Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Sichuan chili sauce

When I was in China and not working or being booted out of Tibet, I was eating. The food there is fantastic! Granted some of it is kind of weird. There is an old Chinese saying, "The Chinese will eat anything with four legs but the table" and it's kind of true! The menus were fascinating. In Beijing and other touristy places where we Westerners might go the menus are usually offered in English. If the translations are somewhat lacking in descriptive value then there are always pictures.

The variety of fungi alone is astonishing. I enjoyed perusing menu items that I would never in a million and one years eat: shark fin soup, turtle, dog and "sinew of beef soup" to name a few. I have a hard time ascertaining what sinew of beef soup might be but it sure sounds gristly.

My colleague and I both especially loved the Sichuan food. I noticed a delicious, hot peppery flavor in several dishes. Finally I figured out that this peppery flavor came from what looked like a peppercorn. I believe these are sold in Asian markets in the US as Sichuan peppercorns. I bought some in the airport at Chongqing (fomerly referred to as Chungking in English) after the Tibet debacle. The label calls them Chinese prickly ash.

I scoured my cookbooks for Sichuan recipes and came up with this sauce that goes great on stir fry. I made it with fish, but perhaps fish is too delicate to stand up to the intensity of the prickly ash peppercorns. Use the peppercorns sparingly otherwise your tongue will go numb!

Here is the recipe from The Quick Recipe, p, 342:

3 T dry sherry
2 T low sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 T soy sauce
1 T Asian sesame oil
1 T Asian chili paste
1 t cornstarch (I suggest omitting it unless you like the thick sauciness it imparts)
1/4 t sugar
1/4 t toasted and ground (in a pepper mill) Sichuan peppercorns (Chinese prickly ash)

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl.

Use this sauce with stir fry: Once you have fried up the meat or veggies, add the sauce. Turn the heat off. Stir the food until it is well-coated with the sauce.

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