HOW TO MAKE SICHUAN MA-LA HOT POT ON THANKSGIVING

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WE, THE POT-HEADS, NOW ALL DO THIS…

THIS IS HOW, THROUGH NUMBING PAIN, THAT WE GIVE THANKS.

Do you know that the Chinese applies an ancient wisdom originated along the Yellow River, to an age-old question that has long plagued the minds of all mankind?  It’s the monthly family gathering next weekend…  It’s the awkward dinner with newly-made friends/colleagues…  It’s the unavoidable meal with the in-laws…  Hell, It’s the freaking birthday of Confucious!  No matter what the occasions really, we all found ourselves asking:  What should we eat for that?  True, it’s no easy question but the ancient wisdom has answers.  Yes.  Yes, we have an answer to that.  All of that.  As a matter of fact, it’s a one single answer, a last minute answer if need be, a one-pot-fix-all solution to any gatherings large or small, where no one, truly, wants to bear the responsibility of putting the foods on the table.  To that we say…

Let’s do hot pot!

It’s not overstating to call it a wisdom.  Hot pot is the perfect answer to any large dinner parties, especially where there’s equal importance to being well-fed, as well as simultaneously, feeling well-entertained.  First of all, instead of conjuring a meal of a dozen courses, there’s only one cooking to be done.  Then instead of being splattered into small groups, every guests gravitates from a feasting table with a dramatic pot of boiling stock in the center, and everyone cooks what they like -from an array of offerings such paper-thinly sliced meats, dumplings, meatballs, vegetables, even starches like noodles and fried doughs (yes!) – and how they like it, all from and in the mothership of a pot that just gets better and better throughout the meal.  Perhaps there’s something to the theatrics, or to having a “center piece” so lively and fluid… but what I can tell you is this, that strangely, the conversations around a hot pot table, is never cold.

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But the thing is, whether you are an experienced veteran of this tradition or an enthusiastic new comer, sooner or later, you are gonna find out an inconvenient truth about the progression of hot-potism, and that is, it’s a life-long addiction with several easy and friendly-looking gateway soup-base.  First, as we were little, we started with the most benign soup-base with plain stock., mildly flavoured with onions and whatnots… you know, the happy meal of hot pots.  Then later on in life, perhaps a little curious experiments with more exotically flavoured base like miso or curry, just to test the boundaries a bit.  But as we edged on into adulthood, getting bolder and the tolerance running higher, we all at one point standing in front of a sensory-attacking pot of boiling red, and realizing that every miss-step made was to lead to this final destination where there’s no turning back from.

We, the pot-heads, eventually all started doing this – the radioactive… face-melting… the un-quitable, sichuan ma-la (numbing and spicy) hot pot.

If there’s rehab for food-addictions, this, is what it should be built for.

Sichuan ma-la hot pot is not for the faint of heart.  It can destroy family… toilets.  It can “tear you apart”.  Sichuan ma-la hot pot, will hurt you.  But just like all other highly addictive narcotics, the danger lies in the fact that yes you know it hurts, and yes you know it’s bad, and yet, you just keep going back, and back… and back for more.  It’s the ultimate mystery in the clashes between pain and pleasure, the last standing socially acceptable form of torture inflicted by self.  It’s kind of stuff that comes with a warning, and leaves with a scar.

But I am no good.  I will be… the worst sponsor ever.  Because I am here today, not only to tell you how to make an authentic sichuan numbing/spicy hot pot at home, but to tell you how to do it full-blown on one of the biggest, children-infested… family-oriented… PG-13 event of the entire year.  I’m not even sorry.  Fellas, here’s how to make sichuan ma-la hot pot, for freaking Thanksgiving.  Because this is how, through numbing pain, that we give thanks…

As the ancient wisdom goes, a last-minute answer if need be.  So there’s no time to waste.  Let’s rock’n roll.

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You will need one turkey around 8 lbs/4 kg for this recipe, and it will feed 6 people generously.

The turkey will be divided into 3 different parts:  Skinless breasts to be sliced thinly, boneless legs and thighs to be ground into meatballs, then the bones to be made into stock.  You can save the skin from the breasts, in combination of other fat such as chicken skins of beef fats, to be rendered as part of the oil that goes into making the “red oil”.

