I’m no professional when it comes to the science of meat nor am I a butcher/farmer where I’m well versed in the knowledge of meat. I actually don’t even enjoy eating that much meat, I’m more of a vegetable person (not that I dislike meat, just my preference leans on the green side). With that being said, I still enjoy good meat when I am eating it ESPECIALLY it when it comes to hot potting. Just be aware that everything I’m about to write is purely from my personal observation.
I specifically state this piece of my blog as “hot pot” meat and not a joint “shabu shabu/hot pot meat” because there is actually a difference in how the meat is prepped and the overall of how shabu and hot pot are eaten. I actually hate it when people get the two mixed up (YES, THERE IS A DIFFERENCE), while it’s not a big deal- it has become quite the pet peeve like when people call “macarons” as “macaroons”. LOL, but I digress. I’ve always compared and related the two as siblings, Japanese shabu shabu is like the richer and more expensive sister of Chinese hot pot. Now let me elaborate from what I’ve observed throughout the years.
Almost all the shabu shabu restaurants I’ve been to has always been twice as expensive as any hot pot place I’ve been to and they generally only serve kombu water (pieces of seaweed and water), very thinly sliced (close to paper thin) beef and vegetables. I went to DTLA’s Little Tokyo to get in on some authentic shabu shabu action and for just that it was $35.00 a person/meal, no flavored broths were offered. The main goal of shabu shabu is savoring the meat quality with light dipping sauces (ponzu/goma) that comes with the meal. It is because their meat is so thin that all one needs to do is “swish-swish” in the pot and it’ll be done. It’s also because the main idea in shabu is the meat flavor and quality that only water is used, dipping it in flavored broth clouds the original taste of the meat hence why kombu water is used exclusively at legit shabu places. For the most part many places in the San Gabriel Valley area is a mix of the two, there’s no real place that only serves straight shabu shabu, most offer flavored broths for a bigger market of customers.
NOW, as for hot pot, the main spotlight is on the broth. When eating hot pot you are cooking the ingredients in a boldly flavored broth. There’s typically also a mix of ingredients from meat to veggies to seafood (shrimp, fish balls, etc). The meat slices are also thicker than shabu shabu meat, although bad when it’s too thick then it’s just takes longer to cook which risks overcooking it and there’s also an overwhelming taste of meatiness. I definitely much prefer hot pot to shabu shabu for taste and cost wise. I always find Chinese herbal soups or vegetarian herbal soups to be the best!
It’s because I enjoy hot pot, I’ve eaten it quite often out and at home. I love it all year around, but the best season is always winter time of course. 😉 Through all the experiences I’ve come to notice that there is a difference in meat quality from location to location in terms of supermarket as well as frozen versus fresh meat. My usual go-to market for hot pot meat is Market World only because it’s the closest one near home that sells affordable lamb meat ($9.99 /lb), which I prefer over beef. It’s also probably one the lowest grade of meat I’ve had. Market World’s hot pot meat is stored in the freezer section and it’s ALWAYS overly frozen with obvious freeze burns and on average days the meat is always already browned before freezing. I always try to defrost it before cooking as hot pot sliced meat is best eaten fresh and unfrozen, but even then the meat is always a bit tougher than I like not to mention Market World cut is really thick and so eating it is difficult.
The second place I get my meat from is H Mart, while it’s also frozen it’s not deeply frozen like Market World’s and it’s not clumped together rather it’s lightly rolled for you for ease of access to each slice. I also really enjoy and found it to be the most appropriate thickness in the meat slices, it wasn’t too thick or too thin and because they aren’t heavily frozen they defrost easily enough that they still retain most of their quality. It’s just a bummer that it’s on the more expensive side for lamb meat ($14.99 /lb).
Another location that recently added hot pot meat to their grocery stock is Costco. While it’s city specific (the ones with more Asian residences, the Costco usually will stock this meat i.e. Irvine/City of Industry). They don’t have lamb from what I’ve seen and heard, so we just got beef ($10.99 /lb) and the price is actually not bad at all. Their meat is actually not frozen, rather it’s fresh and beautifully marbled and red sitting in their normal refrigerators. It was one of the best at home hot pot meats I’ve ever had, I assumed and theorized that it was because Costco didn’t freeze their meats that resulted the meat to be SO delicious and tender when cooked at our hot pot meal.
As I said before I’m no professional on meats, but from what I’ve eaten and seen via all these meats at home I really do believe there’s a difference in frozen versus fresh when it comes to hot pot meats. Maybe because it’s much thinner than let’s just say… Steak or much thicker slabs of meat that freezing it really does change the compositions of hot pot meats. From basic biology of flesh, upon freezing the meat, water in the cell’s cytoplasm will form water crystals, expanding and rupturing the cell walls and membranes. When thawing it’ll alter the tissue structure of the food making it taste different is how I see it.
So what is your take on hot pot and/or shabu shabu? Let me know in the comments below! 🙂