The Sichuan Hotpot – a deceptively simple meal to make but one that induces cruel aftermaths. Various raw ingredients are dipped into boiling soup, then scooped out with the precious liquid, and consumed in a slurping frenzy. The simmering, devilish-looking, red broth in a large pot, seasoned with boiled vegetables, chicken stock, dried anchovies, and the infamous Sichuan hotpot spices, is characterized by little floating kernels of death – the Sichuan peppercorn. One accidental bite into these potent pills explodes in a blazing sear across the tongue that gradually decrescendos into a persistent, tingling numbness. Taste becomes secondary, perspiration beads swell and coalesce on reddening cheeks, noses start to sniffle, and the cooling relief of beer becomes imperative.
The immediate desire for more, however, is indicative of the human propensity for gastronomic masochism. This willful destruction of taste buds could very well be an internal, intensely existential struggle for control over one’s ability to endure – a theory proven by the exultance one feels upon leaving the table and the diminished pot of soup, and by the profound belief that one has conquered, and consumed, dammit, the entire Red Sea.
The College How-To Guide to Making Your Very Own Fool-Proof Hotpot
For the Spicy Soup Stock Base
- 2 tbsp groundnut oil
- 3-4 long dried Sichuan chillies or long dried chillies
- 50g/2oz whole Sichuan peppercorns
- 1 tbsp chilli bean sauce (available from Asian grocers)
- 1 tbsp chilli sauce
- 1.7 litres/3 pints hot vegetable stock
- 2 whole star anise
- 1 large spring onion, roughly chopped
- 2.5cm/1in piece fresh root ginger, peeled
(If all fails, just boil 3 pints of hot vegetable stock and add in a packet of Sichuan Hotpot Spices, available from all legit Asian grocers.)
- 3 tbsp light soy sauce
- 1 jalepeno pepper, finely chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 strips of spring onions, finely chopped
Then… cook away! You can add basically whatever you have in your fridge: meat (pre-sliced into bite-sized pieces), vegetables, dumplings, eggs, mushrooms and whatever tickles your culinary fancy. Making sure the food is cooked before removing it from its pool of spicy goodness is very important, though.