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hot pot goodness

Recipe: chinese hot pot

While I was pondering a non-trad Thanksgiving menu, HolyBasil reminded me of a favorite dish from my childhood: Chinese hot pot. Call it what you want, huo guo, shabu shabu, fondue… it’s delicious and fun. My mom prepared this on cold nights and it was perfect for someone as picky as my sister. I distinctly recall the steam rising from the broth in the electric wok, fogging the insides of every window in the kitchen. The wok was the centerpiece of the table, surrounded by plates and bowls of colorful vegetables, meats, noodles, and tofu – ready to be picked and cooked. My mother hand sliced everything with such precision and laid out all of the ingredients in beautiful fans.

a modest spread

Typically I like to serve beef (flank steak), chicken (breast), shrimp, tofu, cuttlefish balls, tempura fish cake, bean thread noodles, spinach, napa cabbage, preserved mustard green, and green onions. Wash, peel, chop, slice everything in advance. To slice the meats thin, I freeze them for an hour or more until they are firm, but not rock solid. I soak the noodles in cold water for 30 minutes and then drain. In the electric wok, I usually pour a carton of chicken broth (I happened to have homemade broth this time – woohoo!) and dilute it with some water. Cover the wok and let the liquid come to a boil, once boiling add half of the noodles, some tofu, some fish balls, and some of the greens. When the broth returns to a boil, reduce to a simmer.

bean thread or cellophane noodles are a staple in my version of hot pot

love the greens

The key ingredient that goes into your own bowl is a spoonful (or two) of sa tsa jian – barbecue sauce. The only brand we ever get is Bullhead. I include the picture because like most of you, I can’t read Chinese *hangs head in shame*. Good thing I have such a visual memory because that is how I shop in Asian markets – labels. The ingredients aren’t anything scary, just ground up dried shrimp, brill fish, chili, garlic, oil, salt…

chinese barbecue sauce: it makes the meal

Good stuff. We add the green onions and preserved mustard green to our bowls and in my case, some wonderful chili garlic paste for kick.

awaiting soy sauce

Pour in as much soy sauce and sesame oil as you desire. The bowl will be fantastically salty at this stage, but you are supposed to dilute it with ladles of broth, noodles, and vegetables from the hot pot. As the liquid level lowers during the meal, replenish with hot water (we have a kettle of hot water at the ready).

Shrimp is something I only include when we have guests or if I am feeling particularly indulgent. Fresh is best. I peel and devein my shrimp and then I butterfly them open. It helps them cook more evenly – in the hot pot, they cook in less than a minute – and they curl up into a beautiful shape, like a blossom.

lovely shrimpies, i cannae resist ye

Chinese hot pot is a veritable mini buffet. People get their bowls ready with the spices and seasonings they want, then select what to eat, place it in the hot pot and let it cook. As food becomes ready to eat, they place it in their own bowl. You can graze (eat as it comes) or feast (fill your bowl and chow down). Whenever I serve this dish to my non-Asian friends, they go nuts over it. Beautiful in its simplicity, I just prep the food and they cook it to their liking – everyone is happy. The whole meal is remarkably fresh and healthy.

cooking a slice of flank steak

In my family, some things are communal – like the bean thread noodles, spinach, fish balls… Other items are personal: chicken, shrimp, beef. Let me rephrase that, Kris and I considered the meat personal and we would cook them in our own little “corner” of the pot. My parents seemed to regard the whole thing as communal and we would have to be vigilant for The Stir. That is when one of my parents, deep in conversation, would take their chopsticks and give the entire pot a huge stir while our cries of lost shrimp or beef would go unheeded. You see, Kris and I liked to cook our beef pink, not gray and the difference was literally seconds.

