Turn half-price ham into a hot pot: ma la xiang guo recipe

ma la xiang guo is a spicy and savory stir-fry originating from Chongqing in China. It’s full of my the (incredibly spicy) and is the perfect way to breathe new life into a bag of leftovers or post-Christmas treats.

At ma la xiang guo restaurants around the world, choose from a range of cooked and raw meats; Seafood; vegetables; noodles and starches; choose your spice level, then hand it to the chef (and prepare to be blown away). The heavy seasoning effectively coats all the flavors of the individual ingredients, resulting in a cohesive and flavorful dish.

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This dish is usually topped with dried chilies, Sichuan peppercorns, and chili bean paste (doubanjiang) with an easy shortcut known as hotpot base. Together with a handful of fragrant spices, they are ingredients that I always have in my pantry. I’ve made a few changes to the traditional recipe for convenience.

Choose pre-cooked meat and seafood cut into 4 to 5cm pieces, accompanied by vegetables of your choice for crunchy. I added slices of smoked Christmas ham, cold braised lamb and cooked prawns, then raided my fridge for leftover vegetables from the Christmas caterer. I finished with wilted gem lettuce, zucchini, celery and radishes – all crunchy, fresh and delicious even when sautéed.

The quantities for this recipe are really a guide, use whatever you like, but try to select a range of textures for an enjoyable cooking experience. A bag of hot steamed rice is non-negotiable — you’ll need it to cool the burn.

Christmas leftovers ma la xiang guo

Preparation 15 minutes
Cooked 10 minutes
Serve From four to six, with rice

“Try selecting a range of textures for a fun cooking experience.” Photography: Rosheen Kaul

125ml of cooking oil
8-10 dried chillies,
Prefer Sichuan peppers
1 tablespoon whole Sichuan peppercorns
1 star anise
2 bay leaves
4 slices of ginger,
skin on
4 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 fresh red peppers, diamond cut
3 tablespoons of doubanjiang chili bean dip, available in Asian supermarkets and grocery stores
100 g of fondue base optional, but recommended
1 tablespoon chicken broth powder
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of granulated sugar
300 g leftover cooked meat
turkey, ham, chicken, etc., shredded or cut into small pieces
100 g of cooked seafood shrimp, clams, oysters, lobsters, etc., cut into small pieces
100 g of green leafy vegetables lettuce, cabbage, kale, etc., cut into small pieces
100 g of crunchy vegetables radishes, celery, onions, cauliflower, etc., cut into small pieces
Optional Additional Extras – boiled eggs, mushrooms, fried/roasted potatoes, etc.
2 stalks of spring onion cut into pieces of 4 cm
½ bunch of coriander cut into pieces of 4 cm
Chile the oil to serve

Cooking ingredients in the wok
Hotpot After Christmas by Rosheen Kaul. Photography: Rosheen Kaul

Turn the extractor fan on full blast and open a window, because you’re about to cook some chilli in scorching heat.

Heat the oil in a large wok or skillet over high heat until simmering. Make sure your cooking vessel is large enough to hold all of the ingredients with room to spare.

Add the dried chiles, Sichuan peppercorns, bay leaf and star anise. Saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

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Add the ginger slices, fresh chillies and garlic, sauté over high heat for 10-20 seconds. Add fondue base (if using), doubanjiang, chicken broth, oyster sauce, soy sauce and granulated sugar and saute over medium heat until the oil separates.

Add your ingredients one at a time and let them fry thoroughly each time before adding the next batch. If you overload the wok or pan, you’ll end up simmering the ingredients. Saute over high heat after each addition – the wok should be sizzling and not smoking.

Saute over high heat for two to three minutes after adding all the ingredients. Stir in the spring onion and cilantro stems and additional chili oil if desired.

Serve with rice and eat right away.

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