Sichuan Mala Hotpot, From Scratch (Mala Huoguo With Tallow Broth)

0

Print
Jump to Recipe – proceed at owN risk
Sichuan mala hot pot with beef tallow

Hotpot Party at Your House

Although this recipe for mala hotpot first published in early 2018 is the most popular recipe on our entire blog, we have revised and updated it as of November 2020. Why? Well, when I first developed it, there weren’t many recipes for Sichuan hotpot online in English—and none at all, that I could find, that included beef fat (tallow), a style of hotpot broth widely loved in Chongqing and Chengdu. There probably were Chinese-language online videos and recipes for it, but they were less accessible back then. Plus, we had not yet started selling or importing hotpot base at The Mala Market, so my knowledge was limited to my memories of having hotpot many times in Chengdu and to my go-to cookbook published in Sichuan in 2010. So I used the cookbook’s recipe and adapted it to our liking to produce a broth very similar to what you’d find in Chengdu.

Since then, however, there have been several jaw-dropping viral (in China) videos of the manufacturing of hot pot base in Chengdu. Plus, now there are Chinese home cooks and chefs making their video channels available on YouTube for the whole world to access. Both Chef Wang and Li Ziqi have posted detailed hot pot videos. (And if you’re not subscribed to these two channels, you are missing out on an incredible Sichuan culinary education.) So less than three years later, there is a lot more guidance out there on making hotpot soup base that tastes like it does in Chengdu, and I’ve learned quite a lot about how to make my good hotpot soup even better.

Also, in the meantime, we have begun selling readymade hotpot base. This year we even collaborated with one of Chengdu’s most famous hotpot chains to import a beef-tallow hotpot base for the ultimate Sichuan hotpot. Alas, there is a reason you never see this product in the U.S. There is an extremely narrow range of acceptable meat imports to the U.S., with lots of rather opaque rules, and ours fell short, resulting in the forced destruction of thousands of perfectly good packages of hotpot base. But live and learn.

Making Mala Hotpot Base From Scratch

In any case, making your own hotpot base with beef tallow is still an exceptionally delicious and fairly easy thing to do. There are two things to know about making Sichuan-style mala hotpot at home. First, it takes almost every item in the Sichuan pantry to make the spicy soup from scratch. And second, it also requires an electric hotpot or a portable burner to keep the pot hot at the table.

But I’m here to tell you it is worth the trouble to acquire everything it takes, because after you make the soup broth, the cooking is done and stress-free, since diners will take over from there. And mala hotpot is a celebration, whether you are eating it in a Chengdu restaurant or serving it in your own home. There is just something inherently festive about gathering around the bubbling pot and cooking your own food at your own pace while interacting in a real way with friends and family. It’s an activity. An event. Interactive entertainment that doesn’t involve a screen.

The spicy-and-numbing hotpot soup is made from loads of chilies, Sichuan pepper, doubanjiang and numerable other aromatics and spices that is cooked down with oil into a spice base. That base is then mixed with a broth—usually a pork and/or beef broth, but chicken is also good. We often use a boxed broth, but it’s worth the extra effort to make a simple chicken broth or source some beef and pork bones for a meaty broth.

In Chengdu and Chongqing the oil is often rendered beef fat, or tallow. Beef tallow gives hotpot another layer of flavor for sure. However, as we experienced in one hotpot place in Chengdu, too much tallow makes the hotpot, the room and you smell like a barnyard. So I’ve opted for a mix of tallow and super-flavorful roasted rapeseed oil (a type of non-GMO canola made in Sichuan) in this recipe. Alternatively, you can go with any neutral cooking oil as the only fat and it will still be plenty flavorful, just not quite as savory and deep.

Mala hotpot (mala huoguo) in Chengdu
Here’s a version of hotpot, in a Chengdu restaurant, where the mild broth is in the center, in a “mother/child” pot. With ingredients including beef tongue, fish and fatty beef. Notice the plastic baggie provided to protect your cell phone.
Chongqing-style hotpot in Chengdu
Fongchong and her cousin Will have Chongqing-style hotpot in Chengdu. Our chosen ingredients are waiting on the table-side stand. Notice that the provided dipping sauce is sesame oil and garlic (though FC prefers soy sauce and vinegar). Also notice the bib/aprons. So thoughtful!
Chongqing mala hotpot (mala huoguo)
Hotpot base sold on the street in Chongqing: beef tallow and spicy mix ready for the hotpot

My recipe may look like I’m trying to start a fire, but you’re using a lot of broth so it takes a whole lot of chilies and spices to get the flavor and intensity one expects in a proper Sichuan hotpot. It does not pay to have a light hand, as mala hotpot is meant to be just that, ma (numbing) and la (spicy). One way this recipe differs from others is that I recommend removing some of the sediment from all those flavorings in the base before you add it to the hotpot as it can take up too much space and gunk up your bites.

