Well, the weather’s been a bit damp lately, hasn’t it? Ok, a lot damp. There’s nothing else to do in conditions like these but to hunker down, snuggle up and get some chilli in. We’ve already definitively proven that spice makes the cold weather seem less horrible, and who am I to argue with science? Szechuan cuisine is known for its mouth numbingly hot peppercorns and chillies, and hotpot is a wonderful way to spread some warmth on even the crappiest day.
Chinese hotpot is a brilliantly communal affair, the stock simmers away in the middle of the table and guests poach their ingredients in it as they eat, fondue-style. In fact, a fondue set (or electric wok) is perfect if you want to serve it that way at home. In the spirit of not-quite-authenticity, though, I like to assemble the thinly sliced ingredients in a bowl and ladle hot stock over the top. The heat of the stock cooks the beef and choosing fillet or sirloin means it’ll be tender when served rare, but if you’re a bit nervous, pop it in the stock a minute before serving to cook through.
For the spicy stock
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns
- 3 long dried chillies
- 1 heaped tbsp chilli paste (Thai Taste do a good gluten free one)
- 3 tbsp sake
- 2 litres chicken or vegetable stock (if you happen to have some turkey stock still in the freezer after Christmas, this will work, too)
- zest of ½ orange
- 3 star anise
- 1 bay leaf
- a thumb sized piece of root ginger, grated or finely chopped
- 4 spring onions, white parts only
- a handful of dried shitake mushrooms
- a large head of pak choi, stalks only
- 250g fillet (or sirloin) steak, sliced very thinly
- 400g bean sprouts
- 100g mangetout, thinly sliced
- 75g baby sweetcorn, sliced lengthwise
- the green parts of the spring onions and pak choi, sliced
- 2 red chillies, deseeded and sliced
- 100ml chilli oil
- Heat the vegetable oil in a large saucepan and toast the Szechuan peppercorns and dried chilli for a couple of minutes.
- Add the chilli paste and stir as it sizzles and turns the oil a brilliant red colour. Pour the sake into the saucepan, then add the stock and bring to a simmer.
- Once the stock is simmering, add the orange zest, star anise bay leaf, and spring onions. Leave to simmer and infuse for about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, pour some boiling water over the shitake mushrooms to just cover and soak for about 5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the soaking water and add to the stock. You can pour the soaking water in, too, but do it carefully - there’s often gravelly bits at the very bottom of the bowl and you don't want that in your stock.
- Add the pak choi stalks and continue to simmer for ten more minutes.
- Arrange the hotpot ingredients in four bowls ladle hot stock over the top. (I tend to strain the stock at this point so that the chilli and pepper flavour doesn’t get stronger.)
- Add sliced chillies and drizzle with chill oil before serving.