A detailed guide to homemade hot pot broth. Two popular versions are included: a classic Sichuan style spicy broth and a chicken stock based mild broth.
If you’ve experienced hot pot before, I’m sure you’d agree with me that it’s a super fun meal to have. Although I have published a Complete Guide to Chinese Hot Pot, I feel that broth, the base component of a tasty hot pot, deserves a dedicated post and homemade recipes.
In this post, I’m introducing two most common types of hot pot broth: Sichuan spicy broth and chicken stock based mild broth. Choose the one you prefer or use a divided Yin Yang Pot to serve both.
How to make Sichuan spicy hot pot broth
Spicy hot pot broth is my go-to choice when having Chinese hot pot (My passion for spicy food shows in my blog name). Essentially, it’s made of a concentrated, highly flavoursome soup base and water (or stock).
The most popular type, known as Hong You Guo Di/红油锅底 (meaning red oil hot pot broth), comes from Sichuan and Chongqing (a direct-controlled municipality which used to be part of Sichuan province). This type of broth has a high content of fat (usually beef tallow but can be cooking oil), a strong, sophisticated aroma and a distinctive taste of Mala/麻辣 (mouth-numbing and hot), the iconic feature of Sichuan food.
I sometimes purchase ready-made hot pot soup base in Chinese shops for convenience. I also enjoy making my own from scratch for two reasons: a) I know what goes into the broth (No preservatives, additives, flavour enhancers; b) It tastes just as good if not better!
Ingredients for the spicy soup base
To make the spicy soup base, here is what you need (find precise measurements in the recipe card below):
- Beef tallow (aka beef dripping). This key ingredient serves two purposes: It makes the broth rich and aromatic; It solidifies at room temperature so it combines all the other ingredients into a block for easy storage.
- Dried chili pepper & Sichuan pepper. Together they create the Mala flavour.
- Other spices, such as star anise, cassia cinnamon, bay leaves, tsao-ko (Chinese black cardamom), etc. They lend aroma to the oil, just like how they function in making Chinese chili oil.
- Aromatics, such as scallions, onion, coriander (aka cilantro), garlic and ginger. Believe me! The broth won’t taste as delicious without them.
- Sichuan chili bean paste & fermented black beans. These two fermented ingredients appear in many Sichuan classics, e.g. Mapo Tofu, Twice-cooked Pork Belly. They are the source of pronounced umami taste and saltiness.
- Shaoxing rice wine & sugar for balancing the flavour.
A vegan alternative
Sichuan spicy hot pot broth also has a vegan alternative. Simply replace beef tallow with neutral-flavoured cooking oil, such as rapeseed, sunflower, canola, vegetable, corn, peanut, etc.
How to choose dried chilies
Regarding dried chilies, the popular varieties in Sichuan include Facing Heaven Chili (朝天椒), Er Jing Tiao Chili (二荆条) and Lantern Chili (灯笼椒). The first one has a high level of heat, whereas the other two taste milder but more fragrant.
Use a combination of any two if available. However, this doesn’t mean you can’t use other varieties (I often use Indian or Italian ones). In fact, the choices depend on their heat level and how well it matches your tolerance.
Rehydrate dried chilies in hot water until soft. Then chop them into a coarse paste (use a blender/spice grinder or with a cleaver/knife). The soaking process makes the chilies easier to chop. It also prevents them from burning when cooked in oil in later steps.
Add Shaoxing rice wine to Sichuan pepper and set aside (I used both red and Green Sichuan pepper). They will be added at the very end. Moist Sichuan pepper has little chance to be burnt. Short exposure to heat also helps to retain its flavour.
Melt beef tallow in cooking oil over medium heat while infusing it with star anise, cassia cinnamon, bay leaves and tsao-ko. Then remove the spices and add scallions, sliced onion and coriander to fry. This step is to lend maximum aroma to the tallow.
After removing three aromatics from the oil, add the dried chili paste prepared earlier, Sichuan chili bean paste, fermented black beans, minced garlic and ginger. Simmer to fully release their flavour. Finally add sugar, sichuan pepper, along with rice wine.
Transfer everything to a heat proof container and refrigerate once cooled. Allow 24 hours to fully develop the flavour. Then you’ll have a solidified block of soup base that smells amazingly aromatic (N.B. if you replace the tallow with cooking oil, it won’t become solid).
The soup base block can be stored for a long time in the freezer. So I always make a big batch and cut it into smaller blocks. When you’re serving a hot hot meal, simply drop one or two blocks into the pot and dilute it with hot water or stock for extra flavour.
🛎 PRO TIP: This soup base can be used in other dishes too. For example, when making Sichuan Boiled Fish, Spicy Beef Noodle Soup, or Big Plate Chicken, you can use it to replace Sichuan chili bean paste.
How to make mild hot pot broth
Mild hot pot broth, known as Qing Tang Guo Di/清汤锅底 in Chinese (meaning clear broth), is a general term for non-spicy broth that typically consists of stock, aromatics, herbs and sometimes vegetables. It tastes light and very easy to prepare.
An extremely simple version can be made with water, scallions and ginger (e.g. Beijing lamb hot pot). The more flavourful one would use stock as the liquid. It can be made from pork, beef, chicken, mushroom or tomatoes.
