Chinese hot pot is the dish of choice to usher in the new year
■ Dennis Fletcher & Mariana Rosen / Contributed
The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, is the longest festival in the Chinese calendar. It has been celebrated for over 4,000 years. This year it began on Tuesday, Feb. 5 and ended with the Lantern Festival on Tuesday, Feb. 19. The most important elements of Chinese New Year are eating, fireworks, and dancing lions and dragons in the street. The Chinese Zodiac has 12 signs, each an animal. This new lunar year will be the Year of the Pig.
Dennis Fletcher’s story
My former Chinese New Year parties used to be at my Orange County home in Lake Forest, Calif. They gradually grew in size as more friends and neighbors came, requiring more hot pots from those in our cul-de-sac. A Chinese hot pot setup usually involves a covered pot or pan and a propane hot plate for cooking on a dining room table or side bar. My pots were filled with either chicken broth, plain water, or water with other Chinese or Japanese seasonings. The Japanese term for this cooking process is shabu-shabu. It’s all the same-same.
Into the heated pots of various cooking stocks go a wide variety of items that I will let Mariana explain, since she is a recognized instructor in Asian cuisine.
Along with the hot pot meal, some form of Asian beer and plum wine is often served. Promises about new accomplishments and behavior during the new year are bravely proclaimed to all present, and old friendships and vows are renewed.
Mariana Rosen’s story
We used to invite our friends for a Chinese meal at our house and spend hours getting all the ingredients ready, including an appetizer and at least two entrees. To eat it took just a few minutes. Unfortunately, I was in the kitchen a lot more time than around the table where my friends were socializing.
Now, I feel that one of the best ways to celebrate Chinese New Year is to have our friends over for something really special enjoying traditional Mongolian hot pot. This unique dish gives everyone a chance to be together around the table, a chance to cook, to talk and laugh. Because hot pot is not only a culinary experience, it’s a way to get to celebrate and to know people in a more friendly way. The Mongolian hot pot sits in the middle of the table, much like a fondue pot on some kind of a hot plate. A simmering chicken stock seasoned with garlic and ginger permeates the air.
Around the table you place platters with a variety of ingredients, all pre-cut. These include thinly sliced meats of all varieties, small pieces of seafood, tofu, and a variety of vegetables including cabbage, bok choy (Chinese cabbage), pea pods, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and bean sprouts. Other popular ingredients include a variety of noodles and wontons. If you are near an Asian market, they will usually have a section where many of the hot pot ingredients are already packaged.
Small wire dipping nets
Everyone uses small wire dipping nets to ladle the items you have selected to cook into one of the hot pots. Then wait a few seconds, or minutes depending on the item, and they are ready to fish out and serve on your dish of rice for a tasty meal.
I used to offer a special class on Mongolian hot pot in Rialto, and all my students loved it. We got together around the table, with time to catch up on our news, and eat the hand-cooked delicacies. So probably you are wondering what’s a hot pot? I tell people that it’s almost like a fondue pot in the middle of the table. I usually use one pot for the meat and another for the vegetables. It’s better to place the ingredients that take longer to cook in the pot first. Then add the rest a few minutes later. This way everything gets finished at the same time. You can cook large pots of everything for your hungry guests, or do it the way Dennis does above, and let guests struggle through the process with their own food at their own pace. Fortunately, you cannot really mess anything up.
We use chopsticks or wire dipping nets to remove the cooked food and place it on our plates. On the table, I provide a variety of dipping sauces to enhance the cooked dishes: Sweet n Sour, Piquant Dipping Sauce, Teriyaki Sauce, Chinese Hot Mustard, Duck Sauce, Red Currant Jelly, Chutney, Hoisin Sauce, Plum Sauce, Black Bean Sauce, and Lemon Sauce. My husband’s favorite sauce is Sweet n Sour, and mine is Piquant Dipping Sauce. Below is a recipe for piquant dipping sauce:
Mariana’s Piquant Dipping Sauce
½ cup vinegar
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup catsup
1 TBSP cornstarch
½ cup chicken broth
Combine cornstarch and chicken broth in a small bowl and set aside. In a small saucepan, bring the vinegar and sugar to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, then stir in the ketchup and vinegar while pan is still hot and on the stove. Add the cornstarch mixture and cook on low until it thickens, approximately 1 to 2 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Sweet and Sour Sauce
1/4 cup of cold water
2 tbsp. of cornstarch
1 cup of unsweetened pineapple juice
3 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup vinegar
3 tbsp. ketchup
1 tbsp. soy sauce
In the end, if you do have room, everyone gets a soup bowl to enjoy the leftover cooking stock in the hot pots and the little treasures still waiting at the bottom.
This is one of the best ways to enjoy friends around a dinner table – enjoying each other’s company, and digging into the hot pots to experiment with various food combinations.
Kung Hei Fat Choy!
Questions about hot pot cooking, as well as Mariana’s monthly cooking class being held at the Simpson Center in Hemet, should be directed to Mariana Rosen at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (951) 333-7636.