Sichuan peppercorn (花椒, Hua Jiao) is also called Sichuan pepper and Szechuan pepper. The peppercorn has an appearance similar to that of black pepper, but with the husk split open and a brownish red color.
As its name would suggest, Sichuan peppercorn is commonly used in Sichuan cuisine. The dried peppercorn can be used whole or ground, in stir fry, salad and braised dishes. The ground peppercorn powder is also an ingredient found in Chinese five spice powder.
Sichuan peppercorn has a pungent aroma, slightly lemony overtones, and numbing properties. If you accidentally bite into one of these small peppercorns, you’ll immediately feel a tongue-tingling, buzzing, party-in-your-mouth sensation.
There are two main ways to cook with peppercorn.
- Add some peppercorns into hot oil to toast the peppercorns, then discard them. This way, the a numbing aroma will be infused into the oil and you can continue to use the savory oil in a stir fried dish or a salad.
- The peppercorn can be directly added to a braised dish, especially one involving pork, duck or lamb. Besides adding umami to the the dish, the peppercorn has another function – that it removes the “fishiness” (or mildly unpleasant smell) that some meat may have.
Although an authentic Chinese meal will contain whole peppercorns in various dishes when served, I found it better to remove and discard them when possible.
Sichuan peppercorn a necessary ingredients to cook authentic Sichuan food, like Kung Pao Chicken, Mapo tofu and Dan Dan noodles. It’s also used in preparing chili oil. It can also be used in various dishes such as tea eggs, Chinese beef pie, and crispy spicy salmon.