A hot pot party lets everyone cook their
favorite seafood in a communal pot of simmering broth. Image source: Flickr CC
I’ve always thought there’s something fundamentally human about sitting around a fire with friends or family and sharing a communal meal. I think that’s why campfire cookouts are so enduringly popular. While I love campfires, even where I live in the temperate Bay Area, outdoor campfires aren’t always practical or convenient.
For me, that’s where hot pot comes in. It’s a communal, social meal that’s completely customizable--perfect for a diverse group of friends and family on a cold night. Here’s how to plan a seafood-based hot pot party.
What Is Hot Pot?
Hot pot cooking started in Mongolia and China more than 1,000 years ago, but many countries in Asia--including my home country of Vietnam--have their own version of the hot pot. At its most basic, it’s simply cooking bits of meat and vegetables in a simmering pot of broth.
Making hot pot at home is easy provided you plan ahead. It’s great for a small gathering because it’s at once communal and individualized. Each guest chooses what items they want to eat from the array of choices presented to them. I, of course, love it with seafood, and I love that this method of cooking allows guests to try a wide variety of fresh fish and shellfish. Everyone also contributes to the flavor of the broth because the more you cook slices of fish and vegetables in the broth the deeper its flavor gets.
Throwing a hot pot party makes for an easy gathering for the host, and allows for plenty of socializing, because all the preparation is done in advance. Once your guests arrive, you’ll be able to join them and essentially cook your meal together.
Choosing Ingredients for Your Hot Pot
Offering a variety of seafood makes the meal more interesting and fun. I go for mix of fish like tuna, halibut, and salmon, and shellfish like sea scallops, shrimp, mussels, and clams. Sliced squid and precooked crab is good too. The seafood will cook more quickly if sliced thinly or cut into little bites. Cut the same size you would if you were going to stir-fry. Shrimp can be cooked in the shell or you can peel them in advance. Clams and mussels should be opened and pried free of their shells.
Once prepped, place all the seafood on a platter, wrap with foil or plastic wrap, and keep refrigerated until you’re ready to eat.
Variety is what will make the meal exciting, so I slice up vegetables, too. These will take longer to cook so make sure to slice thinly. I like carrots, fresh mushrooms, squash, celery, and greens like spinach and kale. To make things more interesting, try offering some more unusual Asian vegetables as well, like enoki mushrooms, snow pea leaves, daikon radish, and Chinese spinach. I also offer cooked rice noodles to serve on the side.
For condiments and sauces, I put out a little of everything in my cupboard—soy sauce, Sriracha, hoisin, black bean sauce, sweet and sour sauce, hot chili oil, anything you can think of that might go well with your vegetables and seafood.
The Foundation of the Meal: The Broth
The purpose of the broth is to cook your ingredients and to flavor them. Because you’ll be serving various condiments and sauces, the broth need not be highly seasoned but it should still impart some flavor. A dashi, the basic broth used in a Japanese cooking, is a good choice for a seafood-centric hot pot meal. On its own, dashi is rather bland, but the umami-rich qualities of the broth heighten the flavor of the seafood. If you want to doctor it up with garlic, green onions, Sriracha or soy sauce, by all means do. Here’s the basic recipe:
Soak kombu in a 4-quart saucepan filled with cold water for 30 minutes.
Gently warm the pot until small bubbles begin to appear, for about 10 minutes.
Remove the kombu and bring to a boil for five minutes.
Reduce heat to low and add the dried mushrooms and bonito flakes, simmering gently for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Strain through a fine sieve and return the broth to the saucepan or an electric hot pot.
Digging into the Feast: How to Serve
Hot pot is easiest with a hot plate, an electric wok, or a specially-made electric hot pot. Simply pour the broth into the saucepan or a wok and heat until it’s almost simmering. If you don’t have that equipment, you can still make hot pot, it just takes a little more work. Heat the broth on the stove and then place it on the table on a heatproof trivet. Let your guests start dipping away and once the broth begins to cool simply tote it back to the stove to heat it up again.
Now you’re ready to eat. Simply set the broth down in the middle of the table, pass the plates of seafood and vegetables, and hand out chopsticks, long forks, and small strainers (for finding pieces of seafood or vegetables lost in the broth) and let everyone start choosing what they want to eat. They’ll add what they want to the broth, then pull it out when it’s done, and add whatever sauce they wish to it on their own plates. The variety of offerings will mean that everyone has a different experience.
Fast and Fresh Online Delivery
Since you’ll be sourcing several kinds of fish and shellfish to add variety to your meal, online seafood delivery makes sense when you’re planning a hot pot party. Not only does online delivery from Daily Fresh Fish give you access to fish that’s fresher than what you’ll find at the grocery store, but it comes right your door the next day if you order before 2 pm. That time saved means you can focus on getting your friends and family around the table. Daily Fresh Fish also sells only sustainably caught or raised seafood, so you can be confident your fish is fresh and responsibly sourced.