Note *: Now let’s talk about the ratio of the “red/chili oil” a bit.  To be most authentic, 100% of the “red oil” is made with beef fat.  That’s right.  It’s a little crazy.  But to be more forgiving, for convenience sake and liver sake, we are going to use a combination of  animal fat (in this case, turkey/chicken fat) and vegetable oil.  I used 1 cup of turkey/chicken fat rendered from turkey skin and chicken skin, plus 3 cups of vegetable oil.  You can increase the ratio of turkey/chicken fat if you want, but I will not go lower than 1 cup.  Of course you can also use duck fat (without any flavourings from herbs such as thyme or rosemary) if you have it on hand.

Note **:  Then about the Chinese herbs/spices that go into flavouring the “red/chili oil”.  The list of this category from different recipes can easily go much longer than what we have here, but I feel like I’ve gotten it down to a concise and obtainable list.  Three of the ingredients are less common (zi-cao/紫草, liang-jiang/良姜, mu-xiang/木香), but you can literally go to any Chinese herbs shop/Chinese medicine shop in any Chinatown, hand them the entire list and they’ll be able to weight it for you in grams (which is why I included the Chinese character in the recipe-list just in case that’s what you want to do).  If you absolutely have no access to these 3 less common ingredients, omit them.  It’s not going to make a catastrophic compromise in the overall result.

If you’re wondering why use chicken bouillon, instead of just salt, when you already have a perfectly good stock-base going on… it’s for the MSG.  You think ANY of the sichuan hot pot joint, or ANY hot pot joint for that matter, that you ate from were without MSG?  Think again.  Not negotiable.


TURKEY AND PORK STOCK:

  • The bones, neck and inners of a 8 lbs/4 kg turkey
  • 1 pig trotter, cut into 4 chunks
  • 4~5 large slices of ginger and scallion for blanching (for removing unwanted smells/tastes from the bones)
  • 1 large onions, cut into quarters
  • 10 cups (2.3 liter) water

For more details on stock.

Add all the bones, neck and inners, and the pig trotter into a large pot with slices of ginger and scallions.  Fill the pot with water until the ingredients are fully covered, then bring to a boil and let cook for 1 min.  Remove the all the bones/neck and trotters, then rinse under water to clean off any scums and impurity.  Discard the pot of blanching water, and wash the pot clean.  Return the bones/neck and trotter back to the pot, with 1 large cut onion and 10 cups of water.

If you’re using pressure-cooker like I did, cook the stock according to the manufacture’s instruction, for 1 hour.  Then after the pressure’s released, open the pot and dismantle/crush the bones/neck/meats/trotters as good as you can with a tongs (to release maximum flavour), and continue to cook over medium heat (the stock should be actively boiling) for another hour until the stock turns opaque.  You can add more water along the way to keep the stock at around 9~10 cups.  When done, strain the stock and discard the bones/meats.

If not using pressure-cooker, cook the stock partially covered over medium to medium-low heat (to keep the stock actively boiling) for 3 hours, until the stock turns opaque.  During half-way when the bones/trotters are soft enough, dismantle/crush the bones/neck/meats/trotters as good as you can with a tongs (to release maximum flavour).  You can add more water along the way to keep the stock at around 9~10 cups.  When done, strain the stock and discard the bones/meats.

INGREDIENTS TO GO INTO THE HOT POT:

  • Turkey meatballs:
    • 22 oz (620 grams) boneless turkey legs and thigh with skin, ground or minced
    • 1/2 cup finely diced celery
    • 1/2 cup finely diced scallions
    • 1 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
    • 1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
    • 1 tsp ground white pepper

Have your butcher grind the turkey legs/thigh for you, or flash-freeze them for 1 hour until firm, then run in a food-processor until finely minced.  Mix the ground turkey evenly with finely diced celery, scallions, cornstarch, fish sauce and ground white pepper.  Shape into meatballs and set aside.  Drop them into the hot pot to serve.

  • Sliced turkey breast:

Trim skinless turkey breast into an uniformly shaped chunk, then slice it as thinly as you can with a sharp knife.  To serve, poach them in the hot pot only for a min until just cooked.

  • Other recommended store-bought ingredients:
    • Sliced beef short-ribs, or lambs for hot pot (purchasable in the meat-freezer section of Asian supermarkets)
    • Hot pot fish balls, or squid balls made from ground fish and squid.
    • SLICED PUMPKINS! because it’s Thanksgiving…
    • Medium-firm tofu, cut into large cubes
    • Frozen tofu, cut into large cubes
    • Duck blood-cake, cut into large cubes
    • Vegetables such as cauliflowers, mushrooms, and etc
    • Chinese fried dough/savoury churro, you-tiao
    • Noodles that doesn’t thicken the soups: such as glass noodles, Japanese udon, and etc

CONDIMENTS FOR DIPPING:

  • Toasted sesame paste
  • Toasted sesame oil
  • White rice vinegar
  • Light soy sauce
  • Finely diced Chinese leeks, scallions, cilantro, garlic and ginger

SICHUAN “MA-LA” HOT POT BASE:

  • To soak the spices: (see note **)
    • 1/2 cup (20 grams) Chinese small dried chilis, whole
    • 3~4 (3 grams) star anise/八角
    • 1 large (3 gram) black cardamon/草果
    • 1 whole (3 grams) nutmeg/白蔻
    • 7 whole cloves/丁香
    • 1 large stick (5 grams) cinnamon/桂皮
    • 7~8 (5 grams) dried bay leaves/香葉
    • 1 tbsp (5 grams) fennel seeds/茴香
    • 1 tbsp (8 grams) cumin seeds/小茴香/孜然
    • 1 tbsp (5 grams) white peppercorns/白胡椒
    • 5 grams zi-cao/紫草, if available
    • 3 grams liang-jiang/良姜, if available
    • 2 grams mu-xiang/木香, if available
    • 1 cup (240 ml) boiling water
  • 4 cups (950ml/800 grams) total of vegetable oil and turkey/chicken fat (see notes * on the ratio of different oil/fat)
  • 1/2 cup + 3 tbsp (200 grams) sichuan douban/broad bean chili paste
  • 1/2 cup (115 grams/ml) Chinese rice wine
  • 12 cloves garlic, smashed
  • 5~6 large slices (25 grams) ginger
  • 1 stalk (20 grams) lemongrass, cut into chunks
  • 1 cup (90 grams) sichuan chili flakes, or Korean chili flakes
  • 1/2 cup (35 grams) ground red sichuan peppercorn
  • 3/4 tsp curry powder
  • 5 cups (1200ml) turkey and pork stock
  • To add before serving:

Must make this the day ahead.

With a scissor, cut everything under “to soak the spices” into small chunks (leave the dried chilis whole).  Pour 1 cup of boiling water over and let sit for 30 min ~ 1 hour.  Strain and reserve the liquid.

In a large deep pot, combine 4 cups total of vegetable oil and turkey/chicken fat (see note *), sichuan douban/broad bean chili paste, Chinese rice wine, smashed garlic, sliced ginger and lemongrass.  Set over high heat while stirring constantly until the mixture comes to a gentle simmer, then lower the heat down to medium~medium-low to keep it bubbling, and continue to stir and cook for about 10~15 min until all the moisture/liquid has evaporated.  Add the sichuan chili flakes (or Korean chili flakes), all the soaked spices and 1/2 of the soaking liquid.  Bring the mixture back to a gentle simmer, then continue to stir/cook for another 15~20 min until all the added moisture/liquid has also evaporated.  Now add the ground red sichuan peppercorn and curry powder, then stir and cook for another 1 min.  Turn off the heat and add 5 cups of turkey and pork stock.  Mix evenly then let sit overnight.

To serve, strain the mixture (press on it to extract as much liquid as you can) and discard all the solid.  You should now have a hot pot-base with about 50% red/chili ol, and 50% stock.  You can now skim off some of the “red/chili oil”, and add more stock into the pot, to adjust the heat level you desire (the more oil in the pot, the hotter it is).  I would say 4 parts red/chili oil : 6 parts stock/liquid is a starting point.  Keep the extra red/chili oil on the side so you can add it back later if needed.

