How to Throw a Hot Pot Party

This Chinese tradition is over one-thousand years old, but it's still a great practice for bringing friends and family together.

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Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

Photo By: Mia ©2017

A Communal Dining Experience

The main idea of a Chinese hot pot party — or any one of the many regional variations on this East Asian tradition — is to offer a communal dining experience. Think of it as a variation on the fondue parties of the 1970s — though perhaps it's more accurate to describe fondue as a variation on hot pot, since the latter has been around for over one-thousand years!

 

Still, many of the same principles apply: Everyone gathers around a large pot of simmering broth at the center of the dining table and dips (using chopsticks or small strainers) a mix of proteins and vegetables into the pot, retrieving the items once they're cooked to perfection. Over time, the broth becomes enriched with the flavors of each dipping ingredient, and at the end of the meal, you may opt to finish off what's left by slurping down the remaining broth (assuming it hasn't become too murky or concentrated).

 

It's great for big groups, especially during the colder months. Read on to learn how to set up your very own hot pot party at home!

 

With contribution by Tiffany Lee

 

The Pot and the Utensils

To keep the broth at a simmer, you will need a large pot and some sort of heat source below. The possibilities include electric and induction hot pot sets, or a regular pot with a portable butane burner. You definitely need chopsticks (sometimes two sets for each person, unless you know them very well) — one set for dipping and cooking and another one for eating, plus small strainers and bowls. You'll also need little dishes or bowls for the dipping sauces, and spoons for slurping up the broth.

Prepare Your Broth

The type of broth varies widely as well — from meat to vegetarian, spicy to mild. Keep in mind that as the meal ensues, the broth will become fully flavored as more and more ingredients are cooked in it. It might start off as simmering water with a variety of herbs and spices, and maybe some vegetables. Chicken or meat bones are also frequently used as a base for stocks. You can also buy hot pot broth, or hot pot broth starter at Asian markets or online.

What to Dip?

The potential list is long! You’ll want a nice mix of proteins (which may include meat, seafood, poultry and tofu), starches and vegetables. Other possibilities are dumplings, fish cakes or wontons. A good balance for 4 to 6 people is 2 to 4 types of protein, 2 types of greens, 2 types of other vegetables and 1 or 2 starches, which are usually noodles of some kind.

The Proteins

The dipping ingredients vary throughout China, depending on the region. In terms of the protein, fish and seafood appear near the coastal areas, while meat is popular inland. Pork, chicken, lamb, beef (often fatty beef), offal (for the intrepid) and meatballs are all popular choices. It's important to remember that the ingredients should be thinly sliced so they cook quickly. Some Asian markets will even sell ingredients pre-sliced and ready for hot pot.

 

Other proteins include fish and seafood, such as scallops, oysters, squid, clams, mussels and shrimp. If you're feeling adventurous, explore fish and shrimp balls, tofu in its many versions (tofu puffs are popular), and quail eggs. Ultimately you may get to soft-shell turtles and yak meat, but let's save that thought for another time!

The Vegetables

Firmer vegetables like daikon, winter squash, carrots and potatoes should be thinly sliced. Bok choy and Napa cabbage are also popular and are best suited for dipping when cut into chunks. Mushroom, such as shiitake or wood ear, can be sliced or cut in half, though delicate enoki are left whole.

 

Some vegetables don’t need to be cut at all — leafy greens in particular. Try spinach, watercress, bean sprouts and all sorts of lettuces, which will wilt quickly in the hot broth. 

The Noodles and Other Starches

Noodles should be precooked and are usually offered at the end, in part because they're so filling. All kinds of noodles are fair game: Egg noodles, ramen, glass or cellophane noodles, rice noodles, udon noodles, yam noodles — so choose one or two of your favorites. Lower a few noodles into the pot with your chopsticks or a strainer to heat them up and flavor them with the broth. A bowl of white rice is also good as a bed for your cooked items.

The Sauces

After you’ve retrieved a cooked item from the pot, you can eat it as is or dip it in a sauce. You can even mix up a few sauces ahead of time — they don't have to be complicated. Mix and match basic ingredients such as soy sauce, hot chili oil, sesame oil, rice or white wine vinegar, bean curd sauce, minced garlic, minced ginger, sacha (Chinese barbecue sauce), sliced scallions, slivered hot peppers, peanut sauce, fresh cilantro, chili paste and lime juice. A mix of soy sauce, sesame oil, and slivered hot peppers could be one sauce, for instance. Better yet, make a sauce bar: Put out a selection of ingredients and let people mix up their own concoctions in their little sauce dishes.

Start Cooking

Everyone should have one pair of chopsticks designated solely for cooking their food, and ideally a strainer for smaller dipping items, though people can share those. Certain foods will be dunked and left to cook for a little while, such as meat or winter squash, and those will need to be retrieved after they are cooked. Others will need a quick dip with chopsticks, like watercress or very thin slices of meat or fish that can cook to medium rare in about 10 seconds in hot broth, so you may want to just swish it around.

5 Hot Pot Rules of Thumb

Here are some general rules to follow. All are subject to discussion depending on how close you are to the other hot pot eaters and how easy-going your house is.

 

1. Only take what you’ve put into the pot, though you can certainly offer to cook items for the group.

2. Don’t use your eating chopsticks to cook (unless you are with family or close friends — which, if you're sharing hot pot, you probably are).

3. Keep track of your ingredients.

4. Don’t overcrowd the pot — it will cause the temperature of the broth to drop, and the food won’t cook as quickly or as thoroughly.

5. The broth will reduce as you go, so you will need to refill at least once during the meal. Just add more broth, return to a boil and keep going! This will also prevent the broth from becoming too concentrated, especially if people are sipping it.  

And So You Have It:

A hot pot party waiting to happen. Just imagine how good your home will smell!