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I’ve lived in the Midwest for almost two decades cumulatively — longer than I’ve lived in any geographic region of the States. And what I can tell you about the Midwest is that the only thing more predictable than the murmured “Ope!” when someone bumps into you is the slow, endless settling-in of winter. At first, the cooling temps are perfectly lovely — pumpkins! Snow flurries! Holidays! — but by February, the cold weather has most of us casting our gazes southward, towards (literally) greener pastures.
This year, to add insult to injury, my seasonal doldrums were compounded by a cold that just would not quit, no matter how much zinc I popped. So to get me out of my sizable winter rut, I picked up this two-sided hot pot, a kitchen gadget that had been a fixture in my family kitchen when I was young. I remember huge family celebrations where my grandmother would set down trays of thinly sliced meat, seafood, fish balls, and vegetables alongside a large, boiling pot of vinegar-scented broth at the center of the table. We’d dip our favorite items in the hot broth to cook them, then eat them with noodles or rolled into rice paper wrappers. It was a flurry of hands and spoons, quick bites, then another dip of the chopsticks for round two. If anything could warm these cold days, it’s a hot pot.
Back when I was young, our hot pot was a simple stainless steel pot on a hot burner. But hot pots have gotten much more sophisticated since then. Take this version, with two sides for two different broths — particularly useful in my household where my husband leans towards a spicier broth than I like. This pot comes with silicone holders that slide onto the handles for easy transport, and the surface is nonstick, making for simple cleanup. And because it works on top of any cook surface, it’s portable for outdoor gatherings as well. (Fact: A hot pot meal does not need to be reserved for winter!)
When I put our hot pot together one brisk afternoon, I used a spicy broth with big slices of chiles, as well as a milder version flavored with pork. We set out some of our favorite dipping ingredients, like fish balls, shrimp, mushrooms, bok choy, and my favorite brown rice ramen noodles. I also made a couple of sauces: a sweet hoisin sauce with sesame oil, and one with chili oil and soy sauce.
The trick to a hot pot is the timing of the ingredients. Once your pot is boiling, add the ones that take longest to cook and slowly work your way up to the ingredients that only take a few seconds, like thinly sliced meat or shrimp. Then, ladle everything into your bowl with a strainer spoon and, if you want, add some of the hot broth on top. What you get is the equivalent of a savory, steamy noodle dish with a mix of your favorite ingredients, all cooked exactly to your liking. Near-instant comfort. And if you’re still hungry? The pot is already boiling for you!
This two-sided hot pot was exactly what I needed to pull me out of my February Funk. It gives me a meal that’s warming and comforting and reminds me of my childhood — right at my fingertips. It even has me excited to entertain again soon before the weather warms up. See, once you prep the ingredients, the cooking process takes no time at all, making it perfect for big parties, where people can dip in and out of the kitchen as they get hungry. I actually like to boil the broth on the stove, then transfer it to a heating device on the table, to lessen the time it takes to bring the broth up to temperature. If you end up hosting a (hot) potluck, you could even have your guests each bring an ingredient to share. Because this particular hot pot has two sections, you could also reserve one section for vegetarians, and one for omnivores.
However you decide to separate your broths, part of the fun is the communal joy, leaning over to cook together while chatting with your loved ones. There’s something so cozy about a hot pot — especially in these dark days of winter, when we need any bit of warmth.
Thao is the Managing Editor of Cubby, our resource for families at home. She’s a writer and editor based out of Columbus, Ohio, where she chases her kindergartener around while embracing the messy joy of parenthood. Her debut novel, Banyan Moon, comes out in 2023 from Mariner | HarperCollins.