The Flavors of Sichuan
One of the best parts about running this store is that I get to share the foods I'm most excited about. Lately, that's been Sichuan Cuisine. I'm a complete novice in this ancient and complex style of cooking, but I'll do my best to give you a little primer. For a more deep dive into these flavors, check out this article from Serious Eats, then head back to Zest to get your hands on the unique specialty ingredients you'll need to recreate these flavors at home.
Let's start with the (very) basics: Sichuan is an inland province in China in Southwest China, home to the Han Chinese people - who speak a unique dialect of Mandarin. Sichuan Cuisine is considered one of the "Four Great Traditions" of Chinese Cuisine. It's a diverse style of cooking, but some enthusiasts acclaim its most prominent traits as "hot, spicy, fresh, and fragrant." Sounds pretty good, right?
If you're trying to recreate Sichuan Cuisine at home, there are a few special ingredients you're going to need to get your hands on. Fortunately, we've gone out of our way to find them for you:
The Tongue-Numbing, Citrusy Tribute Pepper: Often referred to as "Sichuan Peppercorn," this spice is not a peppercorn nor a pepper at all but actually the husks of the seeds of two varieties of prickly ash shrub (Zanthoxylum) from the citrus family. The flavor profile is fragrant and complex - reminiscent of lavender to start, then a numbing heat, then citrusy. You may be a little taken aback by the tingling, numbing sensation on your tongue the first time you try the Tribute Pepper, but I've found it addictive.
The Erjingtiao Chili: Sichuan's most loved chili variety. Heat-masochists may be disappointed by the relative mildness of this chili. It hits in the 15,000-20,000 Scoville range and is prized far more so for its fragrance than its spice. Fruity and complex, this chili is more about flavor than pain.
These raw ingredients can be combined into endless dishes, but for those that want a more simplified path towards Sichuan flavors, we've found three ingredients you must try:
Zhong Dumpling Sauce: Milder than the Chili Crisp, this dipping sauce packs a wallop of umami thanks to the addition of dried mushrooms. It's my favorite on fish, but like the Chili Crisp you can put it on literally anything, and it transforms a hasty dinner of frozen dumplings into something truly spectacular.
Mala Spice Mix: (Coming February of 2021) The signature flavor of Sichuan Cuisine, "Mala." This word is a combination of two Chinese characters: "numbing" and "spicy." Fly By Jing's Mala Spice Mix perfectly encapsulates the essense of Sichuan Cuisine so that you can add a little Sichuan flavor to whatever you're cooking. Add it to rubs, toss it on popcorn, pop it on the rim of a margarita glass - the possibilities are endless.
There are a few more unique Sichuan ingredients we're still working on procuring, but with these in hand you can make some of Sichuan's most iconic and delicious dishes:
- Marguerite Jodry