A few years ago, my parents brought home a pot-and-burner set they’d picked up at a specialty store. Now, whenever I go home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, our tiny kitchen table is inevitably covered in bowls of sliced meat and raw vegetables. My dad hands me a bowl and a pair of tongs as my mom sets out a huge pot of broth, and dinner is served.
Hot pot, the communal cooking method found throughout Asia, is an event that stretches beyond, “let’s get something to eat together” variety. Anyone who’s had it, whether it’s at the wildly popular chain restaurant Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot (there’s even one in Plano, Texas,) or at the more upscale Tang Hotpot in New York, knows it’s not only delicious and soul-warming, but inevitably a good time.
But you don’t need to go to a restaurant to do it. As my mom says, “It’s the easiest meal to serve.” The guests, after all, do the cooking themselves. When you throw a hot pot dinner party, all you have to do is make sure everyone’s glasses are full as the broth boils. Below, a few tips and tools you’ll need.
The first thing you need is a pot. You’ll want one that’s wider than a traditional soup pot, so that heat will be equally distributed and you won’t have to go deep-sea diving for anything that goes missing from your tongs. A pot around 12 inches wide and 6 inches deep will work for up to six people.
For the “hot” part, you’ll need a burner. Butane burners provide the most fine-tuned heat control, but can be unpredictable. For easier clean up (and to keep your house from burning down), go with an electric or induction burner. (Be aware that induction-based heat sources require induction-compatible pots.)
There are also plenty of affordable pot-and-burner sets specifically designed for hot pot. Many of the pots come with a built-in divider, so that you can serve two different flavors of broth at once.
Aroma Stainless Steel Hot Pot, $58.67 on Amazon
The perfect hot pot to get you started!
Sichuan-style, which is a spicier base, is the go-to style of broth most people are familiar with. Stir-fry a few dried Sichuan chiles with roughly equal proportions of sliced ginger, minced garlic, black bean paste, and whole Sichuan peppercorns. Add a few bay leaves, several star anise, and a sprinkling of cloves. Once all the ingredients are cooked down into a paste, add the base into your pot of chicken or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, then lower back down to a simmer.
But by all means, feel free to get more creative. Try a Thai curry with sautéed garlic by mixing four parts vegetable stock and three parts coconut milk, as well as red curry paste, lime juice, and fish sauce to taste. Top with sliced ginger and a few sprigs of Thai basil. Or opt for a Japanese sukiyaki, made with equal parts mirin, sake, and soy sauce, two parts dashi, and a bit of sugar to taste. You can even try French onion soup for a fondue-like spin.
And if you’re overwhelmed by the broth possibilities, you can simply fill your hot pot with stock and let the dipping ingredients be the stars.
Sliced beef, fish balls, bok choy, potatoes, mushrooms, tofu, and rice noodles are all fail-safe ingredients, but the truth is you can cook just about anything in a hot pot. A good rule of thumb is this: Keep proportions of meat or seafood, non-meat items, and noodles to a 2:4:1 ratio.
You also want to make sure the ingredients you select pair well with the flavors in the broth. For a curry-based pot, you might want vegetables with more bite, like bell peppers; in a more moderately spicy pot, try frozen dumplings; for a Western-style pot like onion soup, replace the noodles with toasted bread.
How to Eat
Slice all the meat and vegetables into bite sized portions and gather your guests around the table. Using tongs (maybe grab a few of these miniature ones so that every guest can have their own pair), ladles (wider ones make it easier to grab ingredients), and chopsticks or skewers, dip whatever ingredients you want into the broth. Once each ingredient thoroughly cooks, put it into your bowl alongside a ladle of hot soup. If you really want a kick, use a dipping sauce like sesame oil or crispy chili paste. This is a party after all.
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