The other night I had a group of friends around (again), but this time to enjoy some steamboat during a cold winter night!
Steamboat is the term a lot of Malaysian-Chinese people use for hot pot. Unlike some other types of hot pot, this one has a soup base which you can eat/drink – it’s not just for cooking.
It’s a great way to host people – all you have to do is prep the raw ingredients, sauces and the soup base, and everyone cooks their own food.
In the past, my family and I have always had a big pot going over a butane gas cooker, but this year I got a bit worried about how safe this was and thought I’d try a single electric hot plate instead. It was a bit slower than the gas cooker, but less precarious. The wait for the food to cook is all part of it though, and gave us a chance to chat and socialise between stuffing our faces!
I also know some people who cook it all in an electric wok, and that seems to work just fine as well.
For the soup base, if I don’t have any chicken stock in my freezer (or can’t be bothered making any), my shortcut is to use the Lee Kum Kee Soup Base For Chicken Hot Pot.
I don’t get overly-complicated with the sauces I use: a soy sauce with a few drops of sesame oil, chopped chilli with chilli oil and I also put out little bowls of fried shallots (which I get from Asian supermarkets).
For the raw ingredients, a wide range is good to cater to your guests. I tend to include different types of fish balls, Asian meatballs, seafood (like prawns and squid), Chinese vegetables (like bak choy, choysum), mushrooms (like oyster, enoki and shiitake), tofu and thinly sliced meat. I get the meat from the Pork Mart & Poultry in Greenlane, where they provide big bags of frozen sliced pork, beef and lamb for reasonable prices. These are useful to keep on hand for other meals when you need meat that will defrost quickly.
I also put a bowl of eggs on the table in case. Some people like to crack them raw into their bowls and use it as a kind of dipping sauce, but the guests I have had over seem to prefer to boil them in the steamboat and then crack them open to eat towards the end of the meal.
The last bit of prep I would usually also do is to boil up some egg noodles and some rice noodles. This lets the guests put some cooked noodles into their own bowls and ladle over the soup to heat them up and eat with the rest of the food. Make sure you keep topping up the soup with some boiling water though – using plain water is fine as the more people cook, the richer the broth becomes anyway.
Really, the ingredients for steamboat are limited by your imagination. You can include whatever you think will cook well in a big pot of boiling soup! I know some people who make dumplings and wontons to put in their steamboat. My only warning would be to make sure that if you want to include chicken, you make sure it is very thinly sliced so that you don’t need to worry about your guests getting food poisoning!