How to Hot Pot, According to Food Blogger Sarah Leung | The Slowdown - Culture, Nature, Future
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A large spread of dishes with three people adding various items to a hotpot.
Courtesy The Woks of Life

Sarah Leung of The Woks of Life, the online recipe trove and cultural genealogy she’s run with her sister and parents since 2013, tells us how to make a hot pot meal at home—and why the communal East Asian dish makes for a most satisfying winter meal.

“Hot pot is incredibly varied. But a lot of your basic hot pot restaurants here in the U.S. will start by giving you a choice of broth—examples include a ‘plain’ or herbal broth, a mushroom-flavored one, a tomato-based one, and a spicy one. Then you order a range of ingredients that you cook directly in the broth, while it simmers on your table.

For the most part, the common thread that runs through all the different styles is the communal aspect, gathering everyone around one big boiling pot that sits in the middle of the table, cooking your own food in front of you and having it piping hot—so hot that every bite is almost going to burn your mouth. [Laughs] Putting in what you like, judging when ingredients are cooked, scraping the pot and seeing what’s in there is its own fun, interactive, and tactile cooking and eating experience.

That said, hot pot is totally doable with a smaller group, and there are ways to enjoy it by yourself, too. To get started, it’s easier if you have a proper hot pot set-up, with an electric hot plate and a fitted pot that goes on top. They’re relatively inexpensive, but it’s sort of a single-use cooking tool, so I understand if somebody doesn’t want to invest in that. I heard from a reader who made a hot pot in her Instant Pot by first making a broth, then putting it on the ‘sauté’ setting to get it constantly simmering. That’s not a bad option, especially for two, because the pot can be a bit deep to reach into.

The image of hot pot is that there’s a huge abundance of different ingredients—but you don’t have to go crazy, so long as there’s a nice variety. For a smaller group, I recommend having one or two items across different categories for a nice balance of textures and flavors. For example, you might choose one kind of leafy vegetable, one kind of mushroom (enoki and wood ears are my favorite), and one hard vegetable, such as lotus root, winter melon, or potato. Then add a couple of meat and seafood options, and maybe one or two starches, like noodles or rice cakes. With eight or so items, you’ve got enough to make a tasty and varied hot pot meal.

Lastly, there are the dipping sauces. Typically you pick a base, and then add other stuff to it. I personally like a sesame paste–based sauce; my mom’s more of a soy sauce–based person, and my sister really likes shacha sauce, or Chinese barbecue sauce, as her base. Chili oil is another popular one. Some people also like putting vinegar into their sauce—just a touch of it, to make it a bit tangy. One of the most important elements is the fresh ingredients you add to your sauce base—things like minced raw garlic, scallions, and fried shallots, to give it an extra layer. Everybody’s sauce preferences are different, which is great because they lend an individualized aspect to this very communal style of cooking.

As for the broth, it depends on what kind of hot pot and broth you’re having. If it’s a Sichuan base, which tends to consist mostly of very spicy chili oil, I would not plan to drink it—you’ll get more than enough flavor from just boiling and eating the ingredients. But if you’re starting with a high-quality broth, by the end, it will have gotten much more flavor after all the ingredients have passed through it—you can skim off the top and enjoy it as a soup. But it’s common to just discard it, too. That’s the beauty of hot pot: Aside from the general food-safety measure of making sure your raw ingredients have been cooked properly, there’s really no wrong way to do it.”

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After years in various kitchens, working his way up from dishwasher to cook, and ultimately chef de partie at Eleven Madison Park, Matt Jozwiak left the fine-dining world behind in 2017 to start Rethink Food NYC, a nonprofit organization that partners with restaurants and grocery stores to reduce excess food and make nutritious, Ghetto Gastro and Jozwiak’s former boss, chef Daniel Humm—as collaborators in its mission to fight food insecurity and foster a more

A split avocado in bright, moody lighting.

Extolled by New York City’s finest restaurants, from Daniel to Eleven Madison Park and abcV, as well as a growing coteriDavocadoguy, is seemingly everyone’s go-to guy for the best avocados. He keeps his supply consistently stocked and perfectly ripene

An assortment of brightly colored fruits and vegetables in close up.

Supermarkets put billions of pounds of perfectly fine, edible food to waste each year for the very silly, Goldilocks reanearly half of all harvested produce is never eaten. The home-delivery start-up Misfits Market aims to right the wrong of this senseless global food crisis, selling only produce that is certified organic, non-GMO,

An arrangement of colorful dishes in stone and clay bowls on a wood table.

Marfa may be known as a site of pilgrimage for lovers of minimalist art—its expansive desert sky, open landscape, and ofCooking in Marfa: Welcome, We’ve Been Expecting You (Phaidon). The collection of essays and recipes, featuring local ingredients and dishes, from prickly pear to chicharrón

The José Gourmet conservas line of brightly colored boxes on a white surface.

The idea of “pantry cooking” connotes a sense of resourcefulness—the humble term focused on the shelf lives of whatever Esquire food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier told us on Ep. 10 of At a Distance, canned food can be every bit as delicious as the fresh stuff, if not exceedingly so. Conservas, tinned seafood products from Spain and Portugal, can last for months, if not years, in the cupboard, but that seems topiquillo peppers stuffed with bonito tuna. Chicken of the Sea, these are not. Fortunately, you can browse and find all sorts of conservas online from grocers such as La Tienda and Chicago’s Wixter Market, and fuel those wanderlust dreams of a trip to the Iberian coast. “The other day I tried zamburiñas,” Gordinier told us on the podcast, with excitement. “Have you heard of that? See, this is interesting. I'm still seeki

Ricotta on a carving board with a cheese grater and two pieces of okra.

First came the sourdough craze; next, homemade cheese. Ricotta, to be specific. Since pandemic times, home cooking has ta recent episode of At a Distance. “For me, it was so wild how far away we had come from that, as a species—the fact that most people don’t know how to htry this recipe), requiring only two ingredients: milk and lemon. Add a bit of patience, which is something we could all stand to pract

Dr. Brian Fisher smiling and examining a pinned wasp.

Dr. Brian Fisher, an entomologist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences, has studied and identified countless species of antadvocating for an insect-focused approach to nutrition and natural conservation. Here, Fisher tells us why eating insects is a healthy practice for both our bodies and the planet.

Steven Satterfield in a hat and jacket, on a gray background.

The co-founder of Whetstone magazine and host of the food anthropology podcast Point of Origin, food writer Stephen Satterfield spent more than a decade working as a sommelier before venturing into the world of medEsquire, Food & Wine, New York magazine, and other publications, Satterfield tells us about his role as a self-described “origin forager,” and why the