On soup bases
As you're about to learn, my dad’s soup base is on the lighter side, which is more in line with the typical Cantonese style of hot pot.
Cantonese hot pot soups tend to be more mild, often flavored by boiling chicken, fish, or shrimp. I’ve also heard that some restaurants use rice porridge for an interesting twist on soup base.
Further up north, in places like Sichuan and Chongqing, the style of hot pot is more in line with their world-renowned mala flavor, or màhlaaht 麻辣 in Cantonese, which means numb and spicy. Their soup bases generally involve some combination of Sichuan peppers, chilies, and other spices.
If you’re looking for more nuanced soup base recipes:
- Our friends at Chinese Cooking Demystified have 3 different options for you in their own hot pot video.
- Woks of Life, a fellow Asian American family recipe blog, offer several great resources for hot pot and soup bases.
If you don’t feel like making your own soup base, there are also a ton of great ready-made options where you basically just add water. Or if you’re feeling creative and lazy, you can also use a few flavor packets from your favorite instant ramen brands, and cook the noodles during your meal.
The soup base can be as simple as just boiling straight up water or chicken stock, or as nuanced with as many spices and ingredients as you’d like. If you’re hosting a hot pot meal, just remember to have fun and enjoy the process.
Personally, I prefer my dad’s light soup base over some of the spicier, heavier soup bases out there, and the broth gradually absorbs more and more flavor as the night goes on. Coupled with my dad’s dipping sauce, which we got a bunch of questions about, each bite is already packed with more than enough flavor for me.
What equipment do you need for hot pot?
You may or may not need to buy chopsticks, strainer ladles, a portable heating surface, and a pot.
There are some portable hot plates that are designed specifically for hot pot that come with both the heating element and a pot in one. Some pots also come with a partition, which is helpful if you wanted to offer two flavors of soup base at once.
If you wanted to save money and space, a fun little life hack is to use your rice cooker or Instant Pot for hot pot instead. They’re both portable and they can boil and simmer water, which is all you really need.
Using a Rice Cooker for Hot Pot
For a rice cooker, you can leave the lid open, and start out on the “cook” mode to bring it to a boil, and then you can adjust between the “warm” and “cook” modes throughout the meal as needed.
Using an Instant Pot for Hot Pot
For an Instant Pot, you can set it to “Saute” mode and press “Adjust” to bump up the heat until it comes to a boil, and then bring the heat down to get it to simmer.
A few notes for both methods:
- To save time, you can boil the water on your stove and then transfer it over.
- Since the pot is a lot deeper, you might consider using a deeper strainer ladle to make it easier to cook and find your food.
- This goes for every type of hot plate, but be careful not to add so much soup that it overflows when it’s boiling or when you add a bunch of food to the pot, otherwise might potentially damage the heating coils.
Some options to buy:
What foods do you buy for hot pot?
Our ingredient list is just a suggestion. There are SO many different ways to do hot pot, and the beauty is in the freedom you have to get as creative as you'd like.
Generally, you'll want a variety of leafy green vegetables, mushrooms, meat & seafood (Cantonese hot pot is known for its seafood), some root vegetables, and some rice or noodles to go with it.
Serious Eats has a great guide on hot pot that covers a lot individual options in each food category.
How to buy meat for hot pot?
My parents prefer leaner cuts of meat like beef flank and lean pork chops, but you can also opt for more fatty cuts like beef brisket, ribeye, and etc.
There's really no wrong way to go.
My parents' criteria:
- For all types of meat - try to find meat that has less (or none) water pooling around in the packaging. This is a sign that it's not as fresh.
- For whole fish - look at the eyes. If they're black, it's fresher. If it's white, it's older.
- For shrimp, squid - There's not much to differentiate other than size. For hot pot, my parents prefer 31/35 shrimp and smaller squid.
- For red meat - they look for cuts of meat that have less fat, white. I think this is mainly for their health, since some people prefer more fatty cuts.
Buying pre-sliced meats
If you're not interested in cutting your own meat and seafood, you can also buy pre-sliced packages of meat at Asian grocery stores. This convenience obviously drives the price up, but it may be worth the extra cost.
Come shopping with us!
For an extensive walkthrough and cute moments, click above to tag along on our shopping trip.
Food labels for farm animals
Amongst the strongest seals of approvals is the Animal Welfare Certified label from the Global Animal Partnership, a non profit originally created by Whole Foods Market in 2008.
This is one of only 3 food certification labels endorsed by the ASPCA, one of the oldest and largest humane societies in the world, the others being “Certified Humane” and “Animal Welfare Approved.” Although they’re not as widespread, they set much higher standards than the more common USDA Organic certifications.
If you live in the US and feel inclined to support these causes, you can look for GAP certified meat at Whole Foods, or through Butcher Box, a popular meat delivery subscription service that sources their meats in line with all of the highest standards that we’ve touched on.
Understanding food labels for beef
When shopping for beef, if available and affordable, you might consider these two labels: Certified Organic, and Grass Fed, Grass Finished.
The USDA Certified Organic label applies to a lot of different foods and drinks, but for beef, it refers to cattle that eat entirely organic feed, have access to a pasture, and are never administered antibiotics or hormones.
Grass Fed, Grass Finished, also known as 100% Grass Fed, means that the cattle ate grass for the entire duration of its life. The Grass Fed label by itself can refer to cows that started on a grass fed diet, but were fed grain in the last few months of their lives in order to help them quickly gain weight.
Buying fish from sustainable sources
It’s important to at least be aware of how we can support sustainable methods and sources of fish.
While it might not always be feasible to shop in this way, as consumers, an easy way to do our part is by making sure we vote with our wallets.
Monterey Bay Aquarium in California runs a free website called “Seafood Watch” which has a ton of recommendations on how to choose and purchase seafood in ways that have the least environmental impact.
Finding Asian Ingredients
Some of these ingredients are hard to find in a typical grocery store.
If you don't live near an Asian market, most or all of what my dad uses in this recipe can be found on Amazon:
I've also included some other Chinese kitchen essentials, used in many of my dad's other recipes.
These links are affiliate links, which means that if you use our links to purchase these ingredients, Amazon pays my family a small amount for the sale - at no extra cost to you. If you use these links, we really appreciate the support!
Alternatives to Oyster Sauce
If you're vegetarian or need to stay away from gluten, we have three alternatives for you!
(Also if you're vegetarian.. sorry, a lot of this post is about meat haha.)
Vegetarian Oyster Sauce
Since oyster sauce is made out of oyster extract, here are some alternatives that have a similar taste without using the actual oyster:
Gluten Free Oyster Sauce
Wok Mei has a gluten-free oyster sauce, but it still contains oyster extract, so it's not vegetarian friendly.
Vegetarian + Gluten Free Oyster Sauce
Unfortunately, we don't know of a vendor that sells an oyster sauce that caters to both dietary restrictions, so you'll need to DIY the sauce.
Mix equal parts gluten free soy sauce and gluten free hoisin sauce. This isn't exactly the same as oyster sauce, but it's pretty close.