The other half of the pot is for the mild broth, made from meat, mushroom or Chinese herbal spices. This is to allow those with a lower spice tolerance to enjoy hotpot and also comes in handy to dunk ingredients whose flavor you want to taste on their own. Craig and I tend to use both sides, whereas chili fiend Fongchong uses only the spicy side.

Fresh and potent Sichuan peppercorns, Sichuan chilies and ground chilies
Fresh and potent Sichuan peppercorns, Sichuan chilies and ground chilies are mandatory for delivering mala hotpot’s punch
spicy hotpot base
The spicy broth base includes chili bean paste, fermented black beans and ground chilies

Selecting a Yinyang Hotpot

To make this type of two-broth hot pot, you’ll want a divided pot. We are especially fond of the ones that divide the pot into yinyang shapes. We originally imported some copper hotpots from China for The Mala Market. Copper, however, is a soft metal, and these pots turned out be too easy to dent and stain.

So we have since imported handmade brass hot pots and heavy-gauge stainless steal hot pots designed specifically for us in Chengdu by a company that makes them for restaurants. They are equally beautiful but stronger and less prone to discoloration than copper.

The Mala Market's copper yin-yang hotpot
Upscale hotpot restaurants use pots just like this home one of modern design made in the traditional metals of copper and brass

These pots require a separate heat source, either a portable gas burner (powered by butane canister) or induction burner. Butane burners are affordable, easy to use and don’t require an unsightly cord snaking out from the pot and across the table to an outlet like the electric hotpots and induction burners. I use this Japanese Iwatani gas burner and am very happy with it.

Sichuan mala hotpot from scratch
The heavy gauge stainless steel hotpot made for The Mala Market in Chengdu

Preparing the Table

Once you’ve got your hotpot soup squared away, then you can focus on the wide array of things that can be cooked in the hotpot. The choice here is pretty endless, but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Very thinly sliced beef, lamb, pork, chicken (You can buy these meats pre-sliced for hot pot in Asian markets; or freeze a larger chunk of meat and thinly slice it yourself with a very sharp knife; or, if you’re a hotpot obsessive, invest in this home deli-meat slicer, which seems to be specifically for hotpot). Larger pieces of meat like chicken wing flats often come pre-marinated.
  • Seafood including thinly sliced white fish, whole scallops, shrimp, Asian fish balls (a vast assortment of which can be found in large Asian markets)
  • Dried tofu “skin” (pre-soaked in hot water), fried tofu puffs
  • Offal such as chicken hearts and gizzards, beef tripe, and anything else you fancy with interesting textures (see this post about eating hotpot in Sichuan to understand the necessity of different textures in the hotpot)
  • Green vegetables like spinach, baby bokchoy or yuchoy, thinly sliced zucchini, celtuce or cucumber (cucumber vertically sliced on a mandolin is one of our faves), winter melon
  • Root vegetables such as thinly sliced lotus root, potato, turnip, daikon
  • Mushrooms: shiitake, enoki, portobello
  • Noodles: pre-soaked sweet potato noodles, fresh udon, or other types of noodles that don’t release a lot of starch; instant ramen noodles are also popular
  • Mini dumplings from the freezer section; no need to thaw them first
Chinese supermarkets meat freezer in ready-sliced thin slices
It’s difficult to slice meats thinly enough, so Chinese supermarkets in the U.S. do it for you.
Frozen meat and fish balls at supermarket
Another great shortcut are these meat and fish balls of various kinds. They can go directly from freezer to hotpot.

At the table, I tend to give every diner two small dishes to mix their own dipping sauces. With Sichuan mala hotpot, the food comes out of the pot already highly flavored, so the dip of choice in Chengdu is simply toasted sesame oil mixed with vegetable oil and fresh garlic and maybe MSG and cilantro. Food cooked in the mild side (or in northern-Chinese or Mongolian hotpot) needs a flavor boost, so northerners often add some runny sesame paste as well as black vinegar and maybe soy sauce and chili oil to their dipping bowl. Some hotpot restaurants offer a sauce bar with a couple dozen ingredients for concocting your own idiosyncratic blend.

