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These robustly flavored ingredients are featured in mapo tofu and many other Sichuan and Chinese dishes. They are readily available online and in Asian markets and are increasingly available in American supermarkets. They keep indefinitely and are worth seeking out to produce authentic flavors.

We tested 10 santoku knives to find the best one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGyK1Pce2-k&t=0s&index=3&list=PLE720EF13D4C23DDC

Learn the secrets of cooking perfect rice (the common cause of failure isn’t what you think): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DJFU7ezipbg&t=0s&index=9&list=PLnbzopdwFrnb7QgoSDeIJH3R3Y9CagMCl

SICHUAN PEPPERCORNS
These reddish-brown husks are neither peppercorns nor are they related to chiles. They’re the dried fruit rinds of the Chinese prickly ash tree. Sichuan peppercorns have a lemony tartness and a piney aroma, but they are best known for the unique tingling sensation they produce on the lips and tongue, thanks to a compound called hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, which acts on receptors that usually respond to touch. The peppercorns don’t actually vibrate our skin, but they send signals to the brain that we interpret as vibration; some people also mistakenly perceive these signals as heat.

SUBSTITUTE
None

SICHUAN CHILI POWDER
This product is made from the dried, crushed pods of “Facing Heaven” chile peppers (so named for their habit of pointing upward on plants as they grow, rather than hanging down the way most chile peppers do). It is similar in appearance to Western red pepper flakes but is milder and more aromatic.

SUBSTITUTE
Korean red pepper flakes (gochugaru) or use ½ teaspoon of cayenne pepper and 2½ teaspoons of ancho chile powder per tablespoon of Sichuan chili powder.

ASIAN BROAD BEAN CHILI PASTE
Also labeled doubanjiang or toban djan. This deep reddish-brown paste, which is made from a combination of red chiles, broad (fava) beans, salt, and wheat flour, is fermented for up to eight years. It is an essential flavoring in many Sichuan dishes, lending them a funky, meaty depth along with heat from the chiles. The best ones come from the Chinese city of Pixian and will typically contain no other ingredients. Pixian broad bean chili paste can be ordered online. Lee Kum Kee Chili Bean Sauce is widely available in supermarkets and is another good option.

SUBSTITUTE
None

FERMENTED BLACK BEANS
Also known as salted black beans, these are small black soybeans that are fermented with salt. In the process the beans soften, shrivel, and dry out, resembling raisins. They are very salty and are used sparingly to provide umami depth and savoriness to many Chinese dishes.

SUBSTITUTE
Fermented black bean paste or sauce. Use about one-third less since these products are concentrated.

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25 thoughts on “What Makes Sichuan Food So Flavorful? Here Are the Pantry Staples You Should Be Cooking With”

  1. Are the Sichuan fermented black beans useful for making Korean-style gan jajangmyeon? I really like the "gan" variant, but it's hard to find a restaurant that serves it, and my attempts to cook it at home have never captured the deep, powerful flavor of the real thing. Buying black bean paste from a local Chinese supermarket helps, but I may be getting the wrong paste. Should I try adding Sichuan fermented black beans?

  2. The broad bean paste you have in the picture is made with soybean instead of fava bean. what you want is named Pixian Doubanjiang or PiXian Brodbean Paste as Pixian is the region that produces the best tasting bean past, just like the best parmesan cheese is always made in Italy.

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