Cooking

Hot Pot Time Machine

Chef Jonathan Wu ditches the usual spread for a Chinese New Year seafood hot pot
Chinese New Year means seafood hot pot, according to Fung Tu's Jonathan Wu | Photos: Dave Katz/Tasting Table
Chinese New Year Seafood Hot Pot from Jonathan Wu

We're ditching our galoshes and dodging the cold in favor of a Big Night In all month long. Follow our lead right this way.

Tradition dictates a lot of things during Chinese New Year, which begins this Thursday.

Like scrubbing down your whole house to wipe out the old and welcome in the new. Gathering family from all limbs of the tree for a sprawling feast featuring an auspicious number of dishes, either eight for prosperity or nine for longevity. Exchanging festive little red envelopes filled with money and eating a whole fish fragrant with ginger and scallions (for prosperity and unity); pan-fried nian gao or chewy rice cakes (for more prosperity); sautéed mustard greens (for long life); long noodles (really pushing for that long life); and hairy fat choy, or black moss, with pungent mushrooms (for good fortune). Prosperity, long life, family—you get the point.

But for Jonathan Wu, the forward-thinking chef at Fung Tu in New York City, tradition dictates something much different.

Instead of the marathon meal, Wu folds a bunch of those same meaningful ingredients into one big dish: a brothy hot pot with gochujang-cured fish, homemade shrimp balls, squares of chive-laced omelet and watercress (see the recipe). And long, slippery glass noodles, of course.

One bowl of all the hot pot essentials and the chive omelet

"The tradition comes from my mom, and we did it for celebratory things, like Christmas and regular New Year's, but always Chinese New Year," Wu explains. "Hot pot then meant that we were going to have a gathering."

Growing up in Connecticut, the Wu kids pinched together dumplings into pleated half moons at the table while Wu's mother was in the kitchen, unwrapping the store-bought fish balls and slicing and skewering semi-frozen hunks of fish.

However, the brainy chef, who's gained attention (and due praise) for playing around with Picholine olives and Thai bird chiles in egg rolls and turning scallion pancakes upside down with masa, couldn't help but do a little R&D on these essential hot pot ingredients.

"I looked into the origins of sushi for curing the fish," Wu says excitedly. "In 7th-century China, they layered salted fish with uncooked rice, and then that migrated to Japan. There was an attempt to capture the fermentation flavor of fish, that sweetness and acidity. So, I thought, why not use fresh fish?"

RELATED   Throw a Fantastic Dumpling Party at Home »

Wu spackles thick, spicy-sweet gochujang on Spanish mackerel and fermented bean curd on black sea bass and lets them sit overnight before dropping them into the roiling hot pot. He also makes his own shrimp balls, seasoned with white soy sauce and simmered in a star anise- and Sichuan peppercorn-laced liquid, not because he doesn't love the premade kind his mother relied on, but to, you know, experiment.

Once the big day arrives at Wu's Brooklyn home, all of the cured fish is thinly cut up, the shrimp balls poached, the watercress washed and the glass noodles soaked until plumped and spry. Then each element is plated and spread across the table surrounding one large crock of silky, fragrantly fishy broth. Friends and family arrive, and chopsticks, tiny bowls and bottles of sesame oil and black vinegar are passed around. Finally, the feast begins with everyone dipping as they go and lots of slurping.

"One doesn't do hot pot for one person," Wu says. "It is inherently a communal dish, and it has to be for a party."

Now this is a tradition we can make our own.

Around the Web

Get the Tasting Table newsletter for adventurous eaters everywhere