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June 29, 2014

Recipe from China: Szechuan Hotpot

The Five Spice Kitchen has welcomed more and more visitors in the past few days. Even when a session ends, they still gather around the platform and throw questions at the chefs and presenters. Although “cultural exchange” can be a daunting idea, some fundamental elements of a culture, such as food, can easily draw people together from diverse backgrounds.

Today’s pick is Szechuan hotpot. Hotpot is like Chinese fondue; it reminds one of easy cooking, abundant food, and great gatherings. Unlike the American bar culture, many Chinese people prefer to socialize over the dinner table. Hotpot is not only popular in wintertime, but also during festivals and friendly gatherings. So choose your favorite foods, sauces, and good friends, and have fun!

Ingredients

Adjust amounts depending on how many people you will be cooking for.

Soup

1 bag of hotpot soup base (available in many Asian markets)
Bean sauce (for a spicier version, look for chili bean sauce or Pixian bean sauce)
Chicken or pork rib stock
Scallion
Sliced fresh ginger (not dried)
Garlic cloves, peeled
Dried chili peppers
Prickly ash (Also known as Szechuan pepper. This is a specialty spice, also found in many Asian markets. If you buy it whole, discard the seeds and stems and toast the husks before grinding them with a mortar and pestle.)

Meat and Vegetable Suggestions

Thin slices of any meat (no more than quarter-inch thick)
Shrimp, crab meat, or chopped fish
Cubed tofu
Fish balls (also available at Asian markets)
Chopped broccoli
Mushrooms
Potato slices
Cucumber
Cloud ear fungus (also known as wood ear, this is an edible brown-black jellylike fungus)
Glass noodles (cellophane or bean thread noodles)
Noodles or ramen
Rice cakes (NOT the American baked snack! Soft cylinders of ground white rice.)

Dipping Sauce

Pick your favorites sauces and be creative. In China, the most common elements are soy sauce, spicy sesame oil, regular sesame oil, peanut sauce, sesame sauce, ground chili pepper, ground peanuts, ground garlic, and spring scallion. People like to make their own dipping sauce by mixing their chosen ingredients together. However, don’t feel limited to Asian sauces—I have a friend who loves using ketchup!

Preparation

  • Chop ingredients into bite-size pieces. This way they will be easier to cook in the hotpot.
  • Aluminum, stainless steel, and electric fondue pots are good choices. If you do not have one of those, a regular soup pot is fine. Heat the pot on high heat and add a small amount of oil.
  • Add dried chili pepper, prickly ash, garlic, ginger, and scallion. Stir-fry until fragrant and sizzling.
  • Add 1-2 tablespoons of bean sauce. Cook until heated through.
  • Add water and stock and bring to a boil.
  • Add the bag of pre-made hotpot soup base. Tip: The previous steps are to add layers of flavor. If you prefer, you can use only the Hotpot soup base for convenience.
  • You can choose to cook everything at once, or keep adding ingredients to the pot as guests eat.

The cooking time for different foods is as follows:
About 1 minute: small pieces of meat.
About 3 minutes: vegetables, fish balls, tofu, cloud ear fungus.
5 minutes or more: Noodles, potatoes, rice cakes. Some vegetables also may need more time.

To tell if a piece is cooked, check for color changes in meat. For most other ingredients, if they float, they’re ready.

Claire Chen is an intern for the China program. Visit the Five Spice Kitchen any day during the Festival to learn about more authentic Chinese recipes. 

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