Sunday, 19 April 2015

DIY Sichuan Hot Pot Heaven

If you have read my blog you will know I have been on a mission. This mission has taken me from the hot pot tables of Chonqing, China (where I discovered food nirvana in a bubbling bowl of hot pot) back to Australia where my drive to re-create this dish so far has led to mediocre attempts that only vaguely resemble the fiery Sichuan Hot Pot of my memories.

Back when I undertook my trip to China the internet was still in it's fledgling stages. It offered me little in the way of information on how to make the hot pot broth that I so craved. My initial attempts used a basic home-made chilli oil consisting of little more than dried chilli's and garlic infused into oil and mixed with stock. Back then I didn't even have access to the sichuan peppercorns that give this dish it's unique tingling quality.

Welcome 2015...the land of the ever knowledgeable internet. Where every second Joe (myself included) has a blog that is overflowing with useful information and hidden wonders. It is in this world where I have stumbled on Hot Pot heaven. Introducing Mandy of Lady and Pups. A first rate food blog primarily of the Asian persuasion.  I can't take any credit for this amazing dish. I will admit I was way out of my league here. I needed to find myself an expert in Chinese flavours and Mandy is my meal ticket. Mandy lives in Beijing and her creative recipes and stunning photography is food porn at it's best. She has been generous enough to let me re-create and share this amazing recipe with you, my readers.

This recipe whilst not technically too difficult does require some time and effort but you will not be disappointed. This is the food of Chinese celebration. A meal best shared with friends and family, the communal nature of it's shared bowl of broth will bring you together, brows sweating in unison as you huddle around, sharing good food and hopefully good conversation.

First step is to get your butt down to the Asian grocery store with this shopping list. It is extensive, the true sign of a good recipe but it is also not entirely daunting. Bar a few optional obscure ingredients you will not have too much trouble finding any of these things. So no excuses not to get cooking.

I have changed a few ingredients from the original recipe. Not because I know better but due to availability of ingredients (for example a 4 kg turkey with innards isn't the easiest to come by so I swapped it for chicken wings). Also a desire not to suffer for days after eating this I toned down the chilli factor a little and in a dish with this much flavour, the extra chilli was not missed.

You can also choose the ingredients you want to serve to cook in your Hot Pot based on your tastes, anything goes here and you can see  Mandy's and my suggestions below. For the original genius recipe and Mandy's stunning photography check out her hot pot blog post here.

Must make this the day ahead

For the stock:

2 kg chicken wings
1 pigs trotter cut into 4 chunks
4-5 large slices of ginger
4-5 large slices of scallions (ginger and scallions are used in the blanching to remove unwanted smells and tastes from the bones)
1 large onion cut into quarters
10 (2 litres) cups of water
1 carrot chopped into large chunks

Sichuan Ma-La Hot Pot Base:

Soaking Spices
1/2 cup (20 grams) Chinese small dried chilli's, whole
3~4 (3 grams) star anise/八角
1 large (3 gram) black cardamon/草果
1 whole (3 grams) nutmeg/白蔻
7 whole cloves/丁香
1 large stick (5 grams) cinnamon/桂皮
7~8 (5 grams) dried bay leaves/香葉
1 tbsp (5 grams) fennel seeds/茴香
1 tbsp (8 grams) cumin seeds/小茴香/孜然
1 tbsp (5 grams) white peppercorns/白胡椒
5 grams zi-cao/紫草, if available ( I could not find this)
3 grams liang-jiang/良姜, if available (I did find this one, it is dried galangal)
2 grams mu-xiang/木香, if available (I could also not find this)
1 cup (240 ml) boiling water

Further Hot Pot Ingredients: 

4 cups (950ml/800 grams) total of vegetable oil and animal fat (see notes * on the ratio of different oil/fat)
1/2 cup + 3 tbsp (200 grams) sichuan douban/broad bean chili paste
1/2 cup (115 grams/ml) Chinese rice wine
12 cloves garlic, smashed
5~6 large slices (25 grams) ginger
1 stalk (20 grams) lemongrass, cut into chunks
1/2 cup (35 grams) ground red sichuan peppercorn
3/4 tsp chinese curry powder (not Indian which is readily available)
5 cups (1200ml) chicken and pork stock

To add before serving:

3 large scallions, cut into segments
8 Chinese small dried chilli's, whole
2 tbsp red sichuan peppercorn, whole
2 tbsp granulated chicken bouillon
Salt to taste

Method For the Stock:

Add the chicken wings and the pig trotter into a large pot with the slices of ginger and scallions.  Fill the pot with water until the ingredients are fully covered, then bring to a boil and let cook for 5 min skimming impurities from the surface as it boils.  Remove the all the wings and trotters, then rinse under water to clean off any scums and impurity.  Discard the pot of blanching water.

If you’re using pressure-cooker like I did add the wings and trotter to the pressure cooker with 2 litres of water. Cook for 1 hour then after the pressure’s released, open the pot and add the carrot and onions chunks and cook for another half hour.

If not using pressure-cooker, cook the stock partially covered over medium to medium-low heat (to keep the stock actively boiling) for 3 hours, until the stock turns opaque.  You can add more water along the way to keep the stock at around 9~10 cups.  When done, strain the stock and discard the bones/meats.

Method for the Hot Pot Base:

Assemble all ingredients listed under "soaking spices" and pour 1 cup of boiling water over and let sit for 30 min ~ 1 hour.  Strain and reserve the liquid.

