Sichuan peppercorns, those wonderfully numbing little nuggets that are essential to Sichuanese food, aren’t a true pepper but a similar-shaped dried fruit from the prickly ash tree (Zanthoxylum piperitum). This spice has a great aroma, which is amplified by roasting and grinding it. Salt is often considered the foundation of Sichuanese cooking as it draws out the natural flavours of other ingredients. Where most regions use soy sauce, in Sichuan local salt, mined there for thousands of years, is more common. Traditional Sichuanese cuisine is categorised into 23 separate flavours of which ‘Sichuan Pepper & Salt’ is one, with ground dry-roasted Sichuan pepper mixed with roasted salt used as a dip for deep-fried foods. From this traditional flavouring come the ‘Salt & Pepper’ dishes we so often see on Chinese menus. This seasoning, which chef Cheong Liew calls prickly ash after the peppercorn plant, is his favourite seasoning – I can’t imagine Cheong’s food without it. Make a batch to keep on hand for sprinkling over everything, especially deep-fried dishes.
Makes about 5 teaspoon
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