Hot pot’s charms are myriad and universal: It’s a communal, customizable feast. If you’re Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, it’s also a rapid Wednesday night dinner fit for both children and culinarily accomplished adults (the chef couple own Revel and Joule in Fremont and Wallingford).
By the time sons Pike and Rye, 11 and nine, are home from school and soccer practice and Yang has dropped in from work, everyone’s hungry. “We don’t have time to prep for dinner and we don’t have a plan.” In moments like this, even accomplished chefs embrace conveniences like packaged chicken stock and store-bought mentsuyu soup base, rather than fussing with their own kombu and dashi. While European-style chicken bouillon cubes are a dinnertime nonstarter, Yang embraces Asian grocers’ deep shelves of readymade shortcuts for tasty food at home. “I don’t think you need to shy away from them.”
The restaurateur in her appreciates hot pot’s theatrical element; as a mom she digs interactive family meals. Flavorwise, her go-to version resembles Japanese-style shabu shabu, and fills everyone up with lightly poached meat and veggies. The fun part, of course, is bringing every condiment in the refrigerator to the table; children and adults each mastermind their own flavors, says Yang. “Sauces are part of our genes.”
For the Broth
- Chicken stock, at least 32 ounces
- Mentsuyu soup base, or soy sauce and salt will do in a pinch. Feel free to explore other flavors, like a spicy ma la Sichuan version.
For the Pot
- Greens, bok choy, napa cabbage, even kale
- Mushrooms, enoki, or chopped shiitake work great
- Daikon slices
- Shaved beef, one package (Asian grocers have packages that freeze well)
Premade fish cakes, available refrigerated or frozen
- Small frozen dumplings
- Fresh noodles, like udon or ramen (Dried noodles add more starch to the broth, which makes it harder to cook things in it.)
- Condiments, whatever’s in the fridge
- Tabletop butane burner. They cost about $30.
- A large, but shallow pot. Yang uses her Lodge casserole dish.
Set up your burner on the table and place your pot on top. Make sure each person has a small bowl, a ramekin for sauce, and a pair of chopsticks at the ready.
- Assemble your ingredients on trays, or even dinner plates. Yang keeps meat and vegetables separate.
- Gather every alluring condiment you can find (soy sauce, gochujang, even ketchup) and set it out. This is a great time to mix your preferred dipping sauce.
- Add chicken stock and turn the burner on. Once it’s warm, stir in soup base to taste.
- Wait until broth hits a boil, then add your first vegetables, meat, or starch. Adult groups tend to handle their own bites, but Yang’s family designates a hot pot master who dispenses cooked morsels into family members’ bowls.
- Commence tactical cooking. Yang’s strategy: napa cabbage or daikon first, to sweeten the broth. Then the first batch of shaved beef, since everyone’s hungry, and it cooks in 30 seconds.
- Poach some eggs. Slip them straight into broth or use a small colander.
- Watch the clock. “I try to time things so there’s always something cooking, and there’s something always ready,” says Yang.
- Retrieve finished items with a ladle, tongs, or chopsticks. (Check with your dining companions to ascertain double-dipping protocols.)
- Dip in sauce. Eat. Cook some more.
- Finish with a bowl of broth. “It’s the prize part of this whole experience,” says Yang. “The flavor has so much more depth from where you started.”