There may not be a dish with the trifecta of communal, satisfying, warmth on cold winter nights as the mighty hot pot. With roots in East and Southeast Asia, the idea of cooking meats and vegetables in a boiling pot of flavored stock is starting to take hold outside Asia. Global flavor company McCormick in its annual flavor forecast believes hot pots—and hot pot flavors—may see its popularity boom in the forthcoming year.
It’s no wonder: Hot pots offer a unique social experience that few other dishes can. Family and friends gather around a pot of boiling broth and slosh their own proteins and vegetables in the hot soup. Another thing going for it: The sheer variety of what can be defined as a hot pot. Beef, fish, shrimp, pork, dumplings, vegetables, noodles, mushrooms, spices—the dish is forgiving and hard to not be delicious.
But each culture with a hot pot tradition offers its own conventions and twists. Here’s a brief tour of hot pot culture:
Huo guo is a popular Chinese hot pot dish where diners gather around boiling broth and briefly dip slices of meat and vegetables into the soup. The meat—which can include beef, lamb, pork—is typically sliced thin for fast cooking in the broth, which happens within seconds. In Sichuan, hot pot unapologetically emphasizes the word hot: It features a spicy broth made with numbing Sichuan peppercorn, copious chili and spices, according to chef and writer Yi Zheng, who runs the Chinese cooking blog Yi Reservation. Regional variations abound: Yi writes that lamb hot pot is popular in northern China, and hot pot with seafood is common along the coasts of southern China.
While Chinese hot pot is often associated with fieriness, Japanese hot pots are a more placid, comforting experience. Shabu-shabu is a Japanese hot pot dish where people cook thin cuts of meat by holding them in a pot of boiling soup or water. Beef is a popular choice for shabu-shabu—so named because of the “sound” the food makes as it is swirled in the boiling soup—but other types of meat and even fish can be used in shabu-shabu. Vegetables, mushrooms and noodles are also added to shabu-shabu. Once cooked, the pieces of food are dipped into a sauce, including a cooling and creamy sesame sauce. Sukiyaki, another form of Japanese hot pot, is similar to shabu-shabu. Slices of beef are cooked in a pot or shallow dish with soy sauce, mirin, sake and sugar. After being cooked, the beef slices are dipped into raw, beaten egg, resulting in a savory and rich taste. Tofu and vegetables can also be eaten in sukiyaki dishes.
Thai sukiyaki — also called “Thai suki” — is a close cousin to huo guo. Diners dip seafood, meat, mung bean noodles, dumplings, vegetables and other items in a broth of fish sauce, chili and lime flavors. Hainanese Thai suki is generally eaten with beef and pork, and it features a dipping sauce made with fermented tofu and pickled garlic, according to Thai food blog the High Heel Gourmet. Cantonese Thai suki is usually made with fish and other seafood. Thailand is also the home of mu kratha, a type of hot pot where diners use a pot with a dome in the middle to cook their food—it’s like a hybrid of Chinese hot pot and Korean barbecue. Thinly sliced meats are placed on the raised dome and grilled while broth with vegetables and spices is boiled in the lower part of the pot.
Yow hon is a Cambodian hot pot dish where the broth is made with coconut milk. The broth can be sweet, spicy or sour depending on what spices are mixed in. Like with other hot pot dishes, diners dip slices of beef (or other meats) into the hot broth to cook them before eating. Once cooked, the food is served with rice or noodles and a dipping sauce or paste. Yow hon can also feature seafood and vegetables such as watercress and cabbage.
Of the many beauties of making hot pot at home, at top of the list is ease: Choose your broth and select meat, seafood, veggies and other sauces that will complement the soup. Mix your broth and spices in a hot pot, heat it and let come to a boil as guests gather round and dip their meat slices and vegetables into the broth. (Don’t have a hot pot? The team behind McCormick’s Flavor Forecast 2018 suggests making your broth in a stockpot on your stovetop. In the meantime, preheat a slow cooker by filling it halfway with boiling water and heating it on high for 45 minutes. Once you’re ready to serve, remove the water from the slow cooker and pour the hot broth into the slow cooker. Keep the slow cooker on high so the broth continues to stay hot.)
The other great selling point of hot pots at home? The boundless variations. Say you’re interested in a Mexican-inspired hot pot, one might come up with a Pueblan take using ancho chiles and smoked paprika, steeped in chicken stock and served with corn and avocado crema (Here’s one recipe you might consider). Or say you’re interested in a Caribbean take—a splash of coconut milk can add an authentic new dimension to the broth as well. The phrase can be a cliché, but in this case it’s rooted in truth: As McCormick predicted, with hot pots the possibilities are endless.
This sponsored post was brought to you by McCormick.