Our family is of Chinese descent so we celebrate both Chinese and Khmer New Year. The tradition is to prepare the Hot Pot or Huo Guo that we call Culao in our family as my great grandfather probably landed on the shores of South Vietnam when fleeing China before establishing himself in Thnaot, in Takeo province and marrying my Khmer great grandmother. the ingredients that go into the Culao are as varied as our imagination can be.
The key to good Culao is to simmer the soup for hours before we transfer to the fire pot and arrange all the ingredients in a fashionable manner, layer by layer. The fibrous vegetable like the cabbage, kana or kale should be put at the bottom of the pot while the more fragile and easy to cook leaves should be put on the top layer.
Below is the recipe from "The Cooking of China", Life Magazine (1968). Dad says he has yet to find a better description of how we prepare this.
Meat and seafood
- 1/2 pound top sirloin of beef
- 1 pound whole chicken breast
- 1/2 pound lean pork
- 1/2 poud calf's liver or chicken liver
- 1/2 pound filet of sole, flounder or pike
- 1 dozen of small oysters or small hardshell clams, shucked
- 30-40 large shrimps
Noodles and beancurd
- 4 ounces cellophane noodles
- 2 packages instant noodles
- 2 three-inch squares of fresh bean curd, about 1/2 inch thick, cut into 1/2 inch-wide slices
- 8 eggs (optional)
- 1 pound Chinese celery or Napa cabbage
- 1/2 pound fresh, crisp spinach leaves
- 1/2 pound young Shanghai cabbage
- 1 white chrysanthemum flower (organic)
Soup base to make 2 quarts chicken stock
- 2 pounds of bones (chicken carcass, bone marrow of beef or pork)
- 1 Onion, 1 carrot, 1 celery branch
- Salt, pepper
- 1/4 cup finely chopped scallions
- 1/2 cup minced Chinese parsley (cilantro)
- 2 Tablespoons minced fresh ginger
- 3 Tablespoons sesame seed oil
- 2 tablespoons Chinese rice wine or pale dry sherry
- 3 eggs lightly beaen
- 1/2 cup light soy sauce
- 2 Tablespoons chili oil or sate sauce or both
- Place the pork, beef, calf's liver or chicken liver and sole or pike in your freezer for about 30 minutes, or only long enough to firm the meat for easier slicing. Then, with a cleaver or sharp knife, cut the pork, beef, liver and fish horizontally into the thinnest possible slices. To make fairly uniform pieces that will be easy to handle with chopsticks, cut the slices into strips 3 inches long and 1 inch wide.
- Bone, skin and slice the chicken breast in the following fashion: lay the whole chicken breast on its side on a chopping board. Holding the breast firmly in place, cut it lengthwise along the curved breastbone with a cleaver or a sharp knife. Carefully cut away all the meat from one side of the breastbone. Then grasp the meat in one hand and pull it off the bones and away from the skin - using the cleaver to free the meat if necessary. Turn the breast over and repeat on the other side. Remove each tube-shaped fillet from the boned breast meat, and pull out and discard the white membrane. Freeze the chicken for 30 minutes to firm it. Then lay the breast meat and fillet flat, and cut them horizontally into paper-thin slices. Then cut the slices crosswise into pieces 3 inches wide and 1 inch long.
- In a large, flat pan or dish, cover the cellophane noodles with 2 cups of warm water and soak them for 30 minutes. Then drain the noodles and cut them into 6-inch lengths.
- Shell the shrimp. With a small sharp knife, make a shallow incision down their backs and lift out the black or white intestinal vein with the point of the knife. slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise.
- With a cleaver or a sharp knife, cut away any wilted leaves from the cabbage and separate into stalks. Wash the stalks under cold water and cut each stalk into 1-by-3-inch pieces. Blanch the cabbage by dropping the pieces into a pot of boiling water. Immediately turn off the heat. Let the cabbage pieces rest in the water for 3 minutes, then drain and pat them dry.
- Trim the spinach leaves of their stalks and wash the leaves thoroughly.
- Arrange each kind of meat, fish or seafood, and the noodles and vegetables in overlapping layers on plates or in separate rows on 2 large platters.
- Mix the soy sauce, sesame-seed oil and wine in a small bowl, and stir the eggs. Mix thoroughly, then ladle a tablespoon of the sauce into six individual soup bowls, and pour the rest into a serving bowl.
- Have the above ingredients and the chicken stock within easy reach.
The Chicken stock
Put 2 quarts (about 2 liters) of cold water in a pot. Add the chicken carcass and bone marrow and bring the water to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat and add the onion, carrot and celery. Let the broth simmer for 2-3 hours. Skim the foam regularly to keep the broth clear. Add the salt, pepper.
