I grew up avoiding the Szechuan dishes on the menu of the local Chinese restaurant because they had the red "spicy" star next to them. And then as a young adult when I preferred the spicier dishes I was mightily impressed by this so called Szechuan peppercorn that could make dishes that not only made one sweat but numbed the tongue. And then about 10 years ago the owner of one of those Chinese restaurants told me that there was more than one kind of pepper used in most Szechuan dishes and the one actually named Szechuan or Szechwan or Sichuan after the province in Southwest China was actually not a pepper related to either the black and white peppercorn family or the capsicum pepper family. And it wasn't hot...it wouldn't make you sweat but it was responsible for the tongue tingling part. And thus began my minor food addiction with Szechuan pepper. I sprinkle it on lots of things potato chips, pizza, eggs and bacon, soups, salads. If I see it creatively used on a menu I'll usually order the dish even when I know there are better dishes available. I have a peppermill filled with just it, one with it blended with 2 other peppers and one with it blended with sea salt. If you get a good dose of it the sensation to me isn't one of being numb but more like the constant tingling that happens when the novocaine wears off from the dentist office. The only other similar experience I've had in the plant and animal kingdom was when I chewed the leaves of the Coca plant as pointed out by our guide when hiking in the Andes. There must be a few other addicts out there as I often see it now listed on European menus when 10 years ago that wasn't the case.
It has a pleasant citrus aroma that fills your kitchen if toasted in a skillet.
You can try it out immediately by sprinkling a pinch or two on your favorite microwave popcorn but I'll send along a recipe for "homemade popcorn" and for an oil that you can pour on popcorn, fish, chicken, veggies etc. to get a quick "buzz"
(Look for the ones with the most red or pink color and it's the hulls you want...not the seed) —David
- Serves 2
favorite popcorn kernels popped
szechuan pepper ground fine
chipotle or cayenne powder (I like Szechuan combined with heat but feel free to leave out
salt to taste
- Szechuan pepper oil
Szechuan pepper toasted in a dry skillet and coarsely ground
Black peppercorns toasted in a dry skillet and coarsely ground
dried birdseye chiles or chiles de arbol (whole)
- After toasting and grinding Szechuan and black peppercorns put whole dried birdseye chiles in warm skillet and allow to warm. Feel free to leave out hot birdseye peppers if not desired.
- Heat peanut oil to 110-120 degres and pour into heatproof container with chiles and peppers. After completely cooled can pour into bottle or other storage container (can strain or not) Will keep for 1-2 weeks without refrigeration. If you refrigerate allow to come to room temp if possible.