As with the 水煮 (shuǐ zhǔ) style of cooking, the literal English translation of 火鍋 (huǒ guō) can be somewhat misleading to those unfamiliar with Chinese cuisine. Like 水煮牛肉 (shuǐ zhǔ niú ròu), which is completely different from English boiled beef, 火鍋 bears very little resemblance to Lancashire hotpot.
火鍋 is a sociable, communal-style meal, served as a simmering pot of stock in the middle of the table with raw ingredients (sliced meat and fish, prawns, vegetables, tofu, noodles, etc) supplied on the side. You choose your own ingredients and cook them to your preferred doneness by letting them simmer in the pot before fishing them out with chopsticks or a strainer. Various dipping sauces are also offered.
There are a number of different styles of stock. Helen Yuet Ling Pang describes the Cantonese style, which is a fairly plain one flavoured with carrot, daikon, spring onion, and ginger — you could use pork or chicken stock as a base for this, but since Helen lives with a vegetarian she uses water, and it works out fine. The version pictured at the top of this post is a "split" version known as 鴛鴦 (yuān yāng) [see footnote 0], which has a spicy Sichuan-style stock in one side and a milder, "medicinal" stock in the other — quite handy if the various members of your party have differing chilli tolerances!
I'm having a little trouble finding recipes for the Sichuan-style stock — as far as I can see, a lot of people who make this hotpot style at home simply buy a pre-mixed seasoning packet and use that. I did find a recipe on the BBC website, and an accompanying video [see footnote 1]. (Update, April 2012: I found one on the Yi Reservation blog, though it doesn't give quantities.) I've had no luck at all finding a recipe for the "medicinal" stock, but it usually seems to include things like dried mushrooms and goji berries (wolfberries). (Update, February 2013: Yi Reservation has now posted a recipe for medicinal hotpot stock.)
To serve 火鍋 at home, you'll want some kind of tabletop cooker, a pot to go on it, some small single-serving hotpot strainers, and of course chopsticks. You may want to supply separate sets of chopsticks for eating and for transferring raw ingredients to the pot with, to avoid cross-contamination. Hotpot strainers (photo) should be available in most Chinese supermarkets that have kitchenware sections (regular readers will, I suspect, not be surprised to learn that I got mine from Loon Fung in Silvertown). The cooking can be done in a rice cooker, if you happen to have one of the old types with a completely removable lid, or in a specialist 火鍋 vessel (look for these in any Chinese cash-and-carry/large supermarket). I recently managed to achieve a two-person hotpot in a fondue set, but it was a slow process even on the highest heat setting.
Here are some of my favourite hotpot ingredients (see also my earlier post full of balls):
|通菜||tōng cài||water spinach (a leafy green with hollow stems and long narrow leaves)|
|空心菜||kōng xīn cài||another name for water spinach|
|金針菇||jīn zhēn gū||enoki mushrooms (literally "golden needle mushrooms")|
|凍豆腐||dòng dòu du||frozen tofu|
|大蝦||dà xiā||king prawns|
|青口||qīng kǒu||green-lip mussels (literally "green mouth")|
|魚片||yú piàn||sliced fish|
|特色肥牛||tè sè féi niú||"characteristic fatty beef" — ultra-thinly-sliced raw beef|
Finally, here are some hotpot menus from London restaurants:
- Chilli Cool, Bloomsbury (photo with transcription, bilingual)
- Red & Hot, Euston (blurry photo with partial transcription, bilingual, but the English and Chinese versions don't correspond exactly)
- Royal Palace, Surrey Quays (text, translation by me)
Footnote:  鴛 (yuān) and 鴦 (yāng) are the characters for the male and female Mandarin duck, and are often used together to denote a pairing of some kind — CantoDict has a few examples (scroll down).
Footnote:  I'm not sure whether or how much the BBC recipe is "dumbed down", given that the chef (Ching-He Huang) is using Lee Kum Kee chilli bean paste — with the brand name blanked out on the jar, since this is the BBC, but the jar is pretty distinctive. See Fuchsia Dunlop on this subject, and also note this forum thread disparaging Lee Kum Kee's pre-prepared Sichuan hotpot base.