Saturday, November 26, 2011

Hot Pot Made Easy

I decided to do a hot pot dinner on Thanksgiving this year.  No turkey, no mashed potatoes, no cranberry sauce and no pumpkin pie.  So it's not the most traditional Thanksgiving meal, but at least it was stress-free.  I just wanted to drink wine and enjoy a great meal with good company without having to spend two days prepping and cooking and fretting over how the bird will turn out.
Hot pot, shabu shabu, lẩu, suki, sukiyaki, steamboat, fondue or huǒ guō is a social event.  Each part of the world has a different version, but it is basically everyone dipping and cooking the pre-sliced ingredients in pot of hot soup base, cheese or chocolate that simmers in the middle of the table.  I have many memories of family meals with everyone spending hours surrounding a pot of simmering broth chatting and eating.
Zion market was our first stop to pick up some ginger, lotus roots, pea sprouts, orange and thinly pre-sliced pork belly, beef tongue, ribeye and brisket.
99 Ranch had the portable camping stoves and cans of butane.  We also got some cuttle fish balls, herbal soup mix, rice noodles, moqua and napa cabbage.   There are lots more items that would be great hot pot additions such as tofu, fish fillets, shrimp, dumplings, any thinly sliced meat, noodles, taro, potatoes, veggies and etc.
At both stores, there were a plethora of induction and electric hot pot sets.  However, I wanted the portable gas version so that I could have the option of doing an outdoor hot pot as well.  Funny how both Zion and 99 Ranch had the portable gas stove, but neither had the pot nor little scoops to go with it.  SF (Thuan Fat) Supermarket had the pot and all the little scoops I needed to complete my hot pot kit.
Thanksgiving day: I spent about an hour or so rinsing and slicing up the veggies and preparing the soup bases.  Depending on the region, the soup bases also vary.  Since I got a half and half hot pot, I did one regular herbal soup base and one spicy herbal soup base,  which didn't take long at all.  To save time, I prepared the soup on my kitchen stove and then transferred to the portable hot pot setup.

Half and Half Herbal Soup Bases:
1 packet of assorted herbs
1 finger of ginger (peeled and chopped into large chunks)
6 cans of chicken broth or homemade broth
6 dried chili peppers
3 dried chrysanthemum flowers (optional)
Pour chicken broth, ginger and half of each herb from the assorted herb packet into a large pot.  Bring to a boil.  Transfer half of the broth to one side of the hot pot.  Add the dried chili peppers to the remaining half of the broth and simmer for about 5 minutes.  Transfer to other half of hot pot.  Put the chrysanthemum flowers in a tea ball and add to the spicy side of the hot pot.  In chinese medicine, chrysanthemum flowers are "cooling" and will balance out the "heatiness" of the spicy hot pot.  The tea ball will help keep the flowers from disintegrating into the hot pot.  Keep hot pot on a low simmer.  

Rinse and strain the pea sprouts and napa cabbage.  Moqua has a texture and taste just like winter melon.  I prefer it to winter melon because it has a much thinner skin and is easier to prep.  It soaks up the flavors of the soup like a sponge.  Peel and slice the moqua into about 1 inch pieces.   Peel and thinly slice the lotus root.  My handy mandolin slicer really made a big difference with the lotus root.  Parboil, rinse and drain the rice noodles.
 Cut half-way into each cuttle fish ball with 3 horizontal slices.  
Turn over to the other side and make one perpendicular slice half-way into each ball.  
That way, there are slices on each side of the cuttle fish ball, while keeping the whole thing intact.  This would help any meat balls cook quickly and evenly in the hot pot.

I laid everything out and we pigged out.  To keep the soup from evaporating away thru out the meal, I add hot water as needed.  The leftovers also made for a delicious noodle soup the next morning.

What about the orange?  That was for my azuki dessert soup.  More on that next time....

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