Ingredients for the mild broth
Today I’m using chicken to make the stock from scratch, then enriching it with Shiitake mushrooms, scallions, Chinese dates (aka jujube) and Goji berries for extra flavors and colours.
Here are the simple steps to follow:
Boil a whole chicken (or leg, thigh pieces) in water with some sliced ginger. Firstly skim off any froth appearing on the surface. Then lower the heat and leave to simmer for 1½ – 2 hours until the water becomes a little milky.
Pour the liquid into the pot you plan to use for the hot pot meal. Top up with hot water if necessary. Add rehydrated shiitake mushroom, scallions, Chinese dates and Goji berries. Season with white pepper and salt.
Turn on the heat source for your hot pot. Once it starts boiling, you’re ready to dip ingredients into the broth.
Since this type of broth tastes light yet flavourful, sometimes people would eat some before cooking anything in it. As the hot pot meal progresses, the broth will reduce its volume. Simply add more hot water to top up.
🛎 PRO TIP: “What to do with the cooked chicken?” You may ask. Nothing gets wasted in my kitchen. I usually shred the meat by hand then make my favourite Sichuan Mouthwatering Chicken. Alternatively, I add it to Chow Mein, Chow Fun or use it as a topping for Dan Dan Noodles, Chongqing Noodles, Hot Dry Noodles etc.
Homemade Hot Pot Broth (Spicy and Mild)
BEFORE YOU START
For the spicy broth ( For 2-4 hot pot meals)
- 50 g dried chilies, about 2 cups (see note 1)
- 3 tablespoon Sichuan pepper, red, green or a mixture of both
- 2 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
- 110 g neutral cooking oil, about ½ cup
- 350 g beef tallow (aka beef dripping), about 12oz (see note 2 for substitute)
- 2 star anise
- 4 small pieces cassia cinnamon
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 Tsao-ko (aka Cao Guo/Chinese black cardamom), optional
- 1 onion, sliced
- 5 stalks scallions, cut into sections
- 1 handful coriander (aka cilantro)
- 120 g Sichuan chili bean paste (aka spicy Doubanjiang), about ½ cup
- 1 tablespoon fermented black beans, rinsed and coarsely chopped
- 1 head garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon minced ginger
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Water or stock
For the mild broth (for 1 hot pot meal)
- 1 free-range chicken, , or 4 chicken legs/6 chicken thighs (see note 3)
- 5 slices ginger
- 5 dried shiitake mushroom, rehydrated beforehand
- 3 stalks scallions, cut into sections
- Dried Chinese dates (aka jujube), optional
- Goji berries, optional
- 1 pinch ground white pepper
- Salt, to taste
For the spicy broth
- Take out 8 dried chilies for later use and soak the rest in hot water for about 30 minutes (split and remove the seeds before soaking if you wish to reduce the heat of the chilies). While waiting, wash, cut or measure other ingredients.
- Drain the softened chilies. Add to a blender/spice grinder. Run the machine until the chilies are chopped small and become a coarse paste. You may also do this manually using a knife/cleaver (Wear kitchen gloves to avoid burning).
- In a small bowl, mix Sichuan pepper with Shaoxing rice wine. Set aside.
- Add cooking oil and beef tallow to a wok/pot, along with star anise, cassia cinnamon, bay leaves and tsao-ko if using. Heat over medium heat until the bay leaves start to brown.
- Turn off the heat. Use a slotted spoon to remove all the spices. Leave the oil to cool for 1 minute or so. Then add onion, scallions and coriander. Turn the heat back on to medium. Fry until the onion begins to brown on the edge (do not burn). Remove all the aromatics from the oil.
- Gently put in the chili paste prepared earlier, Sichuan chili bean paste, fermented black beans, minced garlic and ginger (Be careful not to splash the hot oil). Simmer for 8 minutes while stirring from time to time to avoid sticking to the bottom.
- Add sugar and the Sichuan pepper and Shaoxing wine mixture. Cook for 2 more minutes. Turn off the heat and let cool for a while.
- Pour the oil, along with the solid content, into a heat proof container. Add the leftover dried chilies for garnishing (They’ll float on the surface). Leave to cool completely then refrigerate for at least 24 hours (This helps to intensify the flavour).
- Cut the solidified soup base into four small blocks. If using a divided pot (Yin Yang pot) or a small pot, use one block and add about 1½ litres (6 cups) of hot water or stock. If using a big pot, double the soup base block and water/stock.
- You can store the leftover soup base blocks for 2 weeks in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer.
For the mild broth
- Put chicken into a stock pot. Fill with water enough to cover the chicken. Bring it to a full boil. Use a spoon to skim off the froth appearing on the surface.
- Add ginger slices and leave to simmer over the lowest heat for 1½ – 2 hours. You may use an instant pot or pressure cooker instead. Reduce the time accordingly.
- Remove the chicken (see note 4 for ideas of using it). Pour the stock into the pot you use for hot pot. Top up with hot water if necessary.
- Add scallions, shiitake mushroom, Chinese dates and Goji berries if using. Season with salt and white pepper. Bring it back to a full boil and start your hot pot meal.