When the weather turns colder nothing warms you from the inside like a big bubbling pot of fiery broth loaded up with meat, veggies, and whatever else you want. This is not a dish for the 100-degree summers of Georgia - it is best enjoyed on a cold winter's evening. The broth is made up of a store-bought hot pot soup base and either water or chicken stock for flavor. In this case we chose a Taiwanese soup base in a jar. Some beef tendon was pre-cooked in the hot pot base using a pressure cooker to soften the tough connective tissue. When cooked for a long time, beef tendon takes on a wonderful gelatinous texture and absorbs the rich flavor of the broth.
The hot pot ingredients can be quite varied and up to your own particular tastes. Usually there's thinly-sliced meat and/or seafood, vegetables, tofu, and tofu skin at a minimum. The great thing about hot pot is you can have whatever you like. On the side there's usually a sauce into which you can dip the cooked bits of stuff. My favorite is sa-cha sauce mixed with a raw egg yolk and a little soy sauce. The other sauce we like is a simple mixture of sliced scallions and vinegar. The vinegar sauce compliments pork very well, but I prefer the sa-cha sauce on everything else. I think I am a sa-cha junkie - I love it with stir-fried beef and I always use it to make a sauce for pan-fried dumplings.
For our hot-pot meats, we took the easy route of buying pre-sliced pork belly and ribeye steak at the local Super H-Mart. The pork takes a little extra attention to make sure it's cooked properly, but the beef only needs 30 seconds or so to preserve it's tender texture. We try to load up heavy on the vegetables and this time we used sliced king oyster mushrooms, enoki mushrooms, brown & white beech mushrooms, and bok choy. We also added tofu that had been previously frozen. The freezing process changes the texture and creates some holes which allow the tofu to soak up the broth. Tofu skin, purchased as dry sheets, is another tasty item which softens up in the broth and soaks up lots of spiciness. Frozen fish cakes and imitation crab meat were added for some seafood flavor, although scallops would have been good too (but so expensive!). At the end of the meal we put in some tang-oh (Garland chrysanthemum - Chrysanthemum coronarium) which soaks up a lot of the spicy oil floating on top of the broth.
This is not a meal for everyone - you have to really love spicy food. This one burns coming and going! But you can always opt for a regular soup base and enjoy it just as well. After two days in a row of this spicy stuff, we are taking a break tonight with some Peking duck (more on that later).