hot pot – photo courtesy of Serious Eats

Your hot pot guide for a clutch Chinese New Year dinner

Chinese New Year, which recognizes the first day of the Chinese lunar calendar, is the most important traditional festival in China. For most people, the new year is a joyous occasion, generally celebrated with an elaborate dinner that brings together an otherwise distant family. In the states, however, Chinese and Chinese American families do not always have time off from school or work to ring in the holiday properly. Luckily, there’s hot pot – the ingenious and cost -effective way to feed all your relatives on New Year’s day, especially when it happens to fall on a Monday (February 8, 2016). Here’s how to do it up right:

EQUIPMENT

THE ESSENTIALS
To prepare your hot pot, you’ll need a pot and a portable butane burner. Look for a pot with a separator down the middle so that you can prepare two types of broths simultaneously.

Hot Pot by Barry Pousman via Flickr

ACCESSORIES
Once you’ve got the basics down, you’ll need some bowls, chopsticks and sauce dishes. Mini strainers are also recommended – just in case you need to extricate rogue fish balls, lost in the sea of hot pot broth.

Hot Pot Strainers - Photo Courtesy of Serious Eats

INGREDIENTS

1. BROTH: The broth is essential to the hot pot experience. Although it is possible to make your own with natural ingredients, pre-packaged and msg-laden varieties can be purchased at the Chinese supermarket if you’re strapped for time. Divide your hot pot in half in order to prepare two separately flavored broths – spicy and non-spicy are the usual go-to’s.

Hot Pot - Photo Courtesy of Alpha via Flickr

2. MEAT / SEAFOOD:
Have your pick in the type of protein for the communal hot pot. Traditionally, meat is sliced very thinly so that it can be cooked in a few seconds. Thaw and slice your own meat before your hot pot dinner or purchase pre-sliced packages.

Hot Pot - Photo Courtesy of The Table Top Cook

3. CARBS:
Enjoy your proteins with noodles, rice cakes, and/or a bowl of rice. Have them all even. (We’re not judging you).

Hot pot rice cakes - Photo Courtesy of Serious EatsHot Pot Noodles - Photo Courtesy of Food in a Minute

4. VEGETABLES:
A healthy diet includes loads of veggies, which may or may not help you balance out your sudden carb intake. Typical varieties for hot pot include bok choy, napa cabbage, watercress, etc.

hot pot vegetables - Photo Courtesy of Phenu

5. FISH BALLS / MUSHROOMS:
No hot pot is complete without fish balls and a side of mushrooms. Fish balls, which are made from fish paste, come in a large variety of shapes and sizes; some are even made of lobster and shrimp! For mushrooms, Shiitake and Enoki are popular choices because they soak up the broth well.

fishballs hot pot - photo courtesy of First We Feast
Hot Pot mushrooms - Photo Courtesy of Oscar Banquet

6. SAUCE:
Two words: peanut sauce.

You’ll be surprised with what it goes with. Dipping sauce, however, is completely optional. Create one suited to your taste buds. Otherwise, a sesame oil, chili flakes, scallions + soy sauce combo is always safe.

Hot Pot Sauces - Photo Courtesy of Phenu

Now that your Chinese New Year dinner plans are set, sit back and relax a little. The beauty of hot pot is that you can toss almost anything into and it’ll still taste good. After all, why cook everything separately, when you can have it all in one pot?