Of course, you can get as simple or as elaborate as you like. My parents have included scallop, grouper, pork, fried tofu, chinese mushrooms, snow peas, pork meatballs (similar to the filling in dumplings)… and Jeremy and I have prepared it with what I consider the bare essentials: beef, spinach, noodles, fish balls. I just want to warn folks that if you don’t have a trusted electric wok or electric cook pot, be sure to get one that is well made and safe. Our old one had a frayed cord, so we bought a new one two years ago on sale for $40. It has horrible temperature regulation and we have to use a heavy duty extension cord because it will melt a standard extension cord due to its 1500W draw. Don’t want your hot pot to turn into a house fire, okay?

a delicious party in my bowl

Chinese Hot Pot – Huo Guo
[print recipe]

3/4 lb flank steak, sliced thin
3/4 lb chicken breast, sliced thin
1 lb fresh medium shrimp, peeled, deveined, and butterflied
1 pkg fishcake tempura, sliced
1 pkg cuttlefish balls
16 oz tofu, sliced
16 oz bean thread noodles (aka cellophane noodles), rehydrated in cold water and drained
8 oz baby spinach leaves, washed
12 leaves napa cabbage, washed, trimmed, cut
1 quart chicken broth
1 quart water
extra hot water on reserve

Chinese barbecue sauce (Bullhead brand)
soy sauce
sesame oil
chili garlic paste (optional)
1 bunch green onions, washed, trimmed and minced
6 oz preserved mustard green, minced

special equipment
electric wok or electric cook pot

Pour broth and water into wok and turn temperature to high. When liquid begins to boil, add half of the noodles, half of the tofu, half of the fish balls, handfuls of spinach and napa cabbage. Cover and let return to boil. Prepare individual bowls with sauce ingredients. When soup is boiling, remove the lid and reduce heat to an active simmer. Select various meats or other ingredients to place in wok and cook. When items are cooked, retrieve them from the wok and place in your own bowl. Ladle a few spoonfuls of soup, noodles, and vegetables into your bowl. Continue to add hot water to the wok as the level decreases. Serves 6.

33 nibbles at “hot pot goodness”

  1. Amy says:

    I remember hot pot fogging up the windows too. It was the perfect winter meal. I haven’t had it in ages so now I’m really craving it. :)

  2. kathryn says:

    Hi Jeny!
    I have fallen in love with your blog of late! Gorgeous pictures and gorgeous food! Discovered you on tastespotting. I am also in the geology field…in Norway!
    Thanks for your blog! I have bookmarked it and will be making the carolina barbeque very soon!

  3. HolyBasil says:

    Oh Jen,
    I’m so envious of your amazing, amazing, A-mazing hot pot. I’m busy making your argentinean empanadas and the rest of our Thanksgiving dishes – which I’m delaying to read your blog, of course! I’m forwarding this post to my mom – I’m sure she’ll be so impressed and happy to see someone make this fabulous dish for the holiday. As we say here, bon fête de Thanksgiving :)

  4. pg says:

    **nostalgic sigh**

    The ex-Mr Goddess got the hot pot in the property settlement…. the one where you put coals down the funnel.

    It, and the chef’s knives were the most hotly contested items of the divorce.

  5. Cindy says:

    Nice pictures you got there!

  6. Kevin says:

    That looks really good! So many nice fresh and healthy ingredients.

  7. Jacelyn says:

    Hi, I really love the sugar plums. Gonna make for Xmas. =) And your candied orange strips look just as lovely. May I ask how do you temper chocolate?

  8. Esther says:

    sounds wonderful. I don’t have a wok like that and I’d get shot if I buy anything else big that is used occationaly and I’m hoping to convince people I can get a mixer at the moment. I wonder if a fondue pot would work, we have two and the one I can see has a burner under it rather than just a candle and I’m sure had recipes with it to stock style ones like that. Have to a) see if i can get the sauce and b) if it’s gluten free though.

  9. Maninas: Food Matters says:

    Lovely post! Thank you for the info!

  10. pleasurepalate says:

    It’s actually getting chillier here in LA, so your recipe for this delicious looking soup is definitely appreciated.

  11. jenyu says:

    Amy – i wonder how many of us grew up with those memories of foggy windows?

    Kathryn – yay, a fellow geo geek! Thanks for dropping by and I hope the bbq recipe works for ya.