In Chengdu, it’s also fairly common with hotpot, and especially with chuanchuanxiang, a related style of hotpot where the ingredients are cooked on skewers, to serve a dry dip, gandie, of chilies, salt, sugar and various spices. Yum!

When you think about all the different flavors in the hotpot and in the dipping sauce as well as the diverse kinds of ingredients that can be cooked in the pot, you get a sense of why this meal is so exciting. And why it can go on for hours. And even more hours if accompanied by cold beer. And good friends.

Eating from a yinyang hotpot
As the night goes on and the soup recedes, just top it up with hot water. Perfect little Japanese strainer scoops can be had here.

Sichuan Mala Hotpot, From Scratch (Mala Huoguo)

By: Taylor Holliday | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking
Makes about 8 cups (2 liters) of spicy hotpot broth and 8 cups mild broth for a divided hotpot.

Ingredients 

Spicy broth

  • 2-3 cups Sichuan dried chilies such as facing heaven zidantou, xiaomila and/or lantern (kind and amount depending on how hot you want the broth)
  • 2 tablespoons red Sichuan peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons green Sichuan peppercorns
  • 1 handful whole Chinese spices such as star anise, fennel seed, cassia bark, clove, bay leaf, sand ginger, etc.
  • 1 cup caiziyou (roasted rapeseed oil) or Chinese peanut oil
  • 5 scallions, cut in half
  • 1 cup beef tallow (or substitute with oil)
  • 3 inches peeled ginger, roughly chopped
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • cup Pixian doubanjiang (chili bean paste), mashed with a fork into a rough paste
  • 4 tablespoons douchi (fermented black soybeans), mashed with a fork into a rough paste
  • 6 tablespoons fragrant hot ground chilies (Sichuan chili flakes)
  • 2 quarts homemade or boxed stock (made from beef and/or pork bones; or from chicken)
  • ½ cup Shaoxing wine
  • 2 Chinese black cardamom (caoguo) optional
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon MSG or 1 tablespoon mushroom powder (optional)
  • a few whole dried chilies
  • 2 tablespoons whole green Sichuan peppercorns

Mild broth

  • 2 quarts homemade or boxed stock (made from beef and/or pork bones; or from chicken)
  • ¼ cup Shaoxing wine
  • 3 scallions, cut in sections
  • 1 tomato, quartered, or a handful of Chinese dried dates (jujubes) (optional)

Dipping ingredients

  • Reference list in story above, but basically anything you like, sliced thin for cooking: meats and seafood, offal, green and root vegetables, different forms of tofu, mushrooms, Chinese noodles and dumplings, etc.

Dipping sauces

  • Also anything you like! Toasted sesame oil mixed with canola oil and minced fresh garlic are the basics. You can also provide soy sauce, black vinegar, oyster sauce, sesame paste, scallion, cilantro, etc.

Instructions 

Hotpot broths

  • Add dried chilies to a sauce pan and cover with water. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and let chilies soak while you prepare other ingredients, or for at least 30 minutes. After they have soaked until soft, remove caps from the chilies and chop as finely as possible, until they are basically a paste.
  • Grind the 2 tablespoons red Sichuan pepper, 2 tablespoons green Sichuan pepper and the whole spices in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle until coarsely ground. Remove to a bowl and just cover with water to soak for about 15 minutes.
  • Add roasted rapeseed oil or peanut oil to a dutch oven or soup pot and heat over a medium flame. Add scallions and cook over medium heat until they are starting to brown, and then remove the scallions. Add the beef tallow, ginger and garlic and continue to cook over a medium heat until fragrant, but do not brown them.
  • Add minced chili paste from step 1, chili bean paste, fermented black soybeans and ground chilies and cook for a couple minutes. Pour in 2 quarts stock and bring to a boil. Add spices from step 2 (with their water), wine, Chinese black cardamom, sugar and MSG or mushroom powder if using. Reduce heat and simmer soup at a very low boil for 10 minutes. Turn off heat and allow soup to steep while you prepare the other hotpot ingredients, preferably at least half an hour.

