After last year’s mild winter, this January’s weather has been a bit more chilly and so my family has been enjoying AIP hot pot on a pretty regular basis! This is not really a recipe but more of a how-to post, as hot pots (or steamboats, the term more commonly used where I grew up) do not really rely on a fixed recipe but depend more on fresh ingredients available to you. Hot pot/ steamboat is a popular dinner choice on the eve of Chinese New Year, when many Chinese families (and extended families) come together for what is known as a reunion dinner.
What is a hot pot
Hot pots are a type of communal meal commonly eaten around Asia and are available in many variants, depending on the country and region. It involves a wide pot of broth set in the middle of the table over a live flame (usually a portable butane stove) or fancier induction stove. There are also purpose-built electric hot pots. The very traditional versions that I grew up enjoying used hot charcoal as a heat source. Note: live flame hot pots are usually eaten al fresco style or in well-ventilated areas.
Around the table there would be a variety of meats, seafood, vegetables, and other filler ingredients, with dipping sauces for everyone. Similar to western-style fondue, except that hot pots use a stronger heat source. You are usually able to control the size of the flame/ heat, bringing the broth up to a rolling boil or a light simmer. Since it usually involves fresh ingredients, it is very easy to make hot pot Paleo or Autoimmune Protocol-compliant!
How to enjoy a hot pot
Partaking in a hot pot meal is almost a gastronomic symphony of sorts. As the cooking is done at the table, it is usually a leisurely affair with everyone in sync. Why do I say that? It is because there is usually an order in which the ingredients enter the pot. Vegetables taking a longer time to cook go in first, followed by ingredients that cook faster. Some ingredients, such as thinly-sliced beef, only require a brief swish through the hot broth before being removed and enjoyed. Before someone puts a raw meat into the pot, it is usually polite to alert everyone so that no one else proceeds to fish out a cooked item while the raw meat is still cooking inside.
Everyone usually takes turns to put in ingredients or remove cooked foods, and towards the end of the meal, the broth can be ladled out into your individual bowl and enjoyed, filled with the rich umami taste of all the ingredients that had been cooked in it throughout the meal. Though it depends on the type of hot pot, as some are more for cooking purposes and not for drinking as a soup. The intensely spicy type of hot pot filled with chili oil (nightshades galore!) springs to mind. Traditionally, noodles are usually added into the broth towards the end of the meal, as a filler for those who are still hungry. White rice usually accompanies the hot pot meal, though that is off-limits during the elimination stage of AIP.
For dining at home, the easiest way would be to use an electric hot pot. Of course, if you are not planning on using it regularly, a portable induction cooktop would be a more practical choice. You will also need an induction-compatible pot, though these are usually bundled together with the cooktop (like mine was). A ladle for scooping broth is a must, as well as a slotted spoon or strainer. You can even use chopsticks or fondue forks. If you have a very well-ventilated dining area and are able to leave your windows open (or better yet, dine outdoors), a portable butane stove would be perfect too.
The AIP Hot Pot
Hot pot is very easy to make Paleo AIP-compliant, as long as you keep to the foods and ingredients permitted on the AIP. In a nutshell: meat, seafood, vegetables (excluding nightshades such as tomatoes, chili, goji/ wolf berries, eggplant/ brinjal). What to avoid: tofu and its many variants (tau pok or deep fried tofu/ soy puffs contain gluten), and processed ingredients (factory-made/ store-bought meatballs, fish-balls/ -cakes/ -rolls, dumplings, imitation crab sticks).
Modern hot pot broth concentrates can be found in Asian supermarkets, but these usually contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) or other ingredients such as soy oil or chili that render them non-AIP. Thankfully, there are many ways to go about making the broth! I like keeping it simple as the addition of multiple hot pot ingredients into the broth result in a very tasty soup. My go-to is chicken bone broth, as it is mild-tasting and palatable to most. Otherwise pork bone broth is another favourite. I usually make these bone broths in my Instant Pot. You can even make fish bone broth or mushroom broth, or even simply hot water. My parents do not eat beef for religious purposes, so we did not use it when my parents prepared hot pot. By all means use beef or lamb bone broth if you enjoy it!
Thinly-sliced meats are the way to go in hot pots. This ‘rule’ applies whether you’re using beef, chicken, pork, lamb, or even more exotic meats such as boar, venison, rabbit, or bison. A marinade is usually not needed, you simply slice the meat thinly and arrange it on a plate. Cover the plate and keep it refrigerated until it is time to enjoy the hot pot. If you live in a country where fondue culture is prevalent, you can use the same fondue meats (usually sold thinly-sliced and frozen) in hot pot. Prepare the meat by defrosting in the refrigerator until the thin layers can be separated before using in the hot pot. You can choose to put only meat and vegetables in a hot pot, or include fish and seafood to make it really well rounded.
Offal is another nutrient-dense consideration for hot pot. If you love offal, this is a great way to appreciate it! Be it thinly-sliced tongue, heart, liver, kidney, tripe, intestine… the list goes on.
Fish and Seafood
As fish is pretty delicate and cooks quickly in a hot pot, it is usually cut into slightly thicker slices. Seafood such as mussels and clams can be cooked in their shells and removed as soon as they are just cooked through. If you have oysters, remove them from the shell before slipping them into the broth to cook. Prawns (shrimp) yield an extra tasty broth, especially if cooked in their shell (bonus if they come with their heads). However, if you only have access to frozen shrimp, just choose the raw ones. It would be preferable to defrost them rather than to cook them from frozen. Squid or octopus would be a nice addition as well, cut them into rings or bite-sized morsels. Just keep an eye on your seafood in the hot pot to avoid overcooking as they become tough and rubbery!
