Sichuan Spicy Hot Pot (麻辣火鍋)
This is Part II of the Hot Pot Series. Here are the other posts in this series:
In Part I of this Hot Pot Series, I talked about the origin and culture of this traditional Chinese communal meal. Today, I’d like to introduce you to my favorite type of hot pot: the famous Sichuan (Szechuan)Spicy Hot Pot.
As the name suggested, Sichuan hot pot was originated from Sichuan Province which is known for its appetite for spicy food. This mouth-burning and tongue-numbing hot pot has been gaining enormous amount of attention in recent years in the States. With Sichuan hot pot restaurants springing up in New York City, I figure I’d first give a brief history of this new sensation.
The commonly accepted theory traces the Sichuan Hot Pot back to early 20 century. At the time, the port workers and fishermen worked and lived along the Yangtze River could not afford to eat the regular cuts of meat so they figured out a way to cook cheap meats and offal by boiling them in a pot of extremely spicy broth. The use of spicy broth was first intended to disguise the faulty taste from the offal. However after some modification and addition of fragrant spices, this one pot meal became a popular dish in Sichuan region.
After years of continuous development, the Sichuan Hot Pot today is much more refined and no longer a meal for the lower-class. Although offal still remains as classic hot pot ingredients, high quality meats and seafood ingredients are also common on the menu. The modern hot pot has been shape into a progressive meal that starts with sliced meat, offal, and seafood followed by vegetables and ends with noodles.
As I mentioned in part I of the series, eating hot pot is a slow and interactive meal. You poach your raw ingredients in the boiling broth and at the same time engage in a conversation with your friends and family. To that reason I prefer to prepare the meal at home.
For a quick hot pot at home, I only include a handful of my favorite ingredients to save some prep time and avoid too much leftover. I like to do a combination of red meat, meat ball, fish, squid, mushrooms, and green vegetables. You can find a list of common ingredients in my hot pot introduction article.
There are pre-made mix packages you can buy at Asian grocery stores (use it if you really can’t do it from scratch) but I like to make my own spicy broth from scratch according to my own taste. I know it might sound crazy but it’s really not that bad plus you can do thing in bulk for multiple uses. Here are some of the ingredients and condiments needed to make the Sichuan spicy hot pot broth:
To start, make a pot of beef or chicken or pork stock. Chop the spicy bean paste, soaked chili, ginger, garlic, and black beans.
To make the aged-spicy paste (老油 ), stir fried the chopped ingredients with oil in low heat. Add the rest of the dry spices and continue to cook in low heat until fragrant.
Combine the aged-spicy paste and stock and bring to boil. Add more ginger, chili, and salt to taste. Transfer to a serving pot.
This is my special peanut butter sesame dipping sauce. It uses peanut butter, sesame paste and a few other condiments. It goes well with all hot pot ingredients.
If in case you are curious about the broth on the non-spicy side, it’s made of tea tree mushroom and broth. Similar to this recipe here.
Chinese Hot Pot Equipment
The most common hot pot setup requires two pieces of equipment:
1) A single-burner tabletop stove powered by butane is normally used to serve the boiling pot. Make sure to choose a portable single- burner that can adjust the output.
2) Although any stainless steel pot can be used to serve the hot pot, I normally use a special pot with a divider in the middle so I can serve half spicy half non-spicy (known as 鸳鸯 in Chinese).
Alternatively, you can also go for an all-in-one electric setup, but I find this system lack of heat output (perhaps just the one system I have used)
On Eating the Hot Pot
Here is a quick demonstration on how to hot pot a piece of raw squid: pick up the squid with your chopsticks –> submerge it in the boiling broth for about 30 seconds -> remove from the broth and eat with your dipping sauce. For ingredients that take longer to cook, you can just let them boil for however it is needed. Just make sure someone else doesn’t take your food
Just in case you are curious about how the authentic spicy hot pot looks like in my hometown Chongqing…..