Introduction: Simple Sichuan Huo Guo (Spicy Hot Pot)

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Huo Guo translated as “Hot Pot” is a dish common in the Asian countries.  I came across it from my time in China and fell in love with it, specifically Hot Pot done in the Sichuan style.  Sichuan cuisine relies heavily on hot chilies as ingredients in their food.  Very spicy!

In this instructable I will give you my recipe for the hot pot base and some solid suggestions for what to cook in it.  It is possible to purchase pre made mixes, and we’ve tried it before, but I would caution against it.  The first and only time I used it I felt like my whole mouth had a layer of axle grease on it.  So much MSG and things you just don’t want in your food.

Hot pot set ups in China generally have a sunken burner and a large pot.  I don't have this luxury and I'm assuing you don't as well so I'll tell you how to make your own.  On to the first step!

Step 1: Gather Ingredients

First step in any cook is gathering the ingredients.  For a lot of this stuff you’re not going to do any better than a good Asian market.  If you’re in the Phoenix area I highly recommend Lee Lee Oriental Supermarket.  It’s just the best place to get anything exotic and their prices are excellent.  It may be harder to find some things if you go to a Korean or Japanese specific market (as opposed to a general Asian market or Chinese market). I’ll list out what is required for the base and then suggest ingredients to cook in it.  Feel free to change the quantities, but this is what has worked well for me.

Base Ingredients:
Dried red chilies (3-4 chilies)
Dried shitake mushrooms (1/2 cup)
Ground bean sauce (1/8 cup)
Chili garlic sauce (1/4 cup)
Black bean garlic sauce (1/8 cup)
Garlic (2-3 cloves)
Ginger (3 inches)
Shallots or any other small onion (1)
Broth (depends on container I use 2 qts)
Peanut oil or other high temp oil
Chili oil (to taste)
Peppercorn oil (to taste)

Mushrooms (Shitake, Oyster, Portobello, Enoki…)
Green beans
Green onions
Bok Choy

Any variety of meat or seafood may be used as well.  It is more difficult to prepare because it has to be sliced very thinly.  I’ve attempted it in the past but found it very difficult, and I don’t feel that I’m missing anything in my hot pot without meat.  Some Asian markets do have prepared fish balls or other hot pot ingredients.  Feel free to ask workers at these markets for suggestions.

Also needed will be a pot, prefereably one with a heavy bottom, and a burner.  I got  a hot plate at a flea market for 18 bucks.  Best investment I've made in a long time.

On to the base!

Step 2: Prepare the Base

The first step we'll do is to take a half cup of dried mushrooms and soak them in some vegetable broth.  Put this to the side and we'll add it into the broth later.

Next shave the skin off the ginger and cut them into pieces about the thickness of a dime.  The thinner the more flavor you'll get out of it.   Place the cut ginger into a small bowl.  Now mince the cloves of ginger and shallot, also adding them to this bowl.

Now for the sauces, this is what gives the hot pot most of the flavor and you really can't go too wrong here.  I don't have a brand I'm particular of, the important thing is to have some kind of black bean paste.  This has a very distinctive Chinese flavor and will make your hot pot delicious.  I add:

1/4 cup chili garlic sauce
1/8 cup ground bean sauce
1/8 cup black bean garlic sauce

Also place this in the small bowl.  This will be added to the pan while the oil is hot and help bring flavors out.

Again don't feel like you have to get those exact types, experiment!  I don't know how many "meh" hot pots I've made before finding something I like.

Finally it's time to de-seed the dried chilies.  Cut off the tops off three or four and shake out all the seeds.  These will get sautéed quickly in oil to bring out the spice.  Be very cautious with this, more on the next step.  Place them in a spoon or something that can be dumped into the pot easily.

Now the most important part.  On to making the base.

Step 3: Making the Base

This is the most critical step in the process, make sure to read all the way through before starting!

