Eating hot pot in Taiwan has become a national pastime. Raw ingredients are added to a flavored simmering broth. Think fondue, except it’s a water based broth rather than cheese.
This communal eating style is especially popular in the winter. One of the favored ingredients to spice up the broth is a unique berry called Sichuan pepper.
It’s name in mandarin is huājiāo ( 花椒; literally "flower pepper"). Sichuan pepper is actually not in the pepper or chilli family. It’s in the citrus family. This bright red berry is difficult to harvest because of the prickly thorns on the trees.
Although the prickly shrub that it grows on can be found throughout Asia, the Sichuan province in China is known for growing the best quality. Only the husks of the berry are used. The tasteless black seeds are removed.
It can be used in bean paste, spicy tofu and Chinese five spice powder. It is also an important ingredient in Anita’s “The Classic” Hot Sauce.
It has a peppery citrus aroma and an electric numbing aftertaste. It is spicy and tingly which is called “ma la” in mandarin Chinese. The “la” means spicy, of which the Sichuan pepper has none but Chinese refer to it this way. The “ma” is the tingly numbing sensation.
An active ingredient in Sichuan pepper called Sanshool causes a vibration in the lips that measures the same as a power grid. While it could be used to help the digestive system or as a painkiller it is generally used sparingly in food due to its strong flavor.
The Sichuan pepper is often dried for preservation. The longer it sits the flavor subsides. It should be stored in an airtight jar away from light. A common technique in China to get the flavor from the Sichuan pepper is to slow cook the pepper in oil with red chillies.
Often due to long storage times the Sichuan pepper found in supermarkets is old and has lost some of it’s taste. It is best to buy from the Chinese medicine shops.
COOKING WITH HOT PEPPERS
Using Sichuan pepper in Anita’s “The Classic” hot sauce was natural. Before chillies were introduced, Taiwan and China used Sichuan pepper and ginger to provide heat to dishes. When the chillies arrived from the Americas it was matched with Sichuan pepper.
When cooked together the Sichuan pepper numbs the initial spicy level allowing the natural fruity flavors of the Chillies to come out. This allows one to enjoy the flavors of the sauce as the spicy aftertaste builds. It prepares your tongue for the spiciness of the chillies. The marriage of the ingredients is electric.
YUNNAN SLICED PORK SALAD RECIPE
The manchurians used to make sacrifices to the gods with pigs. Afterwards they would serve the pork thinly sliced off the soldiers' swords. Over the years the recipe migrated south and became spicier with the addition of sichuan pepper and chillies. This side dish is best served cold.
350g pork belly or hind leg
1T rice wine
Pinch of salt
Half and onion(sliced)
1T rice vinegar
1T crushed garlic
1T drinking water
1 T lemon juice
1T sichuan pepper
2T sesame oil
1t Anita’s “The Ghost” sauce
Place pork in cold water with rice wine and salt. Cook to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 35 minutes. Remove from water and cool in the refrigerator overnight.
Add rice vinegar, sugar, garlic, water, lemon juice and Anita’s hot sauce to bowl and soak.
Cook sichuan pepper and sesame oil on low heat for a few minutes and set aside.
Lay sliced onion on a plate.
Thinly slice cold pork and place on top of onions.
Drizzle garlic sauce over the pork
Garnish with cilantro
Use the oil sauce as a dipping sauce or drizzle over the salad.