How to Hot Pot: This Communal Meal is Perfect for a Group  

Last Update: May 17, 2024

Steam rises toward the ceiling. Cut onions and cabbage are plucked from the soup and dunked into nutty sauce. We sit around the table, in various states of cooking and eating and laughing. Someone stands up to show pictures of their dog to the entire group. Fish cakes go in. Bushels of enoki go in. The pot seems to have no bottom, the flavors only intensifying as the broth cooks down, as the hours are slowly forgotten. 

Hot pot, or “shabu” as I knew it at home, is a dinner well-loved in parts of East and Southeast Asia. It is an elemental kind of cooking. You and a group work with a large pot of boiling liquid sitting above a heat source, blanching and boiling vegetables and protein. Inherently customizable, hot pot is a meal shaped by the traditions and flavor biases of the people sitting around the table. While a Sichuan-style hot pot requires heavy use of spices and flavored oil, Japanese shabu shabu skews the opposite way: opting for a lightly seasoned broth or, at times, water. 

Its flexibility is what makes hot pot a really wonderful and filling meal, even for a busy weeknight. The preparation is done within half an hour. Odds and ends of vegetables unused throughout the week are washed, cut, and assembled on a platter. The soup base is seasoned via dashi or a sachet of spices. A sauce is thrown together with ingredients you can find in your pantry. 

But the real magic of hot pot happens when the meal begins. It is a social experience, where everyone at the table is at once eating and cooking for themselves and others. It is akin to jazz; within a general melody, each player has a chance to improvise and follow their own interests. As the meal develops, the broth begins to take on the characteristics of what everyone puts into the pot. There is an arc of flavor that culminates in an experience that is wholly unique to that moment. 

Hot Pot Recipe for Family or Friends

In this take on hot pot, the light broth transforms over time into a complex stew as vegetables and protein are blanched, boiled, and braised. As an added bonus, the leftover stew can become a quick congee if so desired. 

Yield: 4-6 servings

Active time: 1 hour

Total time: 1 hour and 30 minutes

For the broth: 

3 quarts water

1 2-4 inch piece kombu (dried kelp that brings big umami flavors) 

½ tbsp soy sauce

½ tbsp dashi (concentrated fish stock, often found in Asian grocers) 

1 tbsp fish sauce

For the dipping sauce:

3 tbsp soy sauce

3 tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar

¼ cup lemon juice

3 tbsp water

3 tsp toasted sesame seeds

2 tsp wasabi 

3 garlic cloves, grated

2 tsp chili oil (optional)

2 tbsp peanut butter (optional)

Recommended raw vegetable and meat add-ins: 

¼-½ cup onion, sliced thinly

¼-½ cup chinese napa cabbage, leaves quartered

¼-½ cup baby bok choy

¼-½ cup scallions, cut in 1 inch segments 

¼-½ cup lotus root, sliced in coins

¼-½ cup oyster mushrooms

¼-½ cup enoki mushrooms

¼-½ cup fresh corn, quartered

1 ½ lbs beef or pork, thinly sliced

2 cups extra firm tofu, cut in cubes

1 cup fish cakes


Prep your dining area. In the center of the table, set up an electric induction grill and the main vessel you will cook and eat out of. This can be a nabe, balti dish, wok, or a 4 quart saucepan. We recommend wide-set pots and electric induction grills to give everyone access to the pot. Additionally, set out chopsticks and small dip dishes for your party.

Set the grill to max power and pour the water into your pot. Once it comes to a consistent boil, add the kombu in and turn the heat down to low. Let this simmer for ten minutes. 

In the meantime, prepare your vegetables and sauce. Cut pieces into manageable mouthfuls, understanding that some of the vegetables will shrink as they cook. 

For the sauce, whisk together the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, lemon juice, garlic, and wasabi  in a medium-sized bowl. Scatter the toasted sesame seeds over this and adjust the seasoning with water. The sauce is as crucial as the broth. While the broth cooks, the sauce is the main source of flavor and additionally cools down the food. 

When you are ready to eat, strain the kombu out of the broth and season the entire pot with the soy sauce and fish sauce. A lightly seasoned broth is key here. Turn the heat up. Once it begins to boil, gather your mates and start cooking!

There are no rules here, but here are a couple of tips I have gathered over a lifetime of hot pot: 

The vegetables will be ripping hot, coming out of the broth. Immediately dunk in the sauce to cool down the food. 

Understand that this style of hot pot is based on braising vegetables, letting them hang out for a while. Dunk rooty and thicker pieces of veg early. Afterwards, thinner components like onions and cabbage and bok choy can be added as they blanch quicker. 

Meat cooks very quickly. Once the heat is on, a couple swipes in the hot broth is all you need for the meat to go from raw to cooked. 

Surprise! Bonus Congee

This is an optional congee that can be made once most of the liquid has boiled down. Our family likes to eat this immediately, once most of the vegetables are cooked and eaten. My dad calls this addition to the hot pot formula “very Korean”. For me, this is the whole reason we hot pot in the first place. 

Yield: 4-6 servings

Active time: 5 minutes

Total time: 5 minutes

2 cups of day-old rice

1 egg

1 tbsp soy sauce

1 tsp sesame oil

Several packs of gim (seasoned seaweed)

After most of the protein and vegetables are finished and most of the broth has reduced in the pot, turn the heat up to high and bring the remaining liquid to a boil. Add in the rice and stir until well-combined. As the mixture begins to thicken, add in soy sauce and the egg. Stir quickly, so the egg incorporates into the rice. 

Once the entire mixture thickens, turn off the heat and crush gim over the top and drizzle with sesame oil. Serve immediately, piping hot. 

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Jon Kim

Jonathan Kim is a writer and poet living in Southern California. He loves cheese and pickles.

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