We at SE are big fans of the Sichuan peppercorn. Real big. Though most commonly found in Sichuan cuisine, the spice has such depth and appeal that it really should have farther-reaching applications.
Though the uninitiated might find the taste of Sichuan peppercorns unpleasantly medicinal, the converts prize its unique taste and tongue-numbing sensation. It offers automatic complexity with minimal effort on your part.
Sichuan pepper (hua jiao) was used in Chinese cuisine well before black or white pepper was introduced by way of the spice route. They give off a tingly, fizzy feeling on the tongue and when used sparingly, are incomparably delicious. And addictive. The peppercorns, which grow on trees, turn dark pink in color and split open to reveal black, shiny seeds.
The seeds themselves are tasteless; it's the fragrant pink husks of the peppercorn that are valuable. Like some other habit-forming items, Sichuan peppercorns are actually toxic when ingested in large quantities.
I like to keep a pepper grinder full of them handy, just as I would any other type of peppercorn. I also keep a jar of oil flavored with toasted and ground-up Sichuan peppercorns. The oil is fragrant enough to drizzle over roasted vegetables and meat.
Check out all 11 ways to use the addictive spice in the tongue-sizzling slideshow »
Or, click straight to the recipes below: