Sunday, January 9, 2011

Spicy Hot Pot (Ma La Huo Guo)

Cold weather just begs for some Chinese hot pot. And if you're a spice fiend, then of course the spicy version is a must. So what is hot pot? It's basically a pot of simmering stock on the dinner table. When I was a kid, we used something akin to sterno gel to heat the pot, but now most of us have those plug-in electric versions that are so much easier to use. Once the stock starts to boil, then everyone gets to dunk in their own favs from an assortment of veggies, sliced meats, seafood, tofu, dumplings, fish balls, noodles, quail eggs, etc. Basically, whatever floats your boat. This New Year's eve, Gil and I had "Yin-Yang" hot pot, which is a hot pot that's divided into two sections: one for the tame and the other for the incendiary.

For more hot pot history, check out

Spicy Szechuan Hot Pot Base
Fresh shell-on shrimp
Fish balls
Shrimp balls
Cuttlefish balls
Egg dumplings
Cuttlefish dumplings
Assorted tempura (fish cake)
Imitation crab meat
Sliced meats (pork, beef, lamb)
Sliced nappa cabbage
Tang-O Tsai (leaves only)
1 pkg. soft tofu, cubed
1 pkg. regular tofu, cubed
Fresh enoki mushrooms, ends trimmed
Button mushrooms, halved
Quail eggs
Daikon radish, cubed
Bean thread noodles (at at very end only)

99 Ranch Market sells these in their frozen food section. I don't know if this is for "Ma La" hotpot per se (I see tripe on the cover, which we don't use in our hot pot), but it's pretty darned spicy and sure tastes like it. Too bad I'm so illiterate in Chinese.

Here are the ingredients. 

For the regular/tame hot pot, we always have a dipping sauce on the side that mainly consists of Bull's Head Barbecue Sauce. No, not the Texas variety, but a Chinese version, aka "Sha Cha Jiang," made of soybean oil, brill fish, shrimp, sesame powder, shallot powder, chili and salt.  Not your everyday BBQ sauce. 

For every cup of BBQ sauce, I generally add about 2 tbsp. of ketchup and 1 tbsp. of soy sauce. 

My sister likes to add a raw egg to her sauce (although lately, she's had second thoughts and has been using egg beaters instead). Me? Not so much...

Fish balls & shrimp balls. If you're not Asian and/or are simply not familiar with this ingredient, well they're not what you think they are. Essentially a paste made from shrimp, fish, etc., that are shaped into something like meatballs. 

Tempura, but not the battered and deep fried stuff you would typically order in a Japanese restaurant. This product is more akin to the fish & shrimp ball family.

Canned quail eggs. 

Fresh Enoki Mushrooms. These are readily available in Asian markets. If you can't find them, then the canned variety is an ok substitute.

Tempura, shrimp balls, enoki mushrooms, quail eggs, more enokis, and fish balls, all plated up.

Some fresh 36/40 shrimp with shell on are a great addition to hot pot. You don't want to cook these guys too much, or else they'll get tough.

I love, love, love tofu. So I always add a ton of these to my hot pot. Silken or soft tofu is the best. Cut them into large 1 1/2" cubes.

Coarsely chop 1 head of Nappa/Chinese cabbage.

Tofu & cabbage, ready to roll.

You can buy thinly sliced meats at the 99 Ranch Market. I like the sliced pork butt, but sliced ribeye, chicken, lamb (or any combo thereof) are also good.

Egg dumplings, fish dumplings, cuttlefish rolls.

For the tame hot pot's soup base, I add about a tsp. of Hondashi and a couple teaspoons of granulated chicken powder to water.

The Yin-Yang pot: pour the bag of spicy soup base into one side, and water+hondashi+granulated chicken powder into the other. Btw, I highly recommend leaving out the bean curd/fish balls that come with the spicy hot pot soup base package. Too salty & spicy for human consumption, IMO.

First, add the Chinese cabbage to both broths. The cabbage will eventually add a sweet flavor to the soup base. 

Both sides full of tofu, tempura, dumplings, fish & shrimp balls, cabbage, & enoki mushrooms. Once the stock comes back up to a boil, you can add the meat slices and shrimp (these should be removed as soon as they are cooked, maybe 3-4 minutes, or else they'll be tough).

Here's Gil, eating the milder version (with the Sha Cha/BBQ dipping sauce).

Here are the goods from the spicy broth. No need to eat these guys with a dipping sauce because of the savory mixture they've been cooking in. Btw, the spicy soup base is not for drinking, unless you're a glutton for punishment. If you insist on imbibing, then you and the loo will be best friends. Just sayin'...

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