Tag Archives: sichuan

Ingredient: Sichuan Peppercorn (花椒)

9 Jun
Sichuan peppercorn

So what makes Sichuan cuisine so delicious?  The answer lies with its unique use of a special spice that produces a tingly, numbing effect, combined with spiciness, creates a singular taste no other regional cuisine can match.

Sichuan peppercorn, also known botanically as the outer pod of the tiny fruit from a plant called Zanthoxylum, used to be banned for import by the US government as it may carry a certain bacteria that is harmful to native citrus crops.

The ban has since been lifted, and I am happy to say that I just ordered a bag from an online spice shop. 

 Depending on its potency, I’d recommend all the first-time handlers with this spice to be cautious, as “a little (can go) a long way.”

A Family Tree of Palates

28 May

If you are familiar with the political history of Taiwan, my home until the age of 14, then you will understand the culinary diversity found in this wonderfully small island.  In 1949, the Chiang Kai-shek government fled mainland China, bringing close to 2 million of soldiers and civilians to Taiwan, all with various provincial backgrounds.  And among them were my grandparents.  

My grandma (nai-nai) from my dad’s side was a native of Sichuan, and thanks to her, I was exposed to the tingly-numbing Sichuan peppercorn early on.  My dad’s dad (yen-yen) came from Zhejiang, a province known for delicate preparation and vibrant, seasonal ingredients.

My mom’s mom (po-po) was a nurse during WWII in the city of Tianjin, a metropolis in Northeastern China.  As a kid I loved her pickled carrots and cucumbers, and the delicious noodles with pork and bean paste, known as zajiang mien.  Granddad (gong-gong) from my mom’s side hailed from a small village in the province of Hebei, where everyone knows how to roll out dumpling and bun doughs blindfolded.      

Raised by his Sichuan mother, Dad was trained to take on spicy food from a young age.  His twice-cooked pork is a must-learn on my list to master.  And although Mom never entered the kitchen before marrying Dad (and quite a few years after, too, as Dad would just cook for them both), she quickly discovered that she is blessed with a sharp palate and high aptitude after a few attempts at cooking.  Mommy is the best chef I know, also the chef I aspire to be one day.

So for me, it is rather difficult to sum up Chinese food in a few words given how differnt the style can be from one region to the next.  The most accurate way to describe “my” Chinese cooking is perhaps the word “homemade.”  No they may not be the dishes you find in your local Hunan Garden or the likes, but they are what I eat at home.  That’s why I want to share, so maybe you can enjoy such delectables and call them your homemade, too. 🙂

Grand Opening: Sichuan Style Wontons (紅油抄手)

18 May Sichuan Wontons

Wontons are definitely one of the most common foods in Chinese cuisine, and they vary from region to region, mostly popular in the south, as the north is better known for dumplings and buns.  The name for wonton also differs from one province to another. They are usually considered “snack food” in the afternoon or late night.  As I recall from childhood, they were often served in between ma jong games at my grandparents’.  And since my paternal grandma (nai-nai) was a native of Sichuan, the Sichuan style wontons are the ones I am most familiar with.

What goes into the wontons are 2 lbs of ground pork, 1/2 lb of shrimp, chopped, with rice wine, sesme oil, white pepper, and salt. Wrappers are store bought.

These “hot oil wontons” (as its literal translation denotes) are eaten dry, with a mixture of aromatic toppings (sans soup), which is different from the Canton and Shanghai styles, often served in a broth.

To cook the wontons:

Add wontons to a pot of boiling water.  When it is boiling again, add a cup of cold water to it.  When that comes to a boil, you’re done.  Remember: It is the same to cook fresh versus frozen wontons (as it will just take frozen wontons a bit longer to come to a boil), and there is NO need to defrost fozen wontons.

To serve:
Mix the finely chopped scallion, garlic, dried shrimp, zha cai (preserved vegetable) with soy sauce, hot oil, and sesame oil atop the wontons.

Wontons!

Toppings: Garlic, scallion, zha cai (preserved vegetable), and dried shrimp