Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Szechuan Peppercorn: What Is it and How Do I Cook with It?


The Szechuan (also spelled Sichuan) peppercorn is a spice popular in many Asian countries, particularly China.  Rather than simply being hot, this peppercorn has a spicy, more exotic flavor than black peppercorns. It is not related to the pepper family.  Reddish brown, it is actually a dried berry husk from the Chinese prickly ash bush.  Because it can cause your mouth to tingle, use it sparingly.

To prepare these peppercorns, briefly toast the amount you need in a dry frying pan over medium-high heat until they begin to give off their fragrance.  Remove them from the heat, let cool and then crush them using a mortar and pestle.  Or put them between two sheets of wax paper and gently bang them with a heavy can or rolling pin.


Dishes in which they are featured include Stir-Fried Eggplant with Pork, Spicy Tofu and Szechuan Noodles with Spicy Beef Sauce, to name but a few.  I like to use crushed Szechuan peppercorns to season pieces of fresh tuna before briefly sautéing the tuna in hot oil.


Szechuan peppercorns are available in small packets at Asian markets, gourmet grocers or online.   Ground Szechuan pepper is one of the ingredients in Chinese Five Spice. 

NOTE: Small twigs may be mixed in with the peppercorns and should be discarded before crushing occurs.

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