Food from Sichuan in China’s southwest is known for its mala 麻辣, or numbingly spicy, flavor. The numbing sensation comes from Sichuan peppercorns.
Three Goldthread producers tried their hand at cooking with Sichuan peppercorns (watch the video above!). The dishes ranged from college-dorm simple (think ramen omelet) to restaurant-worthy gourmet. Here is the winning recipe, for a dish called shuizhurou 水煮肉, or boiled beef.
Boiled beef is a classic in Sichuan cuisine. An aromatic mix of spicy bean sauce, star anise, and numbing peppercorns, it is far from the bland dish that its name might suggest.
- 10 oz flank steak, cut very thinly to the grain
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp water
- 1 tbsp cornstarch
- ½ cup mirin
- ½ cup soy sauce
- 5½ tbsp peanut oil
- 7 oz soybean sprouts
- 6 oz enoki mushrooms, cleaned
- 4 slices of ginger
- 2 pieces of star anise
- 3 scallions, chopped
- 3 tbsp spicy bean sauce
- 1 tbsp chili oil
- 2 cups beef broth
- 2 tbsp minced garlic
- 2 tbsp whole Sichuan peppercorns
- ½ tsp ground Sichuan peppercorns
- Salt to taste
- 1 small piece of Chinese cinnamon (optional)
- Toss the steak with baking soda and water. Marinate for an hour, then rinse off.
- Marinate the steak overnight with cornstarch, mirin, and soy sauce.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of peanut oil in a deep-frying pan or wok over high heat. Stir-fry soybean sprouts and enoki mushrooms for 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, and ladle the sprouts and mushrooms into a deep casserole bowl. This will be the foundation of the dish.
- Clean off the wok. Add in 3 tablespoons of peanut oil.
- Set heat to low. Add 1 tablespoon of whole Sichuan peppercorns, 1 tablespoon of minced garlic, star anise, cinnamon, and white scallion bits (save the green bits for later). Cook until fragrant.
- Add 3 tablespoons of spicy bean sauce and 1 tablespoon of chili oil. Cook for 30 seconds to a minute until the sauce becomes bright red.
- Add the beef broth and simmer for about 20 minutes. Ladle out the aromatics (peppercorn, garlic, star anise, cinnamon, and scallions) and discard. Add salt to taste.
- Add the beef and cook until opaque. This shouldn’t take long. When it’s done, turn off the heat.
- Pour the broth and beef into the casserole pot, on top of the bean sprouts and mushrooms. Garnish with the green scallion bits and rest of the minced garlic.
- Heat up ½ tablespoon of peanut oil. When it’s hot, pour over the scallions and garlic in the casserole pot. Garnish with ground peppercorns.
Need more recipes for your Sichuan peppercorns? Check out SCMP Cooking for more ways to turn your home cooking into a hit with your guests.
Behind the spice and numbness of Sichuan dishes, lies a dark and bloody history of wars and conflicts. Listen more on Eat Drink Asia podcast about this cuisine of diversity and excitement.