they should make a chic, indy film adaptation of it. One of the things you glossed over is the sea cucumbers. So, your mom got cooking lessons in exchange for them, but did she harvest them herself? That has got to be an interesting story.

    • Yes, she was a scuba diver! So she collected the sea cucumbers and gave them to Mrs. Chin, then got crazy cooking lessons! An Indy version would be perfect for our lives. My sister and I used to smoke a bit of hash before dinners with our “family.” That’s how much we enjoyed them, and way beyond how most teenagers don’t want to hang with their parents. So you’d see us in the film, minutes on end, just staring at our plates, cringing when my mother yelled, or threw something. I inherited all of her copper bottom pots and pans years ago, and they were all dented! Seriously. I best describe her as that person who is mean to waiters. Truly. We’ve given thousands of dollars to waitresses over the years to apologize for my mother’s behavior. I asked my sister recently if she remembered enjoying hot pot, like I did, and she answered that she “didn’t find it any more or less stressful than any other meal.” Mom is almost 93, lives by herself. Still mean. Trust me, this post was highly edited. I don’t want to come off as evil, but it’s hard to gloss over the truth, cause then it’s not the truth. Anyway, thanks for your comment!

      • I couldn’t agree with you more about the truth. It needs to be out there, and it shouldn’t be sanitized. I admire how you do this, while retaining your sense of humor. Thanks for sharing it all with us.

  • What a fun way to serve a meal, reminds me of fondue.
    I so understand not appreciating your mother’s hard labor in the kitchen as a teen.
    Now, I appreciate anyone who cooks a meal for me, knowing what went into it.
    I really enjoyed hearing your story. Thank you.

    • Aw, thanks! The problem was that my mother resented us for not enjoying everything. She, at almost 93, still tries to trick him into eating mayonnaise!

  • I grow up seeing sea cucumbers all the time in Korea. Although not a huge fan myself, but they are the seafood delicacy and loved by many people. I love Chinese hot pot and I used to eat often when I lived in many Chinese speaking countries. Your table presentation is just lovely. Your mother was an inspiring woman and you are lucky to have a mother who was culinary adventurous.

    • Thank you Holly! she was certainly passionate about great food! I can’t wait to check out your blog! I don’t think I’ve come across it before.

  • If you ask me, you were a lucky kid. I *loved* Chinese food as a kid and of course still do. My Dad, who was also a food maven, introduced us to Chinese food early in life (didn’t cook it though!) and taught us to eat with chopsticks at a tender age. Hot pot is a great, convivial dish, especially appealing during the cold weather months, is a personal favorite. We even have one of those electric hot pots, though I’ve yet to break it out this year. But now you may have inspired me…

    • I very very lucky in that I was exposed to many kinds on ingredients and cuisines, for sure. When we lived in Davis, California, my mother went to Chinatown in San Francisco often, and I was “forced” to use chopsticks, which I now appreciate. But, you don’t get to pick your family members, and there were quite a few issues with which my sister and I were not lucky.

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