First add a small amount of peanut oil, a tablespoon should do.  Heat it until it runs smoothly along the bottom of the pan.  Prep the bottle of broth by making sure it is open and within quick reach.  Also place the small bowl by your hands.

This part is very tricky so pay attention!

Add the chilies to the hot oil and stir around for about 15 seconds, then quickly add the contents of the small bowl again stiring around rapidly.  You should have them in the hot oil for only 20 to 30 seconds more before pouring the vegetable broth on.

The first time I tried adding the chilies to the oil I left them in too long.  This caused the spice to become very fragrant and drove us out of the kitchen.  I had windows and doors open for a good 20 minutes before we were able to reenter my kitchen.  Moral of the story… Be ready with that vegetable broth in case things get out of hand!

After you’ve added all the vegetable broth (to about an inch and a half below the top), add the mushrooms you’ve been soaking and let the broth simmer for a while.  No real time limit, but I like to do this first and then clean the vegetables while it’s stewing.

Step 4: Wash the Vegetables

Prepare and wash all vegetables you like, again really can’t go too wrong here.  Some vegetables I like to add are:
Mushrooms (Shitake, Oyster, Portobello, Enoki…)
Green onions
Green beans
Bok Choy

Other suggestions not listed:
Carrots, other greens, meats, seafood, really any vegetable will do.

It’s easiest to wash all the vegetables in a large strainer sitting in your sink.  I really enjoy mushrooms so we always have a ton of them with our hot pot.  Cut off the stems of the muchrooms if you like, but they taste delicious either way.

If you want to use tofu make sure to get extra firm.  Otherwise it’s going to fall apart after being in the broth for a long time.  What’s that?  You only found firm not extra firm tofu?  Well I have a solution for you!

Place the tofu slab on a plate and then put another plate, or other flat surface, on top of the tofu.  Place some heavy object ( jars, books, well trained pets, etc.) on top of the stack and leave to sit for a few minutes.  This will press out a lot of water held in the tofu and make it much more likely to stay together while cooking.

Step 5: Eat!

Finally.  Some rewards for your work.  Transfer the pot from the stove to the burner, and wait for it to boil.  Try to maintain a light boil at all times, too much and it's hard to pull food out, too little and your food won't cook.  Bring all the food to be cooked near your burner and make sure the pot has a nice boil before placing food in.  When things look done, pull them out with your utensil of choice (chopsticks work well) and place them in your bowl.   Be sure to let it cool down for a second before eating!

How long things last will vary by how strong the boil is.  Greens will cook the fastest, and will also absorbe a lot of the spice in the broth.  Don't say I didn't warn you.  Mushrooms, noodles, and larger vegetables take 3-5 minutes but again it’s all to taste.  I like the green beans a little crisper than others.  Just takes some guesswork and experience to get it right.  When eating the meal if you find it's not spicy enough, add some chili oil or peppercorn oil.  Be very careful however as it's harder to take out than put in.

With vegetables nothing is going to kill you by over/undercooking it.  If you think it’s not done (meaning tasty) then throw it back and let it stew for a bit.  It’s optional to have some rice in your bowl, but sometimes it can be nice to absorb some of the extra liquid from the broth.  Make sure you have a cold beverage to sip on as well, something to cool your mouth off from the spice and temperature.  Caution!!! If you're cooking meat, make sure to leave it in there long enough to completely cook it.  Also have separate utensils for handling raw and cooked meat.

Hot pot is a very social meal so invite your friends over and have some engaging conversation while eating.  It tends to be a long meal since you’re constantly cooking and eating, usually we’ll be eating for at least an hour.  It may be necessary to top off your pot with some boiling water (heat separately on the stove for minimum wait time).  Depending on your chopstick skills you may want to have a slotted spoon around.  It also helps to clean out the pot once you’re finished. 

Now sit back with some friends and brews to enjoy something different!  I have yet to eat hot pot with someone that hasn’t enjoyed the experience.  Enjoy!