In a large deep pot, combine 4 cups total of vegetable oil and animal (see note *), sichuan douban/broad bean chilli paste, Chinese rice wine, smashed garlic, sliced ginger and lemongrass.  Set over high heat while stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a gentle simmer, then lower the heat down to medium~medium-low to keep it bubbling, and continue to stir and cook for about 10~15 min until all the moisture/liquid has evaporated.  Add all the soaked spices and 1/2 of the soaking liquid.  Bring the mixture back to a gentle simmer, then continue to stir/cook for another 15~20 min until all the added moisture/liquid has also evaporated.  Now add the ground red sichuan peppercorn and curry powder, then stir and cook for another 1 min.  Turn off the heat and add 5 cups of turkey and pork stock.  Mix evenly then let sit overnight.

To serve, strain the mixture (press on it to extract as much liquid as you can) and discard all the solid ingredients, retaining the liquid. I found this easier to do by re-heating the mixture to liquefy it again, (the stock causes it the congeal which makes it difficult to strain).  You should now have a hot pot-base with about 50% red/chilli oil, and 50% stock.  You can now skim off some of the “red/chilli oil”, and add more stock into the pot, to adjust the heat level you desire (the more oil in the pot, the hotter it is).  I would say 4 parts red/chilli oil : 6 parts stock/liquid is a starting point.  Keep the extra red/chilli oil on the side so you can add it back later if needed.

Now you can put your broth into your hot pot vessel and add 3 large scallions, whole dried chilli's and the whole red sichuan peppercorns to the base. Season with 2 tbsp granulated chicken bouillon and salt to taste.  Bring to a boil, and we are ready to rock’n roll.  (As the hot pot cooks, liquid will evaporate, so keep adding more stock or water and re-season as needed).

Note on fat from Mandy*
Now let’s talk about the ratio of the “red/chili oil” a bit.  To be most authentic, 100% of the “red oil” is made with beef fat.  That’s right.  It’s a little crazy.  But to be more forgiving, for convenience sake and liver sake, we are going to use a combination of  animal fat (in this case, turkey/chicken fat) and vegetable oil.  I used 1 cup of turkey/chicken fat rendered from turkey skin and chicken skin, plus 3 cups of vegetable oil.  You can increase the ratio of turkey/chicken fat if you want, but I will not go lower than 1 cup.  Of course you can also use duck fat (without any flavourings from herbs such as thyme or rosemary) if you have it on hand.

Ingredients to cook in your hot pot:

There is an almost endless procession of ingredients you can cook in your hot pot. See Mandy's recipe for her fav's. Here is what we had:

  • Thinly sliced lamb and beef (best in the ready sliced frozen packs from the Asian grocery. I am yet to find a way to slice meat that thin myself)
  • Potato's peeled and sliced into 1cm thick slices
  • Enoki mushrooms
  • Noodles (a variety of noodles work here, I like very thin vermicelli style noodles)
  • Cuttle fish balls (pre-packaged frozen from the Asian grocery)
  • Frozen lotus root
  • Choi Sum cut into 10 cm lengths
You could also add:
  • Firm white fish fillets cut into large chunks
  • Squid scored and cut into chunks
  • any variety of vegetables (the firmer the vege the longer cooking time it will take in the pot)

Dipping Sauces:

Don't fall into the trap we did and take a recommendation from the Asian grocery store lady on what to put in your dipping sauce. Fermented tofu and fermented leeks are not for the Western palate blergh!!

Use this recipe instead:

Serves 4-6

180ml Sesame Oil
90 ml rice vinegar
90 ml soy sauce
5 tbs Grated Ginger
4 cloves of crushed garlic
1.2 bunch of chopped Cilantro
1 tbs white sugar
2 scallions finely sliced
2 tbs Sriracha chilli sauce

Combine all dipping sauce ingredients, stir well and divide into individual serving bowls so each dinner guest has their own. You can then dip all of your cooking ingredients into the sauce before eating for extra flavour.

We also made a broth for the other half of the divided hot pot for the less brave dinner guests. this was made with the remaining stock that didn't go into the chilli oil. At the time of serving we added some chunks of scallions, ginger and lemongrass and chicken bullion. 

How To Eat Your Hot Pot:

Set up your hot pot vessel in the centre of your table on a butane burner. Turn on the burner and set the temperature so the broth bubbles and boils. 

Lay out all of your hot pot ingredients on the table and provide each dinner guest with a bowl of dipping sauce, extra plate, chop sticks and a small wire strainer (can be purchased at an Asian grocery).

Each guest can then dip their own chosen ingredients into the broth to cook. Ingredient cooking times vary and may take some trial and error. The potato slices, lotus root and frozen fish balls take around 10 minutes so you may want to add a handful of each to the broth at the beginning for all to share. The meat, noodles, mushrooms and greens cook very quickly so each guest can individually cook their own in their own strainer or held in their chop sticks. Once cooked, dip in your bowl of sauce and eat and then head back for more!

If you want a real Chinese experience like I had at the Hot Pot House in Chonqing you can finish up with a food fight. Hot Pot can get carried away!

Ingredients in be in my tummy

So many amazing flavours go into this dish

The feast ready and waiting

Hot Pot in Chongqing, you can see similar ingredients here to what I served in my version

Originally posted on Sunday, 19 April 2015 by


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