Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Lunar New Year with Chinese Hot Pot

I grew up calling it Chinese New Year. I loved spending all day lighting firecrackers. I thought everyone did it, until I went to school in a small New Hampshire town. No one knew what I was talking about. I was confused when I realized you get Christmas and 'American' New Year's off from school but not Chinese New Year. Then I moved to Hawaii. Lo and behold! They dedicate whole weeks and block parties to the day. Go Hawaii!

It wasn't until I was quite a bit older that I realized Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Singapore and pretty much all of Asia celebrates Chinese New Year... er, or what I call Lunar New Year. Mainly because Asia New Year and Oriental New Year isn't really as catchy. So sorry New Hampshire, half the world celebrates Chinese New Year, so I'm not as strange as you made me out to be.

There is a ton of traditions that you can happily look up on the handy, dandy web. But my friends and I made up our own tradition, which is Chinese Hot Pot night. Also known as Japanese Shabu-Shabu and as I drove by a place on Kapahulu, found out there's a Thai version too.

But this isn't your regular restaurant version. We are making hot pot at home because this is a party. But you can make it for regular dinner, just make sure there's at least 8 hearty eaters at the table.

Things to note:
- There is a major amount of prep and making things look good. This is easy but extremely time consuming
- Surprise: Asian ingredients abound, so you need an Asian grocery or Chinatown nearby
- Technically, this isn't a recipe, it's a framework for a party so you can make substitutions as necessary
- We have 2 hot pots because we had someone who was allergic to shellfish. So there was a shrimp and a non-shrimp hot pot. Every guest was told upon entry because this was a family event and no heavy drinking was involved, everyone remembered. Put a sign up if your friends are prone to forgetfulness moments.
- As much as I love this growing up and was completely satisfied with it, my father would insist on another course because 'soup is not dinner.' We always have jai (a traditional New Year's Dish) and a few other things. Plan accordingly for your guests.

Jai, I don't make it but I can tell you its delicious

-meats shaved thin such as chicken,beef, pork. Can be found prepped at Asian markets, try the meat counter but sometimes they are in the frozen section.
-fish, a firm white fish is fine (avoid salmon) cut into bite size pieces
-shrimp, cleaned but shell and head still attached (if you are traditional)
-beef balls
-fish balls
-chicken balls
-chinese noodles, fresh or par boiled
-cabbage, spinach or kale (or any hearty green that looks good and fresh at the market)
-chicken broth or stock

Suggestions for saucing station:
The basics are soy sauce and oyster sauce, but there's usually a huge variety of sauces at the store. If you are still stumped call up all your friend and have them each bring 1 Asian sauce from their pantry, it can actually get overwhelming if it is a 14 person or more party.
-soy sauce
-oyster sauce
-hot sauce
-garlic oil
-sesame oil
-chili oil
-hoison sauce
-sweet and sour

-rice cooker (or electric wok or an hot plate with a wide pot)
-Every plate/platter in your house
-Individual Bowls
-Giant Dining room table (or a folding 6' table, 2 if you got 'em)

Set up:
The night before (or earlier if you have freezer space) start making platter of stuff you want in the soup. Take a platter, put down greens on the bottom of the plate and very prettily place raw food on top. I've seen restaurants go really fancy with this and you can check out photos here, here and here.

We ended up with:
Hot Pot Table

Not the Hot Pot Table

Wrap in plastic and refrigerate or freeze if more than 2 days away.

Day of party:
Put the rice cooker or electric wok in the center of the table. Fill it with broth, wine and broth, bland soup, water with ramen packets and hot sauce or anything besides straight water. Turn on the heat before guests arrive to get it to a boil.

Put out platters of raw food. Now there's some brains that are necessary for this part. RAW FOOD ITEMS SHOULD NOT TOUCH COOKED FOOD ITEMS. Potentially can be bad. Really bad. Don't risk it. This can be challenging for children and non-foodies so if you have to give a lesson do, but chopsticks for raw chicken should stay with the raw chicken and not pick up that hot beef ball that fell out of the ladle. Bad.

Also bad: using your eating chopsticks to fill up the pot with raw food then eating
Also bad: putting your food on an empty raw food platter because you are waiting for someone to eat it

I know it sounds hard but after a few hot pot nights everyone will get the jive, just keep lots of utensils and bowls readily available and put empty platters immediately in the sink.

Get everyone to stand or sit around the pot. When it is at a boil start loading it up with items of your choice. I go to the platter closest to me and put in 3-4 times the amount I plan to eat because this is family style. Hopefully everyone else does the same. When there's a good amount of stuff in there, close the lid and wait for it to come back to a boil. I use this time to mix up a sauce and have a drink.

Take your favorite sauce additions and mix it around in your bowl.
Personal favorite: Mix oyster sauce, roasted garlic, sesame oil and a dash of hot sauce. Then crack an egg on the bottom. The hot soup cooks the egg but the yolk stays runny. It is delicious. But feel free to vary yours as you see fit, experiment and make suggestions to other people. 

When the pot comes to a boil take off the lid. It's now a first come, first serve in goodies. I actually will only take a few bites in the beginning round because I like when the soup starts getting flavored from all that food. Then I go in when other people are full and get a ladle of soup and all the goodies.

Eat until pot is empty. Fill up with food again. Top with more broth if it gets to low. When everyone is full do one more load where you cook everything, wrap up the leftovers and give it away as people leave or freeze for future use.

Party on!  
Gong hay fat choy!

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