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Guizhou Hot and Sour Tomato Hotpot (Suantang, 酸汤): Zoe Yang

Servings: 4
Author: Zoe Yang | The Mala Market | Inspiration & Ingredients for Sichuan Cooking

Equipment

  • fermentation jar
  • hotpot

Ingredients

For Suantang Base (makes one 32-oz jar, enough for one hotpot base) — make 2-3 weeks ahead

  • 1 kilogram (a bit over 2 pounds) ripe red tomatoes, such as Roma, plum, Campari or cherry
  • 50-200 grams fresh bird's eye chilies, destemmed more or less to taste
  • 50 grams garlic
  • 50 grams ginger
  • 50 grams kosher salt  5% by weight of the tomatoes
  • 10 grams sugar
  • 20 grams high (>50%) ABV clear, neutral alcohol, such as baijiu or vodka

For Tomato Hotpot

  • 2 tablespoons neutral oil more as needed
  • 4 slices  fresh ginger
  • 32 ounces suantang recipe above
  • 10 fresh Campari tomatoes, diced or one 16-oz can of diced San Marzano tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste optional

Instructions

Suantang Hotpot Base — make 2-3 weeks ahead

  • Blend 1 kilo ripe tomatoes, 100g-200g fresh birds eye chilies, 50g garlic and 50g ginger in a food processor until you get a smooth, even pulp
  • Stir in 50g kosher salt and 10g sugar.
  • Pour mixture into a clean glass or ceramic jar and top with 20g high (>50%) ABV alcohol, then seal jar.
  • Check on the jar periodically to make sure there is no mold growing on top. After 15-20 days, the mixture should smell sharply sour—at this point, it is ready to use. Use it to make hotpot base, suantang fish, suantang beef and other dishes.
    To store the mixture, simply move the jar to the fridge.

Tomato Hotpot

  • Heat the wok on high. When it is too hot to hover your hand an inch above the pan, add enough oil to coat the pan (at least a couple tablespoons, it should pool generously). Sizzle 4 slices of ginger until fragrant.
  • Add diced tomatoes and cook while stirring, until tomatoes have partly broken down.
  • Add the jar of suantang and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer. Cook for several minutes to meld the flavors.
  • Transfer broth to your hotpot and top off with hot water or chicken stock. Add scallion whites, fresh or dried mushrooms and other flavoring ingredients as desired. Serve with desired hotpot spread.

Notes

For proper lacto-fermentation, add enough salt to inhibit spoilage—a minimum of 2% and maximum of 5% by weight of the combined organic matter you are fermenting. At 2%, fermentation happens more rapidly; at 5%, it takes longer. Temperature also plays a role—a spot next to the heater set at 75°F will yield faster fermentation than a cool 60°F pantry. Observation is key—more than this recipe, your eyes and nose will tell you when the suantang is ready.
The proportions of tomato to chilies, as well as the amounts of garlic and ginger, are all adjustable. A Guizhou palate may well want to use the higher end of the chili quantity I’ve included, or go even higher, while my Nanjing taste buds are quite happy at the lower end. 
Finally, because you cannot weigh down the suantang as you would sauerkraut or kimchi, traditional Chinese pickle jars with water moats are ideal for this ferment, though you may want to double or triple the quantities in this recipe for the Mala Market jars linked. Once the suantang is done fermenting, you can decant the mixture into glass jars for long-term fridge storage.
If you encounter surface mold during fermentation (not to be confused with harmless kahm yeast), it is safest to throw the batch away and start over. Personally, I did not have a big problem with mold, more so with kahm yeast.