- For the fire pot, preheat the broiler to its highest point. Arrange 20 charcoal briquets side by side in a baking pan lined with heavy aluminium foil and place it under the broiler. Heat for 10 to 15 minutes until a white ash forms on the briquets. With tongs, transfer the briquets to the funnel of the fire pot. Lay a thick piece of wood, or an isolation mat in the center of the dining table and carefully set the fire pot on it. Keep the stock simmering throughout the meal. Remove the petals from the flower and sprinkle them on the soup just before sitting down to eat.
- Arrange the plates or platters of uncooked food around the fire pot and give each guest a bowl of sauce. Place the extra sauce in its bowl on the table. Traditionally each guest picks up a piece of food from the platters with chopsticks and transfers it to a wire strainer to cook in the simmering stock. When cooked to taste, it is plucked out of the strainer with chopsticks, dipped into sauce and eaten. The strainer may be eliminated and the food held in the stock with chopsticks. Or long-handled forks with heatproof handles may be used - fondue forks if available. Add additional soup stock if/as needed during the course of the meal. When all the meat, fish and seafood have been consumed, a little of the stock (now a rich, highly flavored broth) is ladled into each guest's bow and drunk as a soup. The noodles and vegetables are then dropped into the stock remaining in the fire pot, cooked for a minute or so, and ladled with the broth into the bowls to be eaten as a last course.
Note : in our family, we lay the "hard" vegetables into the stock, cover the pot and allow them to lightly cook. Then each guest dips the fish, meat and seafood as described above. The fragile vegetables will be also eaten piece by piece like the meat. Guests then fish out what they like and serve themselves.
For your creativity, I am listing below other ingredients you may use:
Meats (Thinly sliced)
Fish and seafood
- Beef balls
- Fish balls
- Shrimp balls
- Fish slices
- Offal, ear, and other delicacies
- Blood tofu
- Sea cucumber
- Kamaboko and crab stick
Soy and eggs
- Tofu, Tofu skin
- Pickled tofu (腐乳)
- Egg dumplings (dàn jiǎo)
- Quail eggs
- Raw chicken egg
- Chinese noodles
- Cellophane noodles
- Bok choy
- Choy sum
- Napa cabbage
- liseron d'eau
- Winter melon
- Bean sprouts
- Green beans
- Fat choi
- Garland chrysanthemum (tong ho)
- Snake beans
- Mung bean
- Varieties of mushrooms, straw mushroom, enoki mushrooms, Shiitake, Chinese black mushrooms, golden mushrooms
- Thinly sliced potatoes
- Sea asparagus
- Hoisin sauce
- Soy sauce
- Vinegar (white or black)
- Sesame oil
- White pepper
- Sa cha sauce
- Chili pepper
- Sesame butter
- Coriander / Cilantro (or xiāng cài)
- Chive flower paste (韭菜花酱)
More about the Chrysanthemum fire pot
The fire pot is a very special utensil; it comes in many sizes and shapes, and is generally made of brass, aluminum, or stainless steel. Most of them measure about 15 or 16 inches in diameter and have a source of heat in the center of it for cooking the soup and the other ingredients. Old-fashioned ones are made of brass and feature a metal chimney in the center. They are shaped like a big hollow donut that sits on a grate with an opening in the bottom for the removal of ashes. Burning charcoal is fed into the chimney of the fire pot which is also the inner wall of the donut. Hot soup is placed in this donut that surrounds the chimney. When the soup is boiling, ingredients are added to it for cooking. A cover that fits around the chimney and over the donut is used to facilitate the boiling of the soup, and to conserve energy.
The Mandarin term for serving fire pot for dinner is chi huo guo and in Cantonese, it is ju hua huo guo. The name originates from the Chinese practice of sprinkling fresh white chrysanthemum petals over the food served in the fire pot. This imparts refreshing flavor to the soup.
Around 250 B.C. in the Jin Dynasty, the Taoist monk Ge Hung, believed that soaking chrysanthemum flowers in rice wine for one year would give the person who drank this mixture good health and long life. In the Tang Dynasty (600 - 900 A.D.), Buddhist monks served chrysanthemum flower tea in their temples. The well-known poet Su Dung Po, who lived during the Sung Dynasty (900 - 1280 A.D.), described how to appreciate chrysanthemums. He wrote that one should "eat the shoots in the spring, leaves in the summer, flowers in the fall, and roots in the winter." Obviously, eating chrysanthemum flowers has been well-documented; the Chinese have been doing it for 2,000-plus years.
According to some, the name Chrysanthemum Fire Pot may come from an old-style fire pot which had eight compartments in the donut-shaped vessel. After surrounding the fire pot with dishes of raw and assorted sliced meats, fresh eggs in the shell, and raw vegetables, the meal was ready for cooking. With eight people sitting around a table, each could have their own private cooking compartment in which they could cook their own combination of meat and vegetables; they could even poach an egg in their soup, should they so desire.
(as described by Wonona Wong Chang - Flavor and Fortune, Spring Volume: 1996 Issue: 3(1) page(s): 18, 21, and 15)