A good introduction to cooking traditional hot pots and making delicious broths.
Amy Kimoto-Kahn is a fourth generation Japanese-American and it’s her childhood memories, as much as it is her adult experiences that inspire her text and recipes in this cookbook. Her preface is a warm reflection of growing up, the post-war prejudices faced by her parents in the USA, and the dinner parties that continue to inspire her cooking today.
She has put thought into her recipes for a western audience, suggesting substitute supermarket ingredients for those who don’t have easy access to an Asian grocer, and she combines classic broths with modern ideas.
Kimoto-Kahn also serves up a lot of love in the early pages of this book, talking not just about the cooking and required utensils, but about the hot pot experience itself – the social joy of cooking tableside for quick dishes, setting the table, preparing and serving…
Thankfully, you don’t need clay earthenware to enjoy a hot pot cooking experience. Any old pot will do, as my outdated kitchenware will attest to. Explaining the anatomy of a hot pot also helps get your head around what’s to come: base broth, proteins (meat or seafood) and vegetables, noodles or rice, garnishes and sauces.
The recipes themselves can be misleading so be sure to read everything carefully, at least a day in advance. While the instructions are clearly laid out and very easy to follow, the stated prep and cooking time can differ quite considerably from what’s listed. This is because the broth or other ingredients need to be made first, which is a separate recipe and therefore not included in the estimated times for the dish you’re considering. In the recipe I sampled, the 20 minute prep time did not include the one or more hours I first needed to make the broth. In fairness, these additional recipes are listed as “To make in advance” but can easily be overlooked when flicking through for a suitable recipe for that night’s meal.
Recipes are rated for the skill level required, which is useful in getting a feel for how you will fare with the challenge. Some recipes also include a Hot Tip which may be about presentation, how to scale the recipe for smaller or larger yields, or tricks for slicing meat thinly.
As you would expect, Julia Vandenoever’s photography is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. If only my end results came out looking so good! Simply Hot Pots also goes by the title Simply Japanese Hot Pots depending on which edition you buy and for those wanting to sample this traditional cuisine, it’s a good introduction.
Thai Coconut Curry Broth (page 50)
This broth not only acts as the sauce for more than one hot pot, but it can be enjoyed on its own as a soup. It’s delicious, unless you have an aversion to coconut-based broths. It uses two cans of coconut milk (780ml). Red curry paste gives it a bit of bite but, combined with lychee, pineapple, kaffir lime leaves and other oddball ingredients that I would never have thought to put together, the broth is a very tasty combination of saltiness and sweetness. The recipe creates almost 2 litres of broth, which can be frozen for up to a month but it turned out to be just the right amount for the Hot Pot I made directly afterwards.
Thai Chicken Coconut Curry Hot Pot (page 79)
It has only just occurred to me that I chose two Thai recipes from this primarily Japanese-inspired cookbook! None-the-less, my choices were both successful, with the broth above being selected as a result of choosing this recipe first. Having made the broth, the suggested prep time of 20 minutes for the remainder of this recipe was relatively accurate, with most of that taken up with cutting the meat and vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Combining eggplant, cabbage, tomatoes, basil, pumpkin and chillies, there’s not a lot needed to dazzle a dinner guest. You simply cook the meat then throw it into the broth with the vegetables and let them cook. My only difficulty was finding a kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) so after trying three stores, I substituted it for a regular butternut pumpkin which added a nice sweetness to it.
Serve it with rice (there’s a recommended recipe for Steamed Japanese Rice) or simply dish it up and eat it without the extra carbs. It’s well worth the effort.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Distributed by: Murdoch Books
Released: January 2019