March 14, 2012
By: Chef Eric White, Culinary Development Chef
Sichuan pepper is widely known and used in Asia, but is not well known in the western world. Sichuan pepper is called by many names: Szechwan pepper, Chinese pepper and Chinese prickly ash to name a few. Although the Sichuan pepper is given the name “pepper” it is not related to black pepper or chili peppers. Widely used in Tibet, Nepal, Japan and other countries, the name comes from the cuisine in the Sichuan Province of China.
Sichuan pepper is not hot or pungent like other peppers. The pepper is slightly lemony and can have a numbing sensation. The cause of the numbing effect is due to the alkalinity of the pepper. Only the husks are used, and they are often toasted and crushed before used in a dish. In the Sichuan Province, Sichuan pepper is often combined with star anise and ginger in spicy dishes. Sichuan pepper can also be used as a condiment for chicken, duck and pork, by browning in a wok with salt, or lightly fried to create a spicy oil.
Although the pepper was banned in the U.S. until 2005, the ban was only loosely enforced. Sichuan pepper entering the U.S. must be heat treated to kill canker bacteria, which had previously been found before entering the country. With the ban lifted, Sichuan pepper is starting to become more popular.