Now add 3 large scallions, whole dried chilis and whole red sichuan peppercorns to the base.  Season with 2 tbsp granulated chicken bouillon and salt to taste.  Bring to a boil, and we are ready to rock’n roll.  (As the hot pot cooks, liquid will evaporate, so keep adding more stock or water and reseason as needed).

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27 Comments

  • This is fantastic! You know what’s even better (in my opinion, anyway)? Ma la xiang guo (sort of the “dry” hot pot”). Any chance this could be adapted to turn into that?

    • James: Hahahaa i know what you’re talking about. I love that, too! I’m not sure if the same recipe can be adapted into that though. Ma-la-xiang-guo probably uses a lot less ingredients. Further research needed :)

  • My partner was full-on whining a few days ago about how much he misses hot pot. I’d never heard of it, and was FASCINATED. I had one reservation however – not of the consequences of the facemelting spicies, but rather, I was wondering if the stock heat is enough to kill any bacteria from the raw meat being dipped in it. I’ve had a LOT of food poisoning bouts, so gotta ask!

    Anyhoo, I’m so excited to have this recipe! I’m thinking of surprising him with it one of these days :)

    • Kimithy, Hahahaa.. seriously, I don’t think any micro-organism can survive in that pot… Most people don’t cook sliced beef/lamb all the way through, to retain their soft texture. But with turkey of course you’ll need to cook it all the way, but not to the point it gets tough. Cook until it isn’t pink anymore, then it’s done.

    • Anika, I’m using a ceramic electric burner that works for aluminum pots as well (it’s pretty great). It’s a safer but more expensive option to gas burner that uses a canister? But those are more commonly available.

      • Ooh – glad Anika asked this (and you responded), I’m putting a similar ceramic tabletop burner on my wishlist now. The gas canister burners scare the crap out of me.

  • This looks insane. My husband and I eat Hatch green chile in our house knowing that it’s going to rip right through us, but we can’t get enough. This feast of epic proportions that you’ve laid out here is officially on my life list.

  • You are amazing! Thank you for detailing this. Our family hot pot is a watery mess compared to this. My SIL loves the spicy; maybe for New Year’s?

  • THIS IS GORGEOUS! I am so enthusiastic about this. My husband and I live in Taiwan and he was teaching til 9 on Thanksgiving night, so we just did roasted duck on the weekend. Mostly because turkey isn’t so easy to find around here and I didn’t want to make the trek to Costco. We’ve recently just been introduced to the beauty of ginger duck, which is basically an intensely aromatic, flavorful hotpot that is especially perfect during the winter. I was already thinking of sharing another pot of ginger duck with friends for Christmas. I love your description of the hotpot addiction–we are definitely potheads in the same sense!

  • i think under the list of ingredients, “vegetables such as cauliflower…” should be expanded, or at least to specify what many consider an absolutely mandatory leafy green for hot pot: chrysanthemum leaves (茼蒿 tong hao, or the related 蒿子杆 haozi gan). i see it in your photos, but this should be explicitly delineated to newcomers.

  • Hi it sure looks amazing ! Just want to find out ..is it a must to keep this mixture overnight ??

  • I can use the electric rice pot as a burner instead of the ceramic one. Really it’s a great invention.

  • I may be a little late to the party, but I love Asian food and this sounds really good. However I’m a little intimidated by the long ingredient list and the process. Is it as difficult as it seems?

  • Oh my god. As if I ever had any doubts about your recipes before. . . You might be my savior, Mandy. My sister’s former roommate was a Szechuanese student here in the States for university and he would always bring us back packages of his local Chongqing hotpot oil whenever he came back from a trip home. So spicy and flavorful yet balanced. But, sadly, we’ve lost contact and even the best, most recommended hotpot kit available here is no match (too sour, too much cumin, generally unbalanced). This is happening. Definitely happening. I can’t wait to try it out!

    Also, I think it’s so clever to use the turkey like that. A very good idea.

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