The Best Chinese Hot Pot Ingredients
Sliced Beef, Lamb and Pork (肥牛／肥羊／五花肉)
The most basic but still incredibly delicious meat you can order for any of the hot pots we mentioned last week. You can order beef, chicken, pork or lamb, but beef and lamb are must tries. It’s typically sliced paper thin so that it will cook quicker while still having enough surface area to absorb the delicious oils in the broth. When the meat is ready to eat, it will literally melt in your mouth.
Meat for hot pot can also come in meatball form. They are quite easy to cook as they only take 4–5 minutes and will float back to the surface when they are ready to be eaten. Sometimes, you can even get meatballs with cheese, soup or other ingredients inside. They are much heavier than other meat options so be careful not to get too full too quickly.
Fried Pork (小酥肉)
It may seem counterintuitive to put something already cooked, let alone fried, into the hot pot to cook, but you can put fried pork, called 小酥肉, into the hot pot to get a little bit more flavor from the broth, especially spicy broth. Since the meat is already cooked, you only need to stick it into the broth for a few seconds. Any longer and it will get soggy.
Sliced Fish Fillet (鱼片)
Whether it’s catfish (鲶鱼), mullet (鲻形目), snakehead fish (黑鱼), cod (鳕鱼) or any other type of fish that might be on the menu, sliced fish fillets are a classic seafood addition to any hot pot. The pieces of fish are sliced then to make cooking them in the boiling broth much easier. Fish tend to be featured more in the southern China-styled hot pots, like in Macau, Hong Kong and Guangdong, but can be ordered at any hot pot restaurant.
Squid for hot pot comes in two different forms: body and tentacle. Fresh squid has a spongey texture to it and is either left as the body or separated into tentacles. Squid is good at soaking up the delicious flavors of the hot pot broth, so it’s important to pick the right kind of broth to increase flavor. The body of the squid is usually the softer meat while the tentacles are chewy. Squid is naturally salty, and it’s important to find the right dipping sauce to complement the taste and texture.
Minced Shrimp Slide (虾滑)
Shrimp slide is a special kind of seafood ball you can put in hot pot. The shrimp is minced very fine and mixed with water and flour to get a thick gooey paste. It’s usually served in a scoop instrument with spoon to make your own fish balls from it. All you have to do is slide balls of the shrimp from the scoop into the hot pot using the tool, hence the name. Depending on the restaurant, they can also come premade or in a cake paste to make your own. When the balls are ready, they will float and be very soft.
Lotus Root (藕片)
The first time I saw lotus root in China, I seriously thought it was pig snout. But it’s not. It’s a root vegetable, and quite delicious I might add. It’s a good substitute for potato. It’s very starchy and crisp when raw, but when cooked in the boiling hot pot, it becomes a little bit softer and flavorful. It absorbs the flavors from the hot pot very well but will sink to the bottom, so you’ll have to fish it out. Depending on how crispy or soft you want your lotus root, it can take longer to cook than most vegetables. Next time, try lotus root instead of potato.
Sprouts are an easy, cheap and light vegetable addition to any hot pot. They usually come in large quantities (a pile) on a plate that might seem intimidating at first, until you remember how light they are. The arrive at your table cool and crisp, but when you shovel them into the boiling broth, they will go limp and be ready to eat fairly quickly. I like to combine them with other items, like meat and seafood to add different textures and flavors.
Baby Cabbage (娃娃菜)
We all know the huge Chinese cabbages that are oddly worshipped. I’ve even seen the huge jade cabbage (art I guess). This is the smaller version of that. Baby cabbage is hearty leafy green vegetable that is worth giving a shot. Unlike spinach, baby cabbage has thicker stems, so it takes a few minutes longer to cook. But they still absorb lots of soup and spice from the broth with their large leaves, so they are best left for the end of the hot pot. When they are cooked, they come out a little bit sweet.