Dipping ingredients and tabletop cooking

  • Prepare foods to be cooked by slicing them thinly and arranging nicely on individual plates, or grouping like ingredients on large plates. Leave shrimp, scallops, meat balls and fish balls, etc., whole.
  • Gather condiments for dipping sauces. Mince garlic, scallions and cilantro if using. If using sesame paste, mix it with water to get a runny, mixable condiment.
  • Make the mild soup by pouring ingredients directly into cold hotpot on one side: 2 quarts stock, wine and scallions as well as tomato or jujubes if using. Return to your prepared spicy broth and use a large strainer or spoon to remove most of the sediment. Add the spicy broth to its side of the pot and top with a few whole chilies and 2 tablespoons whole green Sichuan peppercorns, or to taste.
  • Plug in your electric hotpot and turn it to high or ignite your portable gas burner and turn flame to high. It will take 5 to 10 minutes or so for the two soups to come to a gentle boil, so this is a good time for everyone to mix their dipping sauces.
  • Adjust the heat to keep a gentle boil and begin adding ingredients to the pot a few at a time. Keep an eye on steak and seafood, which will not take much time to cook. Cooking those ingredients in a ladle or special hotpot strainer is a good idea, or just hold them under the broth with your chopsticks so they don't get lost in the soup.
  • As the broths boil away, top them off with hot water.

Tried this recipe?

About Taylor Holliday

The Mala Market all began when Taylor, a former journalist, created this blog as a place to document her adventures learning to cook Sichuan food for Fongchong, her recently adopted 11-year-old daughter. They discovered through the years that the secret to making food that tastes like it would in China is using the same ingredients that are used in China. The mother-daughter team eventually began visiting Sichuan’s factories and farms together and, in 2016, opened The Mala Market, America’s source for Sichuan heritage brands and Chinese pantry essentials.

Recipes you might like

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

31 Comments

  1. Hi, I’m about to give this a try, but I am wondering if you might be able to guide me on one aspect. In Beijing, a number of the malatang places (e.g. Zhangliang) would offer a non-chili broth with the peppercorn flavor dominant. Any idea if it’s simply a matter of leaving out the chilis? Or was it maybe a completely different recipe? My palate is still being educated (thanks to your blog and products), and at the time I really had no idea what other flavor notes to look for!

    1. Hi, Mike, thanks for reading! Sorry for the belated response but hope this can still help your query. I’m not sure what you mean about the non-chili malatang broth, I know these chains may offer soup bases likes tomato or mushroom that aren’t spicy and presumably don’t have chilis. The 麻 “má” numbing flavor comes from Sichuan pepper only. Chilies give you the 辣 “là” spicy and fragrant flavor. So if there was a broth without chilis and with the numbing flavor, it seems you can achieve the same result by leaving out the chilies. If the broth was clear, you’ll often find green Sichuan pepper used like these: https://themalamarket.com/products/green-sichuan-pepper-qing-huajiao

      Let us know how the hot pot worked for you!

  2. I lived with my husband and toddler in a suburb of Chengdu for 2 years. We ate hot pot or chuan chuan almost every weekend. When we moved back to the US, I knew I had to learn to make it. At first, all of the English-language recipes I could find felt too bland. I found the best way to go about things was to piece together 3 or 4 different recipes to get all the flavors I knew I wanted and then I’d just start chucking handfuls of chilies and Sichuan peppercorns in the pot – ground, whole, etc. until things ‘tasted’ right.

    This is THE recipe I use now. A few ingredients (tallow), quantities of ingredients (3 cups +6 tablespoons of chili) AND tips and tricks (soaking the chilies – it has improved ALL of my Sichuan recipes as I’m no longer scorching the chilies when the wok gets hot) really set this recipe apart from anything I’ve ever seen and THIS recipe is now the singular recipe I use when I make hot pot (although I still dump a few extra tablespoons of chili powder into the broth). My spice-loving friends and family rave about this – and we enjoy hot pot 3 or 4 times during the winter months! I really hope you find a good copper pot source again, as I’d love to gift one to myself.

    1. Wow Christine, thanks so much for sharing your feedback and experience with us. Your friends and family are lucky to have you! It’s easy to make hotpot from a premade base (and we do sell an excellent one for days we just can’t make it from scratch) but there’s something extra special about a broth made from so much love and nostalgia. We’re honored to have your approval 🙂

      Since you mentioned chuanchuan, I wanted to share about our gandie “dipping chilies” in case you hadn’t had a chance to try yet. This stuff will bring you right back to that classic Chengdu chuanchuan taste, and I also love it for dipping hotpot ingredients!