HOT POT Huo Guo SERVES 6 TO 8
At times referred to as “Chinese fondue” (huo guo means “fire pot”), a hot pot is an interactive experience where everyone gets to play chef. In my family, these convivial feasts are popular during holidays when we all gather around a giant pot of boiling soup and platters of raw meats, seafood, vegetables, and delicacies and cook, eat, and chat until our bellies feel as though they’re about to pop, our faces are flushed, and the windows have fogged up with the steam emanating from the pot. My favorite part comes at the end, when we drink the broth that is the layered result of everything that went into the soup. It’s a true melting pot, and the only part of the meal when everyone is eating the same thing.
There are endless variations on hot pots—the Sichuanese create a numbingly spicy broth (ma la huo guo) with peppercorns bobbing in the chili oil–laden soup and the Japanese have shabu shabu, named for the sound of the beef as it is cooking in the hot liquid. If you can’t decide which to serve, consider purchasing a hot pot that is divided into two sections to make the romantic-sounding Lover’s Hot Pot (Yuan Yang Huo Guo).
FOR THE NOODLES:
1 1-pound package mung bean vermicelli noodles
FOR THE HOT POT INGREDIENTS:
2 pounds beef, sliced paper thin (nearly any kind of beef will work here, but fatty, marbled cuts are preferred)
½ pound razor clams or littleneck clams
½ pound medium shrimp, heads on, peel and deveined
½ pound mixed fish cakes (I recommend white pollock balls, which can be found frozen in most Asian grocers)
½ pound mixed fresh mushrooms (such as shiitakes, enokis, and beech mushrooms)
½ pound mixed leafy greens (such as chrysanthemum greens, spinach, and watercress )
FOR THE DIPPING SAUCES:
½ cup sha cha sauce (a Taiwanese fermented brill fish sauce)
½ cup minced fresh cilantro leaves
½ cup minced scallions (light green and white parts)
½ cup Asian sesame oil
½ cup soy sauce
½ cup chili paste
6 to 8 large eggs (1 per person)
FOR THE BROTH:
1 1-inch knob fresh ginger, smashed
1 bunch scallions (green and white parts), sliced diagonally
SOAK THE NOODLES: Put the mung bean noodles in a bowl and cover them with cold water. Let sit for 30 minutes to soften; then drain and set aside.
MEANWHILE, SET THE TABLE: Arrange all the hot pot ingredients and the dipping sauce ingredients (except the eggs) in individual small bowls or platters in the center of the table. Place a rice bowl at each guest’s place, and beat an egg in each bowl.
PREPARE THE BROTH: Fill a pot halfway with water and bring it to a boil on a hot plate or table-top gas burner. When the water boils, add the ginger and scallions. When the water returns to a boil, the hot pot is ready to go!
Each guest selects the dipping sauces and flavorings they like, and stirs them into the beaten egg in their bowl. Using chopsticks or a small metal strainer, each guest then dips their choice of meat, seafood, and/or vegetables into the hot broth. (The meat should be swirled in the hot water until it is just cooked, 3 to 5 seconds.) Then dip each cooked item into the individual bowl of sauce before eating.
At the end of the meal, add the reserved vermicelli noodles to the broth and boil until just cooked, about 5 minutes. Dish the noodles and broth into serving bowls, and season each bowl to taste with the remaining dipping sauces.
Note: Part of the charm of hot pots is how open-ended they are; I’ve included my favorite ingredients here, but feel free to substitute your own.