Now that I’m back in the U.S., one of the things I miss most about my two-year stint in Beijing is a spicy Sichuan hot pot meal.
I miss the warm restaurants we’d walk into in the fall and winter. My frozen fingers would immediately thaw in the presence of dozens of bubbling, steaming pots of soup, surrounded by groups of hungry diners with their chopsticks in constant motion.
Everyone would pick and choose what they wanted, drop food into the pots of bubbling broth, and eat/cook until stuffed to the gills and nearly impervious to the winter cold.
Let’s talk about how to make your very own Sichuan Hot Pot!
Remembering Sichuan Hot Pot In China
There was one hot pot place in particular that I was fond of. I won’t name names, but this particular hot pot chain’s biggest competitive differentiator was their ability to provide excellent service to customers.
I’m not sure if this story’s true, but one of my Chinese friends told me that she once wanted to order a certain kind of tofu from the menu, but they’d run out. The waiter promptly left the table, ran to the nearest grocery store, and picked up the tofu she wanted.
There was also this certain type of hand-pulled noodle that you could order, and a guy in a paper hat would come out of the kitchen with a wad of dough, and start doing this kind of twirly dance with it as he stretched the dough into noodles. Food AND entertainment? What else could I ever want from life?
ANYWAY, my point is…the fact that this place’s biggest competitive differentiator was service is somewhat telling. Ultimately, Sichuan hot pot is a relatively standard thing.
What You Need to Make Hot Pot At Home
All you need for Sichuan Hot Pot is a big spicy hot pot of boiling broth, a bunch of fun things to cook in it, and an assortment of things to make your own dipping sauce. A hot pot experience is ultimately what you make of it.
You’re in control of what kind of soup you want to order (spicy? not spicy? mushroom soup? chicken soup? duck soup? The world’s your oyster!), what kind of protein and veg you want to order, and what you want your sauce to taste like.
That’s why, in this Chinese Sichuan hot pot recipe, you can feel free to add or change anything you like. We’ll teach you how to make a spicy hot pot soup base, but really…to enjoy hot pot at home, all you really need is any pot of hot soup—plain broth or even boiling water would do.
We’ll also give you suggestions of the things that we like to add to our dipping sauces, as well as all the delicious dippables you can add to your hot pot feast.
One thing that you definitely need is an electric hot plate like this one. If you want to have two soup bases, one spicy and one non-spicy, you can get one of these fancy yin yang pots, which allow you to boil two different kinds of soup in one pot. Check out our Cooking Tools page for a full list of the tools and gadgets we use in our kitchen!
Sichuan Hot Pot Recipe Instructions
Make the Sichuan hot pot soup base:
*Note: if you’re not into spicy food, or just want to make your life easier, you can skip this step and just use a pot of boiling chicken stock for your hot pot. If you want to make it a little fancier, throw in a few slices of ginger.
In a wok over medium heat, add the oil and the ginger. Cook the ginger for about a minute until caramelized, making sure it doesn’t burn.
Add the bay leaves, whole garlic cloves, cinnamon stick, star anise, and cloves. Cook for another 2 minutes, until very fragrant. (Ignore that little red chili that sneaked into the photo early.)
Add the Sichuan peppercorns, whole dried red chilies, and the spicy hot pot soup base.
Cook for another 2 minutes, and then add the chicken stock. Bring to a boil and transfer to the pot you’ll be using for your hot pot meal. You want the pot to be relatively wide and at least 6 inches deep.
Make your personalized hot pot dipping sauce:
Mix together whatever combination of sauce ingredients strikes your fancy. Here are some options:
- Soy sauce
- Sacha sauce
- Chili oil or paste
- Chinese black vinegar or rice vinegar
- Sesame paste or peanut butter
- Sesame oil
- Sesame seeds
- Chopped peanuts
- Chopped cilantro
- Chopped scallions
- Chopped garlic
I personally like to take equal parts Sacha and Sesame paste (or peanut butter), and then I add chili oil, a bit of soy sauce, cilantro, scallions, and garlic. Figure out what combination works best for you!
For Sichuan Hot Pot cooking and eating:
- Thinly shaved beef or lamb
- Sliced chicken
- Assorted fish balls (you can buy these pre-made at Asian grocery stores)
- Thinly sliced fish fillets (tender white fish like tilapia or sea bass work well for this)
- Tofu sheets
- Slices of firm tofu
- Soy puffs (fried tofu puffs)
- Straw mushrooms
- Shiitake mushrooms
- Wood ear mushrooms
- Fresh noodles
- Glass noodles (mung bean vermicelli)
- Prepared frozen dumplings or wontons
- Chinese rice cakes (like these)
- Choy sum or bok choy
- Green leaf lettuce
- Napa cabbage
These ingredients are just ideas! You can also include things like fresh shrimp, other kinds of mushrooms and veggies, etc. Just make sure that if you have raw meat of any kind, that you’re cutting it thin enough to cook quickly in the boiling broth.
To assemble the hotpot, simply plug in your hot plate, place the prepared pot of broth on top, and bring to a low boil or simmer. Place all of your prepared ingredients around it, have everyone mix up their own dipping sauces, and dive in.
Each person just takes whatever they want, adds it to the pot, waits for it to cook, and then dips it into their sauce. These stainless steel wire skimmers help. Just place the food in the basket, lower it into the broth, and pull it out once it’s cooked.
As the water evaporates as you’re cooking, add boiling water to the pot as needed. You can also serve rice with this spicy Sichuan hot pot (we do), but it’s not mandatory.