Hot pot is a great hack for social gatherings and reunion dinner! If you’ve noticed, the trend for hot pot is crazy and has become an immensely popular dining-out option. I mean look at how often places like Hai Di Lao gets featured on our Instagram feeds, not to mention the queue and waiting time to get a spot during peak hours. It’s quite a feat.
But hey, the popularity of hot pot shows no signs of fading out, and for good reasons. For one, the concept of “cook-as-you-eat” saves time and encourages everyone to participate in the making of their meals.
As it makes for a great bonding activity, more families are steering towards hot pot as a reunion dinner option, instead of the traditional elaborate feasts we are so accustomed to.
So upon this upcoming Lunar New Year, if you’re thinking of changing up old traditions, hot pot might be an ideal alternative. Here’s how to make full use of your hot pot and impress your guests this festive season.
What You Need
For a DIY hot pot dinner, you’ll need a split pot (for separating the broths), a portable cooking stove and canned butane to keep the fire going. Serve each guest with small bowls and lay a few ladles for convenience.
Now that equipment’s sorted after, let’s move on to the delicious ingredients.
Ingredients For A Satisfying Hot Pot
The main ingredients of a hot pot vary depending on preference and taste buds. The best part is that guests can dip their ingredients and let it cook for however long they want, to the degree of readiness they prefer before taking it out.
In some ways, even though everyone around the table is eating the same thing, the flavours that come through can be uniquely different for everyone.
The key to an excellent hot pot lies in the broth as it provides the base for your ingredients. You can have it spicy or mild. Whichever your preferences may be, using a split pot becomes useful as everyone gets to the chance to sample two different broths instead of sticking to just one flavour.
The two most popular broth options include the default clear broth that is typically made with scallions, ginger, goji berries, shiitake mushrooms and chicken stock. The other is the must-have-spicy-broth – either Sichuan or Mongolian style, both of which pack a fiery punch in every mouthful.
There are other unique broth variations, including tomato or satay base, but those are generally reserved for more adventurous eaters. If you’re looking to please your guests during the reunion dinner, it’s hard to go wrong with the clear and spicy broths.
Set it to a boil and throw in the next ingredient.
Noodles are considered an auspicious dish during Chinese New Year as it signifies longevity – a concept that is highly valued in the Chinese culture.
The type of noodles generally used for hot pot is Chun Mian 春麵, or wholewheat noodles, as it soaks up the flavours of the broth. However, it is entirely up to you. Some families prefer to use udon or thick-shaved noodles as substitutes. But if you’ve got spare time and would like to experiment from scratch, hand-pulled noodles work just fine.
Throw the noodles in small batches, and once they have softened up to an al dente texture, it is ready to be served.
In Chinese reunion dinners, poultry dishes like Poached Chicken or Peking Roast Duck are often served in its whole as they represent unity and completeness. However, logistically, it would be impossible to throw a whole bird in the hot pot, so the next best thing to have is sliced pork, beef or lamb.
Usually, supermarkets sell them packaged specifically for the purpose of hot pot. But if you want to them fresh from the butchers, you have to make a request to have them very thinly sliced. The reason for this is so that the meat slices will cook fast in the boiling broth. Generally, a good rule of thumb is to leave it for 30 seconds or when the colour of the meat changes.
Some families also add shrimp. The Cantonese pronunciation of shrimp is 蝦ha which sounds very much like laughter, and eating them is thus thought to be a way of wishing for a year that’s full of happy memories.
Similar to meats, seafood should be looked after once it drops in the hot pot. A word of advice: never leave your proteins in the hot pot unattended as it will overcook.
Meat or Fish Balls
Anything round in shape is believed to symbolise some form of unity and reunion in Chinese culture, and meat or fish balls fit that requirement exactly.
Unlike seafood or meat, you can throw meat or fish balls in the hot pot for roughly two to four minutes to let it absorb the flavours of the broth. There are many variations of meat or fish balls out there, some plain meat while others carry fillings for an added burst of flavour in every bite.
The ones that work best are leafy and root variations like lettuce, spinach, napa cabbage, bok choy and lotus roots as they can soak up the flavours of the broth.
Like other ingredients, vegetables need close paying attention to, as too long of a cooking time might cause the leaf to wilt, and if it’s too short, the vegetables might emerge uncooked.
Generally, these vegetables are sliced before it goes in the pot. For leafy greens, a good 30 seconds is enough for them to soften and cook, while thicker vegetables like cabbage take around 2 to 4 minutes. It’s hard to define the exact cooking time for root vegetables, but a great way to test is by poking them through, and if it’s soft throughout, then they are ready to be served.
A must-have in every hot pot dinner is mushrooms. Many variations are used, including stringy enoki mushrooms, shimeji, king oyster mushrooms and shiitake. The latter is considered another auspicious ingredient because it’s Mandarin translation (冬菇 Dong Gu) can be interpreted as increased opportunities in the new year.
Unlike other no-fuss ingredients, dried shiitake mushrooms need to soak in water before it goes in the hot pot. That way, the mushrooms will soften just enough to sponge up the broth while it’s cooking.
When all is done and ready to eat, the final touch to an excellent hot pot meal is the dipping sauce. As a host, you can find various dipping sauces in supermarkets for your guests, or make them from scratch if you’re feeling experimental. Generally, sauces range from sesame to garlic and chopped chilli base, in which there are tons of recipes online on how to make them.
Reunion Dinner For CNY: Hot Pot
So there you have it, a breakdown of everything you need to know about creating your own hot pot party. It’s a simplified version of a reunion dinner while keeping close to the traditions and customs that make it a special time for the family. After all, it’s not how or what you eat, but the people you are eating with.