WHAT IS IT?
Szechuan pepper isn’t really a pepper or a peppercorn. It’s really a member of the citrus family, a dried rind of a small fruit. The seeds, shiny and black, are discarded. It is best applied at the end of cooking, as it breaks down with excess heat. The coarse ground version is a convenience which doesn’t seem to lose its punch as it would with a pepper pod, but it means having both this and the powder. I generally prefer the whole husks and a spice mill rather than store both.
Szechuan pepper has mildly pungent, lemon overtones with a mild, tingly numbness of the mouth called “málà” in Chinese, that is caused by a small amount of hydroxy alpha sanshool in the husks of the fruit.
BEST PAIRED WITH
- Star anise
- Finishes of higher fat foods needing contrast
Popular in Chinese, Nepalese, Indian, Indonesian, and Tibetan, cuisines, Szechuan pepper originates from China.
- Sambals and pickles
- Momo, a Himalayan dumpling stuffed with vegetables, cottage cheese, or minced yak meat, water buffalo meat, or pork;
- Mongolian stir-fried lamb
- Sichuan pepper chicken or steak
A FEW IMPROVISATIONAL RIFFS:
- My Chinese barbecue rib rub.
- Simple stir-fry Sichuan scallop
- Add to a lemon muffin’s topper for a little lift
- A sprinkle in an omelette with a high fat cheese like brie provides a little contrasting flavor pop.
Szechuan pepper was widely traded throughout Asia and Indonesia both as a spice and a medicinal herb. It can be found in so many daily cuisines as a result. Popularized by the spicy Szechuan cooking craze in America in the 1980s, the fruit became a big seller on the spice racks of American stores that offered Asian foods.
The United States government banned Szechuan pepper from the late 1960’s because the fruit husks could potentially carry citrus canker bacteria and infect the American citrus crop. The ban was loosely adhered to, and was lifted in 2005 under the condition that all szechuan pepper imported be roasted at 70°C/158F to kill the bacteria.
- Sichuan pepper
- Chinese pepper
- Chinese coriander
- Shān jiāo
- Huā jiāo
- Aniseed pepper
- Sprice pepper
- Chinese prickly-ash
- Nepal pepper
- Indonesian lemon pepper
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