We've been on our Sichuan cooking journey with Fuchsia Dunlop for a few weeks now. She started us off with the region's most famous flavor profile, málà (hot and numbing), then introduced us to "fish fragrant" flavor—which is only tangentially related to fish. Today, we enter the weird and bewildering world of "strange flavor."
Just kidding, there's nothing weird about it at all—according to Fuchsia, the name references the unusual yet artful combination of a wide variety of ingredients to make a perfectly balanced sauce. There are the building blocks of málà in there—both numbing Sichuan peppercorns and spicy chilies—along with sweet sugar, salty soy sauce, nutty sesame paste and oil, and sour vinegar.
Though strange flavor is often conflated with bang bang chicken, a dish that uses strange flavor sauce, it's good for more than coating bang bang's cold poached chicken shreds. In this video, the Chinese food expert and author of The Food of Sichuan walks us through the basics of strange flavor, and demonstrates how to make it yourself at home. That's easier said than done, but it's something, as you can see from my contemplative reaction, that Fuchsia is very, very good at.