Monday, November 21, 2011

Dinner on the Fly: Chinese Hot Pot in an American's Kitchen

Something about this dish will be lost in translation.  My first experience with food and culture in China and Hong Kong has brought me a deeper understanding of both, if not a full one.  I must have tried forty  dishes during my stay and each one was completely different from the last.  Still, I haven't made more than a small dent in understanding the vastness and complexity of Chinese cuisine. There are flavors that I will always remember and look forward to, should I return, not just for the their flavors but for their unique and artful presentation.  Should I return to Hangzhou, I will want to unwrap the lotus leaf that a whole spring chicken has been cooked in to release the fragrant steam and make sure the head is still intact.  I'll ask for the pot of shrimp brought live to the table, then drowned in rice wine so that their fresh water taste mingles with the sweet acidity.  I would like at least two different green vegetables, cooked to a just wilted bright green, pleasantly salting and tinged with garlic.  Let me not forget to accompany it with a cup of Dragon Well green tea, where the leaves float like plants behind an aquarium's glass and it tastes the way grass smells in Spring.

Is that what comes to mind when you think of Chinese food? If it is than you win the cigar for for being far more worldly in t the realm of Asian culture than I.

Traveling to a new place and breaking bread with locals was like a reboot to the way I think about food. Hot pot was one of my favorite dishes in China and Hong Kong.  It epitomized the family style way of dining where a dish is always shared and brought to the table when ready, without our western concept of a sequence of courses.  Hot pot was also one of the simplest dishes in concept.  Perfect for the non-Asian-savvy to recreate at home.  It isn't only an ease of preparation and flavors from my trip that I am bringing to my table with this dish, but the intimate circle it creates as we all share in the cooking and tasting of our meal.

Not to mention it reminds me of a fondue party, which I love.

This is a hot chili oil I made by heating peanut oil with garlic cloves and lots of tian jin red chilis. 

Hot Pot (With a Little of Everything Thrown In)

For the broth: 
  • 1 lb pork bones
  • 10 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed with the flat side of a knife
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped
  • three carrots cut in rounds
  • 1 small knob of ginger, chopped to equal about 2 tablespoons
  • 5 small potatoes, diced (preferably yellow flesh)
  • 4 diced scallions
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
At the table:
  • very fresh, thinly sliced raw top round beef (or substitue and appropriate cut of pork or lamb)
  • very fresh, filet of flounder cut into small bite sized pieces (or substitute another white fish)
  • very fresh, sliced scallops (or shelled and cleaned shrimp)
  • chopped shitake mushrooms
  • snow peas (or bok choy)
Dipping sauce:
*simple soy sauce is fine here.  I went to one restauraunt and there was a make your own dipping sauce bar so I tried to recreate what I did which was delicious.  I did not measure I just added buy taste
  • soy sauce
  • peanut butter
  • fish sauce
  • minced garlic
  • minced scallion (green parts only)
  • 1 minced dried red tian jin chili

    In a large stock pot, add pork bones, chopped onion, garlic, carrots, ginger and potatoes.  Bring to a boil.  Keep at a gentle boil uncovered for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  You want about a fourth of the liquid to reduce.  While still boiling add your soy sauce, fish sauce and scallions.  You want to keep this soup as close to boiling heat as you can because you are cooking ingredients in it at the table.

    The rest of this recipe happens at the table.  It is in the layout.  I used fondue pots to keep the soup at a temperature that cooks your ingredients.  Then I ladled soup into individual small bowls for sampling.  Dipping sauce was in everyone's reach. I made sure my meat and fish were cut small so that it cooked at the end of our chopsticks.  Vegetables were added by the handful, pulled out and served when bright and tender.  It was awkward at first but we got the hang of how and when to reach over one another, whether we dipped our fish, meat or vegetable into the sauce or added the dipping sauce into the bowl and how long to hold our raw ingredients in the hot broth.  Like any firsts, we got the hang of it.


  1. This looks like a terrific dish, thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Anthony. I hope you try it at home.