Oyster (Ping Gu) Mushrooms (平菇)
The Ping Gu mushroom is a very common mushroom found in a lot of Asian cuisines for soups and sauces. It is called the Oyster Mushroom because the cap fans out like the shellfish it’s named after. Chinese people love adding Ping Gu mushrooms to their hot pot because of its taste and health benefits. While the taste is mild, it’s fairly sweet and serves as a good replacement for meat. It is also linked to lowering cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure.
Golden Needle Mushrooms (金针菇)
Golden Needle Mushrooms, know as enoki in Japanese, are a must have in any hot pot. These long, thing white mushrooms are absolutely delicious, especially in the chili soup of Chongqing Spicy Hot Pot. They have a crisp texture, even when soaked. You know they are ready to eat when they have wilted from the soup, which usually only takes 30 seconds to a minute. They are high in antioxidants and are believed to be linked to lowering your risk of cancer.
Black Wood Ear Mushroom (黑木耳)
While not very popular in Western Cuisines, the Black Wood Ear Mushroom thrives in Chinese dishes due to it’s medicinal qualities. It’s use dates all the way back to the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907). This mushroom has more of a soft, jelly-like consistency and is thought to cure colds and fevers. While not edible raw, you can cook it in the soup for a just a few minutes. Black Wood Ear Mushrooms don’t have much taste themselves, but they soak in all the flavors of the soup, so it’s important to pick a flavorful broth for hot pot.
Soft Tofu (嫩豆腐)
The most common type of tofu that everyone probably knows about is Soft Tofu. It is undrained and unpressed so it contains the highest mositure content, which is what makes it so soft. Even blunt chopsticks will slice right through it. The bland tofu absorbs some of flavor in hot pot, so the soup and sauces are extremely important. Since tofu is already cooked, you just warm it up in the hot pot, making it gooey and delicious. Be careful, it will be molten hot.
Frozen Tofu (冻豆腐)
When soft tofu gets frozen, the moisture crystalizes and the tofu turns yellow-ish. While it is just frozen soft tofu, it has a completely different taste and texture. Since the moisture is frozen out, it reabsorbs a lot of water from the hot pot broth. Unlike the soft and gooey fresh tofu, frozen tofu gets the hot pot flavors embedded within its spaces and has a much more bouncey feel to it.
Fried Tofu Puffs (油豆腐)
These deep fried tofu puffs are made by cutting tofu into squares and deep frying it. If the water gets squeezed out before getting fried, they will come out light and airy and float in hot pot. If the tofu is frozen before being deep fried, it will be heavier in the middle and sink in hot pot. Either way, they’re deliciously crispy on the outside and the broth will simply add flavor.
Cellophane Noodles (粉丝)
These see-thru noodles go by many names in English: glass noodles, crystal noodles, Chinese vermicelli, and bean thread noodles. Regardless the name, these clear noodles are a great add to any hot pot. They are typically quite thin, and when they are pulled out of the soup, they become slippery and spongey. When placed in clear soup, they look like they basically disappear. They are made with mungbeans and water, so they don’t have a lot of taste themselves, but they absorb a lot of flavors from the sauce and soup.
Potato Noodles (土豆粉)
Potato Noodles are used in a lot of different Chinese noodle dishes, so odds are you’ve had them before. But you’ve probably never seen them uncooked before. When they come to the table, they are brittle and stiff and get softened by the boiling soup. Fully cooked, they are very soft, chewy, whiter and thicker than the glass noodles. They are known for their savory natural taste and aren’t as greasy as other noodles. They’re a little bit heavier than some of the other noodles, but they are an old school classic (going back to the Ming Dynasty).
Broad Noodles (宽粉)
These wide noodles are actually made from sweet potato. Their width varies based on region and chef, but all of them get slippery and oily when cooked in hot pot broth (due to the special type of sweet potato flour used). They are naturally sweet but are great at retaining the flavor of the broth and sauce they are dipped in. Sesame, soy and peanut sauces are the best for this type of noodle, as they complement the natural sweet taste.
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