Tender-crisp asparagus and firm tofu tossed in a fiery-sweet Sichuan-style vinaigrette made with roasted chilies and Sichuan peppercorns.
'sichuan' on Serious Eats
Sweet and savory. Slippery and slick. Juicy and tender. Hot and sour. Garlicky. So. Freaking. Good. These are all words that should enter your head as you slide back a bowl of suanla chaoshou, the Sichuan-style wontons that come coated in an intensely aromatic sauce made with vinegar, garlic, and roasted chili oil.
Gan bian si ji—Sichuan-style dry-fried green beans with chilies and pickles—are one of the best and most mistranslated vegetable dishes in the world. Today that dish and I are on a road trip back to authenticity, and we're going to be driving that minibus over some uncharted territory.
Despite its translation—"fish fragrant eggplant,"—yu xiang qie zi actually contains no seafood or meat products whatsoever. It gets its name from the combination of hot, sour, and sweet flavors that are typically served with fish in its native Sichuan. Smoky eggplant is stir-fried until tender, then tossed with a quick sauce flavored with chilies, black vinegar, sugar, and ginger, and garlic for a hearty, flavor-packed dish that comes together in one wok with minimal effort.
Smoky chilies, cumin, and anise combine with mouth-numbing Sichuan peppercorns, cilantro, and scallions for flavor that just won't quit on these crispy, juicy oven-fried chicken wings. The key to their perfect crunch without having to break out the deep fryer? An overnight rest with baking powder and salt.
The setup for this part dipping sauce, part soup couldn't be much simpler: add stock, some pantry staples, and scallions, dump in steamed dumplings, and that's dinner.
Sticky, hoisin-glazed chops are baked in the oven and served with a quick, spicy stir-fry of chopped, Sichuan-style green beans.
Classic Dan Dan noodles are made with pork, pickled vegetables, and plenty of chili oil. In this version, we pack in all the flavor and texture with mushrooms fried until golden brown and chewy.
This is my favorite dish of all time, in a completely meat-free form. Using dried and fresh mushrooms complexity and texture to the fiery dish, making it every bit as good as—if not better than—the original.
"Pock-Marked Mother's Bean Curd," the translation of the name mapo tofu, gives a good indication of the homey, comforting nature of this dish, which tastes just like something Mom would make, if Mom were Chinese and an excellent cook. This vegetarian version omits the beef or pork, instead adding in some bright green peas.
Tofu haters can have a shot at tasting the addictive Sichuan-style sauce flavored with hot chili oil and numbing Sichuan peppercorns.
This hot and numbing cold noodle salad is a take on Dan Dan Mein, with spinach replacing a healthy portion of the noodles. The tangy and hot dressing slings wonderfully to the blanched leaves, delivering powerful and balanced flavor in every bite.
Start with poached chicken and add sesame paste and seeds, Sichuan peppercorns, pickled chili paste, minced garlic, and whatever else you might be in the mood for that day.
The beef cooks very quickly, in less than a minute, after which the meat is removed from the heat and topped with a mixture of toasted and minced dried chili peppers and Sichuan peppercorn. The spice blend is crumbly. It reminds me of an oatmeal topping for a cobbler....if only the cobbler were, you know, made of beef.
Twice-cooked pork is a Sichuan dish of fatty pork leg or belly that gets two very different cooking preparations. In the first stage, the belly is simmered just until it is cooked through. Then you stir-fry the slices of belly until the meat is brown, the fat has rendered somewhat, and the layer of skin is a little crispy around the edges. Finally, add to the wok what I think should be some kind of holy trinity of Chinese pastes: black bean, chili bean, and sweet bean.
[Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt] Note: Both the chili bean paste and the Sichuan Peppercorns can be bought online (follow the links) if you don't have a good Chinese market nearby. Use tofu labeled "silken" in a hardness range of medium...
If you've ordered takeout from a Chinese restaurant in your life, you've probably either seen or tasted Kung Pao chicken. And I'll admit that it's a dish I've loved and still enjoy. But the Westernized version is missing the key ingredient that is the star of the authentic Sichuan version, known more commonly as Gong Bao chicken: Sichuan peppercorns. It's their unique, mouth-numbing effect that gives the dish its spicy, warming quality.
[Photograph: Chichi Wang]...
Mayi shang shu apparently translates into English as "ants climbing in trees." Don't worry, no actual ants are involved: the pork clings to the noodles like ants on a tree.