    HolyBasil – happy t-giving to you guys too! How do you like the empanadas? I’m crazy about them when they are deep fried (mmmm, fried…). Do you ever get the feeling that our parents’ generation is always amazed when we dorky kids wind up cooking the traditional foods they used to cook for us? :)

    pg – poor thing. I understand your loss of good kitchen items :( You can always find better, hon.

    Cindy – thanks!

    Kevin – yes, very healthy. And typical of Chinese food… you feel hungry an hour later, but I still love it! :)

    Jacelyn – Oy, tempering chocolate is a pain in my ass, I just bloomed a batch on chocolate covered candied orange peels. Consider this link on how to temper. Good luck!

    Esther – it might just work for you, I dunno. You definitely want it hot enough to boil water. As far as I can tell, there isn’t any gluten in the barbecue sauce, but you should certainly check to be sure.

    Maninas – thanks :)

    pleasurepalate – we used to live in Pasadena and we’d eat this between Nov and March! Even though the weather in So Cal is generally warmer than the rest of the US in winter, most So Cal houses have such crappy insulation that it really does get chilly at night ;)

  12. holybasil says:

    The empanadas were delicious, and perhaps almost as good as the ones my Argentinean friends make for us. Indeed, the fried versions are really something to talk about. But I really liked this baked version. I’m very lazy and wimpy when it comes to deep frying. I felt this was a dish where the flavor was not sacrificed at all in the baked version.

    Well, my mom told me she forwarded your post to her friends – quite the thing as she just became acquainted with email and the web last week, I think. When it comes to these traditional meals, she said we’re way more hardcore (loosely translated)! So funny, coming from my Ironchef mom.

  13. jenyu says:

    HB – I’m lazy about frying too (but fried foods… they taste so heavenly…) which is why I love the baked version in that recipe. One day I might try frying one. I’m not a good fryer though, not enough practice. Your mom sounds like a technical pro now. I’m impressed. I wonder how the parents’ generation must feel when they see us youngins embracing the food tradition?

  14. beruta says:

    One of my favorite dishes!!! I have never seen such a beautiful pictures of it! I wish I could enter my chopsticks through the screen of the computer and get it! The only thing I am missing is tou pi (or tou bi, I`m not sure), uf, I LOVE it!
    I`m very hungry…..

  15. jenyu says:

    Beruta – It really is delicious, isn’t it? It’s definitely a homestyle comfort food for me. I don’t know what tou pi is? Is it fried tofu? If so, I sometimes add that too :) But if I add too much stuff, the wok will overflow ;)

  16. DianaBanana says:

    Hi Jenny,
    I’m just browsing around and have come across several of my own childhood dishes on your blog. It’s comforting to know that there are people other than my brother and me who know about these foods my friends would never understand. (Like soy sauce chicken with somen noodles…and I’ve been eating the same brand as you my entire life!) Anyway, about the hot pot, in my family everyone got a bowl with a raw egg cracked into it. Then we would put our own quantities of chinese bbq sauce, soy sauce and occasionally sesame seed oil. We always started with the meats and seafoods, and really just dipping a hot shrimp into the egg mixture to cool it down before popping it into your mouth gave it such a fantastic “mouth feel.” None of us ate from our bowls, it was more like we ate directly from the hot pot itself with a short rest stop into the seasoned egg bowls. (Less travel time for the food to get into my belly…how can you argue with that?) By the time anyone got around to putting veggies and noodles into the hot pot, the egg mixture would have been diluted enough from so many dippings that it would become a nice soupy base.

    Hmm, my mouth is watering now…

  17. jenyu says:

    DianaBanana – our Taiwanese friends like to put a raw egg in their bowls too! I found it quite startling the first time I saw it, but it’s common in those hot pot restaurants I have been to in California. I don’t do it at home because runny eggs scare the hell out of my husband ;) But when we go out for sushi, I looooooove having some tobiko with quail egg. Heavenly ;) Oooh boy, now I’m hungry too!

  18. anh says:

    Had to have hot pot after reading your post! Such gorgeous and mouth watering pictures =) I absolutely love hot pot it all it’s asian variations, but have just recently discovered the Chinese version at some of the restuarants in Rowland Heights (in California).

    Thanks so much for the barbeque sauce information. I could not for the life of me figure out what that sauce was. Jen, in some of the restaurants that I have had Chinese hot pot, they put together a somewhat herbal(?) flavored broth where one side is spicy and the other side is mild. Would you happen to know what they put in there, the herbal bouquet smells amazing to me.

    Keep up the wonderful work!

  19. jenyu says:

    Anh – I’m jealous that you have restaurants to go to that SERVE this!! There are some things I really miss about California, and the food scene was definitely one of them. I don’t know what that broth is, but you shouldn’t hesitate to ask at the restaurants!! :) And then email me when you find out because I’m really curious now :)

  20. sherry says:

    Ah! I totally agree! You absolutely must have the sacha sauce with hot pot! I adore that stuff!

  21. tiffany says:

    Hello, I just came up this blog and I love it! I love all the recipes and it all looks very wonderful and delicious! I personally can’t wait to try some of them. Also I just want to say I love hot pot!!! And the one thing that I love most about hot pot is watercress. A hotpot is just not a hot pot w/o watercress. For me at least. Thanks for the recipes!

  22. jenyu says:

    Sherry – mmm, I love it!

    Tiffany – thanks :)

  23. Nicole says:

    This is over a year late, but I just found your beautiful blog.

    Anh (and anyone else who wonders) – Here’s a quote from Wikipedia:

    “In Xishuangbanna, Yunnan Province in southwestern China near the border with Myanmar, the broth is often divided into a yin and yang shape – a bubbling, fiery red chilli broth on one side, and a cooler white chicken broth on the other.”

    Definitely making this to celebrate the year of the ox!

  24. jenyu says:

    Nicole – no worries! thanks for the info :)

  25. KW says:


    This looks great, and I can’t wait to make it .. this is what i have whenever i am back at home!

    However, i must say, what you said was a Chinese BBQ sauce is actually a very TAIWANESE BBQ Sauce! It is a very famous brand from Taiwan that is known for it’s strong, nutritious and distinctive flavour!

    Thank you for your all your wonderful recepies.. look forward to trying all the recipes!!

  26. Christy says:

    Hi !
    I was just thinking abt a nontraditional christmas meal and I think you just sealed the deal! hot pot it is! can you tell me what brand of electric wok you would trust? or what about a electric heater and using a crock pot on top?


  27. jenyu says:

    Christy – I don’t have a brand that I trust. I don’t even know what brands exist. I just know the one I have isn’t all that great. I recommend shopping around and doing some research online to learn which ones work the best. There are a lot of cheap, crappy ones out there that are serious potential fire hazards :( I wouldn’t do the electric heater/crock pot route – the heat capacity makes it hard to control temperature quickly.

  28. Bree says:

    I know this is a very old post, but I just wanted to thank you. Seriously, every time I make hot pot for the last 3 years, I refer to this page to see if I’m forgetting any ingredients! You rock, thanks a ton!

  29. Becky says:

    I don’t know how I get here but this is a great simple recipe! Seems much easier than the Szechuan ones with 50 different spices to buy. I love huo guo!!! It’s the only food I want to eat in the winter months. Just wondering: what’s the brand of the electric burner/hotpot do you use? You can email me if you don’t want to advertise on the blog:) Look forward to trying this recipe-soon I hope!!

  30. jenyu says:

    Becky – It’s a west bend electric wok (, but I don’t really like it because it does a terrible job of regulating the temperature – either too hot or not hot enough, but never stays at a constant temperature. I’m sure the spendy Breville model is probably much better, but I don’t want to blow so much cash on something I don’t use all the time.

  31. Catchow says:

    Great post! The spread of items you have pictured are the exact same items my parents would put out. The only thing missing are eggs! We would crack the egg white into the broth to cook and mix the raw egg yolk into the sa cha sauce for extra body. Yum!

  32. Lanette says:

    What a wonderful recipe and made even sweeter with memories. Thank you for sharing!

  33. FIXISLOR says:

    I don’t know how I get here but this is a great simple recipe! Seems much easier than the Szechuan ones with 50 different spices to buy. I love huo guo


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