Monday, August 16, 2010

Aspirations: Cooking with Szechuan Peppercorns

So this post isn't about a dish that I cooked myself... it's more of an aspirational ode to Szechuan peppercorns. I aspire to acquire some Szechuan peppercorns and cook up some lip-numbing, tongue-tingling, spicy-as-hell Chinese food at home in the near future.

My aspirations sprung forth thusly: this past weekend, Tim and I got take-out from a Chinese food joint not too far from us that we had heard cooks up some relatively authentic spicy Szechuan dishes. In our infinite wisdom, we decided to order four dishes off of the "Ma La" (read: super-freakin'-spicy) menu, rather than try one or two spicy dishes and balance them out with a non-spicy one. We ordered ma la wontons, dan dan noodles, mapo tofu and a spicy eggplant.

My favorite of the dishes was the mapo tofu. Zippy, peppery sauce coating smooth, creamy chunks of soft tofu, nuggets of ground pork, with the occasional fermented bean or two. This dish is a relative of a spicy pork and tofu dish that Jennifer has cooked for us in the past, but the addition of the Szechuan peppercorns gave it an entirely new kick. The peppercorns literally make your mouth tingle and go numb... it's a totally different type of spiciness than you are probably used to from chile peppers and the like. But awesome. Less burning and more anesthetizing.

In the end, we came out mostly unscathed... mostly. Tim says he still can't feel his tongue, but I have found a new obsession in the Szechuan peppercorn. Expect a post on homemade mapo tofu soon!