Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Protein Orgy - Chinese Style

For several years now, my friend LaRaine has been hosting a winter hot pot party at her place. A "hot pot" is sorta like Chinese fondue, in which bits of raw meat and seafood are cooked at the table in a pot of hot broth and then dipped in a sauce before eating.

For this particular party, there were eight attendees and enough food for at least a dozen. Check out the spread.

On the left side of the table, we have a divided pot, one side with vegetable stock for the two vegetarians in attendance, and the other side with seafood stock. Surrounding the pot are individual dishes of thinly sliced pork, chicken, beef, tuna, flounder, sea bass, scallops, squid, shrimp, smoked tofu, fried tofu, firm tofu, fish balls and shrimp balls. It's not all protein - there were also 3 or 4 kinds of noodles, greens like napa, spinach, and watercress, enoki and king oyster mushrooms, plus cucumber, zucchini, and bell pepper. Oh, and homemade dumplings and chunks of taro root.

Whew!

On the right half of the table, we have more of the same, but with a cauldron of a completely different stock.

Notice that the place settings each have a bowl, chopsticks, and a wire basket. The basket is used to place individual servings of meats into the water to cook. Every kind of meat had its own fork so there would be no cross-contamination. Other items were dropped into the hot liquid as communal foods, so when you lifted your basket, you might find a bonus fish ball or chunk of tofu on top. And occasionally you'd get the even bigger bonus of another diner's shrimp that had floated out of their basket and conveniently settled on yours.

In the bowls, diners mixed their own dipping sauce from a selection of Chinese BBQ sauce, a sambal oelek-style chile sauce, and a soy-based sauce with scallions.

Once the meat is cooked, I like to dump it directly into my bowl of sauce, using the chopsticks to then transfer the items into my greedily open maw. After several baskets-full of stock-dripping protein, the sauce gets watered down to a soupy consistency that I sometimes eat with my spoon before replenishing with more sauces. At the end of the meal, everyone is supposed to partake of the cooking liquid, which after having so many meats simmering in it for the past hour or so has become rich and flavorful. However, by that point, most of the diners are dangerously full and few if any can even stomach the thought of adding the liquid to the dregs left in their bowls and consuming still more.

This year's feast was an especially convivial one, fueled by Viognier and Rosé, and several filthy minds who enjoyed making puns on the word "meat." And a good time was had by all. I'm already looking forward to next year. :)