Simple pleasures

Thai me up

Before Christmas I was invited to eat at Hot Pot in London’s Chinatown. Think meat fondue, but with fireworks, dancers, a full orchestra and a jousting tournament.

I have never seen so much food on a table, it would have seemed excessive even to George IV, but we made a good go of it. Fresh fish, squid, mussels, tofu, dried beancurd, steak, pork, vegetables, cardiac heart paddles, elastic waist trousers and more. For once, sharing plates actually had enough food on them for me to not feel hard done by.

There were a lot of base stocks to choose from. “Beauty rich” collagen broth, a thick, deep stock from pig bones, “longevity mushroom”, “ancient pork stomach” (not sure if it’s the recipe or the stomach that’s ancient, but I thought if it’s piping hot throughout, it’s probably ok) and quite a few others. Plenty of sauces on the side made it a real mix and match meal, every bite different.

Now we’re in January, soups and broths are just the thing fill you with an enormous sense of wellbeing as you look to eat more healthily until at least next week when the chocolate, crisps and self-loathing resurface. I occasionally have a hot mug of broth in the morning in place of coffee. It’s a refreshing way to start the day.

But I’ve never made a proper tom yum, always making it up as I go along. Ben, the chef at Hot Pot (who is from Thailand), gave me this, his recipe, and watched over me as I made it. “Good” was all he said. So I’ll take it that this is the way to do it. I like it fiery, almost lip-numbing, so I’ve gone quite far with the chilli here. Tone it down if you prefer.

If you have a fondue set, you can recreate the hot pot experience at home. Just use the fondue dish as the bowl for the broth, keep it hot and bubbling and dip slices of  fish or meat or whatever you’re cooking in to it and keep going until you’ve had enough. Put everything on the table and tuck in. You could even invite some friends round.

1l chicken stock
2tbsp galangal or some sliced ginger (I used galangal paste from the supermarket)
3-4 shallots, pounded in a pestle and mortar
2 lemon grass sticks, sliced
1tbsp dried chilli paste (you could use harissa at a push)
6 kaffir lime leaves
1tbsp sugar
Fish sauce and lime juice to taste
Green chilli, sliced, to taste
A bunch of coriander
1-2tbsp tom yum paste. You can buy this or make it yourself by blitzing together:
1 shallot (echalion or banana. Don’t bother with the small round ones, they are a bugger to peel)
Lime juice (about one lime)
2 lemongrass spears
1tbsp galangal (or ginger)
Roots from a bunch of coriander
Some dried red chillies (I used about six)
Enough rapeseed or groundnut oil to make a paste

Bring the stock to the boil, reduce to a simmer and add all the other ingredients apart from the coriander leaves and green chillies. Cook for a few minutes, taste and adjust the seasoning by adding more fish sauce or lime juice and more chilli if it’s not hot enough. Dress with coriander and sliced green chilli.
That’s it. It freezes well, too, so you can make batches of this and defrost it as and when.

The Hot Pot lot


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