Vegetables used in AIP hot pot can be divided into two categories. The best way I can categorise them would be leafy or sturdy! Leafy greens that are commonly used in hot pot include various sorts of lettuce, Chinese spinach, napa cabbage, bok choy, etc. Sturdy vegetables include root vegetables such as lotus root, taro/ eddo (pre-frying them in lard or coconut oil makes them delicious), carrot, or daikon. There are also firmer vegetables such as kabocha squash (technically a fruit), gourds, or leek. Another sub-category to consider would be fungi, such as black fungus, snow fungus, and all sorts of edible mushrooms (Asian varieties such as enoki and shimeji are very popular hot pot choices). When using dried fungi, soak them in advance to soften before cooking. If you do fine with seaweed, laver or kelp are great and tasty additions to hot pot as well.
In traditional hot pot, the myriad of ingredients available can be mindboggling! There are some ingredients such as fish or pork maw which are popular choices, but as the type of oil used to fry them is usually unknown, I would say it is better to avoid them. Same goes for canned seafood such as abalone, which may contain additives. If in doubt, always consult the ingredient list to confirm if they are AIP-compliant.
Noodles are a popular add-in for hot pot and eaten in small quantities. Wheat noodles are a pretty common option in traditional hot pot, but are out while on the AIP due to the gluten content. For AIP hot pot, you could try Korean sweet potato vermicelli instead, which can be pre-cooked and rinsed off their excess starch. Then it is just a simple matter of adding it to the hot pot to heat up and absorb a bit of the broth’s flavour.
If you have a spiraliser, you can make vegetable noodles, a great way to add more vegetables and nutrients to your day’s intake. Another option would be Vietnamese Hu Tieu/ tapioca sticks, or flat noodles made of only tapioca starch and water. They resemble flat rice noodles. Likewise, these are best pre-cooked just like the Korean sweet potato vermicelli. There’s also kelp noodles, and Japanese shirataki noodles (made from konjac root and commonly featured in Japanese hot pot called shabu-shabu). Do take note that shirataki noodles are not recommended as a dietary staple, though. By all means give it a try if you do not have a sensitive gut.
Accompaniments for AIP hot pot
Dipping sauces are another fun aspect of hot pot. However, most of the bottled traditional dipping sauces available in the Asian market are not AIP-compliant, so a bit of creativity is in order! For AIP hot pot, I like keeping things simple once more by making a basic dipping sauce with a mixture of coconut aminos, lime juice, and fish sauce. I don’t have a fixed recipe but go by taste. If you have successfully reintroduced sesame seeds, you can add a few drops of toasted sesame oil for extra fragrance and flavour. A totally AIP-compliant sauce bursting with flavour such as this ginger-scallion sauce would make a fantastic dip especially for chicken.
A traditional dip that is totally Paleo (though not strict AIP, it would be considered a reintroduction) would be raw egg yolk dip – just separate the yolk from the white and break it. Perfect for dipping in freshly cooked slices of meat! Of course, this is only if you can tolerate eggs and have access to farm-fresh pastured eggs or Salmonella-free eggs.
I hope this will inspire you to create your own AIP hot pot party!
- A large pot of bone broth (unseasoned chicken, pork, fish broth work best)
- Meat (1/2 to 1lb is a good amount for a family of 4)
- Fish (e.g. a single fillet of salmon)
- Seafood (approximately 3 pieces per person)
- Leafy vegetables
- Sturdy vegetables
- Mushrooms/ fungi (a large handful, or 1 punnet is sufficient)
- Korean sweet potato vermicelli, tapioca sticks, or vegetables for spiralising into noodle strands
- Ingredients for dipping sauces (e.g. fish sauce, coconut aminos, lime juice)
- If not done so, slice the meat thinly and arrange on a plate. Cover and set aside (in the refrigerator, if done several hours in advance)
- Prepare the fish by removing any bones and cutting into bite-sized pieces. You can leave the skin on if the scales have been removed.
- Clean shellfish, if using. Arrange on a platter, cover, and refrigerate.
- Wash and spin dry leafy vegetables, then cut into large pieces. Leafy vegetables such as lettuce can be left as whole individual leaves. Arrange in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
- Cut sturdy vegetables into bite-sized pieces (for faster cooking, cut into thin slices). It is not necessary to peel kabocha squash. Arrange on a platter, cover, and refrigerate.
- Trim mushroom stalks and wash lightly, then drain. Place on a bowl, cover, and refrigerate.
- Cook Korean sweet potato vermicelli or tapioca sticks according to package directions, rinse thoroughly with cool water, strain. Place in a bowl, cover, and refrigerate. Alternatively, spiralise vegetables to make noodle strands.
- Make the dipping sauces, adjusting to taste.
- Set the table by placing the hot pot stove in the middle, then place the hot pot and fill it halfway with broth. Set to boil.
- Arrange prepared ingredients around the stove.
- Set the table with small bowls and plates, along with individual hot pot ladles.
- Hot pot begins! Add sturdy vegetables first, followed by meats and quick-to-cook vegetables such as leafy vegetables. You don't have to put all the ingredients at a go, they can be put in throughout the meal. Adjust the heat accordingly; it does not need to be at a rolling boil constantly.
- Fish them out with a hot pot ladle or heat-proof chopsticks/ fondue fork as they become cooked to your liking. As the amount of broth lessens through the meal, top the hot pot with more bone broth.
- Towards the end of the meal, add in the noodles or vegetable strands and enjoy with the broth. Season with extra Himalayan salt, fish sauce, or coconut aminos if necessary.